Zhu Hong led his spouse to what was probably the highest building in the whole city: a tower that reached seven stories high with a platform leading around each of them and a curved roof above.
When Zhen Zhu stood in front of this building and looked up, his mouth actually gaped open. He had seen a lot of things in the city, many different types of buildings among them.
There were small houses with only a single room and big estates with several courtyards. Houses that were formed like squares or circles or were stretched out and filled half a block. Some buildings were only a story high and others reached up three or four. There were even some that spread out underground and only had a single room aboveground for people to enter through.
Some buildings had higher or wider doors to accommodate for a specific tribe and then there were those without windows or even with a missing wall that just relied on a barrier instead to keep the wind and rain out. He had even heard of a building without a roof even though he hadn’t been able to look at it from above and had only noticed that there were no overhanging eaves as if there really was nothing on top.
But despite seeing all that, Zhen Zhu still felt that nothing could compare to the tower in front of them. It wasn’t just that the building was especially high. No, to be honest, he wasn’t that surprised at that. In any case, the phoenixes lived on trees so this felt almost like home to him. No, what surprised him the most was probably that each of the stories differed from the other.
Looking from afar, this building probably looked like a giant rainbow. The floor, the doors, the windows, the railings of the platforms outside, and the wooden structure holding up the roof, they were all painted a different color on each story, as if the building wanted to make sure that it could be seen from far away.
The decorations on each story weren’t the same either and neither were their shapes: The platforms leading around them changed with no apparent system. It was a square on the first story, a round one on the second, then there were an oval one and a triangle and in the middle of all of them, there was even one platform that stuck out like a frozen lightning strike on one side of the tower while seeming normal on the other at first glance before you realized that the strange twists were just hidden behind the walls. Just looking at it, Zhen Zhu felt as if he would become dizzy.
After staring up for a while and trying to wrap his head around the bizarreness that was this building, Zhen Zhu turned to his husband. “Just what is that?”
Zhu Hong smiled proudly, happy that his surprise had worked out. “Well, it’s a building that houses several establishments. For the most part, they are restaurants and teahouses but there also some stores in there. In any case, most people go there for the view.
“Originally, I thought we would arrive at night so we could have taken a look at the city from above at that time but with how things turned out, that was impossible. This … it isn’t quite the same but it comes close. You’ll see, the city is beautiful at night. And it is especially so from up above. So, I’d suggest we got up. We should hurry a bit though. This place is quite famous. We might have trouble even getting a seat somewhere.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then even tugged at his husband’s arm, unable to wait even a second longer to try and get inside. If he could, he wanted to get a seat. And if it was possible at all, he would want to go right up to the top story, so that they could get the best view possible.
Zhu Hong knew his husband very well. As soon as they stepped in, he went to the counter and inclined his head. “A table for two in one of the restaurants. The higher, the better.”
The woman sitting there nodded and then looked through a little book in front of her, going over the columns with the brush before she finally nodded. “We only have a table for two left on the third floor. Otherwise, there is only a table for three on the seventh story.”
Zhu Hong didn’t miss a beat. “Then we’ll take the one on the seventh story please.” He wasn’t worried at all. Thanks to the fact that he had waited a little longer with getting married, and had taken several additional missions to gain experience, he had also amassed some more wealth than most young dragons. Thus, even after getting everything ready for his wedding and whatever else Zhen Zhu would need in the time after that, he still didn’t find himself in dire straits. In fact, he could probably go without doing another mission for a whole year and would still have some money to splurge on his husband. In moments like these, he wouldn’t think twice to pay a little more for something just to make his husband happy. That was precisely why had prepared so well.
The woman nodded, noted down their names, and took the money from Zhu Hong. Then, she waved for a servant to bring them up there and show them to their table.
Zhen Zhu looked around curiously, his eyes seeming to get wider and wider the higher they climbed up the stairs. There were windows on the outer wall of the staircase, letting him look outside, and on the inside, they would pass by the door to each floor, allowing him at least a short glance at what was happening in there. The more he saw, the less he knew what to think of this place.
Just like Zhu Hong had said, this place wasn’t just one big establishment. Every floor held something different. In fact, it couldn’t even be said that all the floors had just one thing to offer. Especially on the lower floors, there were several restaurants and stores, all side-by-side, the difference between them blurred.
On the higher floors, things were slightly different. Usually, there would be at most two establishments sharing the space. And when they finally reached the top floor, there was only one restaurant there with its tables distributed evenly throughout the inner room and outside on the platform.
Zhen Zhu was able to realize this immediately when they reached the top of the staircase because this was one of the floors where the walls had been replaced by a translucent barrier. Only in the corners of the floor, the barrier was interrupted by wooden beams that were holding up the ceiling. Clearly, this place was mostly made to allow a good view of the city.
Thanks to being constructed this way, even the people that were sitting in the middle of the floor were able to have a look outside at the night sky. Naturally, if one wanted to take a look at the city down below, then one would still only be able to do so from the platform.
