Despair, and depression settled inside Katie as she shuffled her way through the crowd of penguins. She wasn't even sure of where she was going. She was just... going. And as hard as every penguin who cared about her, friends, family, or admirers, tried to comfort her, and make her feel better, no one could bring back the spark inside Katie. Not like Joshua. The mere thought of him made her heart ache.
Just a few days ago, she was informed by one of her admirers that Joshua had left the Emperor Kingdom. When she asked why, or more like squawked why, the penguin couldn't tell her; he had no idea what had happened. So, for the rest of the day, Katie had gone around the kingdom, asking every penguin possible if they knew where Joshua had run off to. She always got the same responses.
"Sorry. Don't know."
"I can't help you. I'm sorry."
"I didn't even know he was missing. I'm sorry, Katie."
Yesterday, Katie had sought out Joshua's parents, and when she found them, she asked them if they knew where he had gone. Miranda had replied with, "No. Why, is he gone?"
When Katie had told her that Joshua had disappeared she just gasped, tears welling in her eyes before lowering her head, and pressing her beak into her chest feathers to sob quietly. John, however, was hard to read. His expression was unreadable as he stared down at Katie, his dark green eyes hard. Katie could only see what he was thinking when he turned his head away. His face showed that he was balancing between sadness, and relief. Instead of sympathizing with them, Katie scoffed at John, and waddled hurriedly away.
Ever since then, Katie had not sang, or danced the slightest bit. She barely even spoke to anybody anymore. The penguin she spoke to most was Taylor, who did her best to make Katie feel better. But no one could make her happy unless they could bring Joshua back from wherever he was. Now, as she slowly waddled through the kingdom aimlessly, she prayed to the Great Guin Please, wherever Joshua is, bring him back, and bring him back soon.
Joshua was in his own state of depression, but was suffering worst than Katie was. A few days ago, Katie had told him that she was going to be singing, and that he, and Katie, and the others would show the others the wonderfulness of dancing. Excited at the thought, Joshua had snuck away to a high cliff, the very cliff that he, and his friends at met up at when they were children to have secret dances. There, he danced again. He danced, and danced until he thought his heart was going to burst. He hadn't felt like that since Katie sang on the last graduation party. Overexcited, his Heartsong running through his head, he had leaped into the air, and started squawking his head off, trying as hard as he could to sing. A few penguins below heard him, and shouted several insults at him. Depressed, Joshua moved farther away so that nobody could hear him. He was determined to learn how to sing, even though Katie accepted Joshua's broken voice. But Joshua still hated it. He wanted so desperately to sing; he so desperately wanted to show the kingdom that he was a penguin just like them. He tried to sing, squawking, and screeching, and screaming until his poor voice felt more broken than before. Then, a thought settled over him like a dark cloud. I don't want to live like this anymore. I want to be with Katie, but I also want to be a plain old penguin. Why, why can't I sing? Angered, Joshua began to walk away, lost in his thoughts. Then, he suddenly realized that he couldn't hear the other penguins. An eerie silence was around him along with an endless stretch of ice. He was lost, and he deserved it. Head down, feeling more lonely than ever, Joshua kept waddling, moving farther, and farther away from his home... and Katie.
Katie. Her name echoed in his head now, and sent a shiver down his spine. He had been waddling for days, and for each day, he couldn't stop thinking about her, and how he had left her behind. Why did I do that? Why couldn't I have just gone back, and danced with her like I promised? Great Guin, I'm an idiot! He kicked a mound of snow, scattering it everywhere.
Joshua had been too busy hating himself that he hadn't notice the landscape change around him. Hills of ice rose into the air, cut by slippery ravines sparkling in the sun. When Joshua finally looked up, the sharp, familiar smell of the salty ocean hit his beak. Had I really been wandering for that long? he wondered. He kept going, hunger driving him onward. The last thing he had eaten was a couple of fish dropped by a couple of fighting skuas; that was two days ago. Soon, Joshua found himself running, determined to eat well for the very first time in days. Finally! he thought happily. I can get a break from walking!
Then, he froze. He could hear something. He shook his head, and tilted it to the side. He wasn't sure what it was, but it sounded like... voices? Joshua thought he had snow in his ears, and continued running, but stopped when the voices grew louder. He couldn't believe it. Penguins, here? Out in the middle of practically no where? And so close to the ocean? Maybe I could get some refuge with them, he thought, then added worriedly, if they'll take me in at least. He wasn't sure if other penguins would accept his strange dancing ways. What if they forced him out, told him to get lost. No, Joshua thought. Just don't dance, and everything will be fine. As Joshua slowly approached the direction that the voices were coming from, he saw the ground in front of him drop down steeply. The voices were coming from below. He ran forward, gasping for air, for this has been the first time he's excersized in days. When he finally reached the dip in the ground, he froze, and tilted his head in curiosity.
Below him, the ground sloped down gently, but it was dotted with huge chunks of ice protruding from the ground, and hills of snow scattered about. Footsteps, slightly smaller than Joshua's, crisscrossed through the chunks of ice, and up, and down the hill. At the bottom, the ground gave way to a rough ground littered with sloppy chunks of snow. The ice curved like a crescent moon before it met the salty water, which lapped gently at the shore. Small mounds, and spires of ice floated on the water, easily accessable. Indeed, it was a strange place. But it was the inhabitants that weirded Joshua out the most.
A very small group, no more than perhaps a couple hundred, or four hundred, penguins waddled to, and fro, some jumping into the water, some playing with friends, others waddling off into the icy hills above their cove, or slipping into the ravines. These penguins, however, were not Emperor Penguins, yet they looked strikingly similar with bright orange markings on their neck, and black, and white feathers. They were slightly shorter than Joshua, and not as slender as him. Their feet were webbed, showing Joshua that they spent a lot of time in the water. To Josh, it was unbelievable. Miniature Emperors? he wondered. What kind of penguins are these?
Curiosity drove him forward, but before he could move, an excited show sounded above his head. Looking at the tall hill beside him, he saw two of the miniature Emperors fly off of the crest, and slide down the bumpy drop into the cove. A third one followed clumsily behind, shouting for his friends to wait up for him. Joshua was baffled, and wanted to go down, and ask them who, and what they were