Zhen Zhu would have liked to go there immediately but they were first led over to their table. Needless to say, the ones closer to the platform were usually chosen first so their table as one of the last being left was further in the middle of the room.
Zhen Zhu felt anxious when the waiter first asked about what they wanted to eat and let his husband deal with everything. He grabbed his arm as soon as the waiter had turned his back. “We can still go and look at the city even if we are seated in the middle, right?”
Zhu Hong nodded and reached out as well, putting his hand over Zhen Zhu’s on his arm. “Of course, we can. Don’t worry about it. Right now, it’s not quite time yet though.”
Zhen Zhu looked outside, wondering if there would be some kind of sign as for when it was time. He couldn’t see anything special though, just the railing leading around the platform and the sky behind it that was slowly turning dark.
Zhu Hong chuckled. “It’s not like there’s a specific time. Just that, in my opinion, the city is especially beautiful when it is completely dark outside. Right now, we are hovering between day and night. It is also beautiful but not quite the same in the city.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, as usual just trusting what his husband told him. In any case, he had no reason at all to lie to him. Thus, he just stayed where he was but still couldn’t help but look over. Just what would he see if they went over and took a look?
Zhu Hong couldn’t help but laugh. “You know, if you really want to take a look already, nobody will say no. Do you want to go alone or should I accompany you?”
Zhen Zhu couldn’t help but grin and then interlaced his fingers with his husband’s. “Of course, I want you to come along!” In any case, he had been rushing ahead for quite a bit of the time today. Now that they finally had a moment to themselves where there wasn’t as much new to see, he naturally wanted Zhu Hong to be directly beside him.
Zhu Hong nodded and then got up, pulling Zhen Zhu to his feet as well and into his arms. “Alright, let’s go!” He led him over to one of the barriers and carefully reached out his hand.
This kind of barrier was different from the ones they had seen in the city today. Those were to make sure that nobody would be able to steal what was behind them. Thus, no matter how you reached out, you wouldn’t be able to breach them.
On the other hand, this barrier between the inside of the tower and the platform outside was just to slow people down and keep the wind and weather outside. Thus, you needed to move slow to make it outside. Otherwise, you would collide with this just like with a wall.
Zhen Zhu didn’t care much about the barriers and was already looking outside, his eyes shimmering. Even though he couldn’t see that much of the city from here, he could already see the sky and the plains outside of the city. And just that alone was breathtaking.
The sky seemed incredibly wide as if it stretched into eternity. Well, most likely, that was true. The sky really had no limit. As a phoenix, Zhen Zhu suddenly had this feeling of being at home. It made him realize just why the phoenixes liked living in the forest. If you were in the trees, if you looked out at this kind of scenery every day, wouldn’t that be great?
As for the ground below, it was more familiar to him thanks to the fact that he had spent more time down on his feet than up in the air using his wings. So maybe that was why he didn’t felt the same longing for the ground as he did for the sky.
Zhu Hong tightened his grasp around his waist and leaned down. “You can go closer to the railing if you want to.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then slowly walked forward, still caught up in that feeling of awe.
Zhu Hong was directly at his side just as he had wished and also looked out there. To him, this wasn’t new. Whether it was the sky, the plains, the forest, the mountains, or even the city, he had seen all of these things many, many times already.
What made this moment special was that he did it together with Zhen Zhu for the first time. Happiness filled his heart just at the thought that he was showing him something that once struck awe in him as well. He wanted to share those moments, he wanted to show him all the special places he had found over the years, and tell him about the things that he couldn’t show him any longer. It seemed like the perfect way to live.
Thinking of that, Zhu Hong also looked up at the sky while Zhen Zhu lowered his head for the first time, looking over the railing.
When he saw the city down there, he felt that he had a bit of a guess just why Zhu Hong thought that the city was really beautiful from this point of view. The tower was in the middle of the city so that if you walked around it, you would be able to see everything.
To be honest, this didn’t feel completely new to him. In any case, he had seen other towns and villages from the air before. And there hadn’t even been any other people around but just him and his husband so those moments had seemed much more intimate. But still, looking down on it from above and not from so far away that he could almost touch the clouds but instead from somewhere where he was still somewhat close, indeed felt quite special.
From up here, he could still make out the people down there. He could see the colors of their robes and their hair. He couldn’t quite make out who was part of which tribe but he could see just how busy the city was even at this hour. And that was something that he hadn’t been able to do before.
He looked back up at his husband, wanting to tell him what he thought. He stopped when he saw Zhu Hong’s expression. He wasn’t quite sure what it was. He seemed … lost in thought. There was happiness but also a hint of longing, an expression that he hadn’t seen on his face before. It was really intriguing.
A minute later, Zhu Hong pulled himself out of his thoughts by himself and turned to look at what Zhen Zhu was doing. As a result, he found out that his little spouse wasn’t looking at the city anymore but had instead started to examine his face.
He raised his brows and then brushed back Zhen Zhu’s white hair, not quite sure what to say for a moment. In the end, he could only smile. “Is your husband so much more interesting than the city in the evening sun?”
Zhen Zhu nodded unabashedly, hugging Zhu Hong’s waist and pressing his cheek against his chest. “Many times!” To him, his husband always seemed to be the most interesting thing.
Zhu Hong chuckled and then leaned down, kissing the top of his head. “Oh. Well, I did say it would be more beautiful at night. Once it gets dark outside, the people living here or working in the stores and restaurants that are still open will start to turn on the lights. You’ll see, it’s magnificent. I sometimes feel that it might be even more magnificent than this view because it is something that you don’t get to see as often.”
Zhen Zhu blinked his eyes, not quite sure what to make of that. “Can’t you just come here if you want to see it?”
Zhu Hong nodded. “Well, you can, but still … you will only be able to see it for a few hours. Then, those lights will dim one by one and, finally, everything turns dark again. There will only be one or maybe two places in the city where people will stay up longer and that isn’t quite the same anymore.
“So there is only a short time when you can see the real thing. And it can only work in cities as big as this. In the smaller ones or in places like our valley of the dragons where we do have quite a few houses but they are spread out, it isn’t the same. I guess that is something that you have to see with your own eyes to understand though.”
“I trust you.” Zhen Zhu looked at his husband, his gaze focused on his eyes. The way Zhu Hong had looked when he just told him … he would’ve liked to see that gaze more often. He had already seen it once or twice before but not quite like this. When Zhu Hong spoke of the past, then his gaze would be quite similar to it with a sense of wonder in his gaze. Still, it was a rare occurrence.
Maybe it was because Zhu Hong had already lived for more years than him and had made more experiences. Maybe all the things that were new to him couldn’t quite impress Zhu Hong any longer. But when his husband thought back to when he had been at the same point in his life, he might remember those same feelings and that might make him smile, not just on the surface but deep down in his heart.
Zhen Zhu wanted to see more of those smiles. He wanted … for there to be times where he would be the cause of those smiles, where he could be the reason for him to feel that sense of wonder. He really hoped that he would be able to do something like that in the upcoming years.
For the moment, Zhen Zhu knew that this wasn’t a possibility though. There was a lot he had to learn and right now was the time for Zhu Hong to show him things. It would only be much later that he would have the chance to turn things around.
Knowing this, Zhen Zhu didn’t say anything and just continued to stand close to his husband, looking out over the city and its surroundings. After a while, his husband motioned for them to go back inside.
They sat down to eat and then waited for the sun to go down. When the last light faded, they walked back onto the platform. Finally, the tower and the city itself were engulfed by darkness and but just like Zhu hong had said, things didn’t stay that way for long.
Zhen Zhu leaned over the railing, watching what was happening below. In some quarters, nothing happened at first, while in others, one light after the other lit up, looking as if a sea of stars was lying to their feet.
Zhu Hong watched the streets down there as well and wondered if he should say something. Finally, he really went ahead. “Some of the tribes are able to see more in the dark than others. So if the majority of a district is inhabited by people of those tribes or visited by them, then the time that they start to hang out the lanterns will be later than in other districts.”
“So it was like that.” To be honest, Zhen Zhu had wondered precisely about that just now. To get his husband’s explanation … he was quite happy. “Then, how about the phoenixes and the dragons?” Even though he had lived with the dragons since he had hatched and was a phoenix himself, he wasn’t quite sure how they compared to other tribes.
Zhu Hong gave a deep hum, wondering how to explain. In any case, Zhen Zhu had only made his first experiences with other tribes today. He would have a hard time getting any kind of comparison that he could make.
“If you compared the dragons and the phoenixes, then the dragons can see slightly better in the dark. Compared to other tribes though … I guess it is safe to say that we are still not the best out there.
“Think of the merpeople from before. Their eyes differ from ours because they need to be able to see even in the deepest part of the sea where they live. So being out at night isn’t difficult for them. They can see much better than us.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, even though he still wasn’t quite sure what exactly that meant. Still, there was one thing that he did understand. “You’re right about the city being more beautiful in the dark.
“When it’s day, it’s such an … explosion of color. There are so many things happening and so many things to see, I didn’t even know where to look. Now, while there are still many things going on down there, you can’t actually see them. The movement is hidden by the shadows and there’s only that light left.
“It’s like looking up into his starry sky, just … just a bit different as well. It’s so close. As if we could reach out a hand and touch it.”
Zhu Hong nodded and rubbed his spouse’s back. “Yes, that’s exactly how I see it. It is something incredibly special so I wanted to share this with you.”
Zhen Zhu looked up and the two of them didn’t say another word and just inched closer, their lips finally touching in the dark. The beautiful city turned into nothing more than a backdrop for this intimate moment between the two of them.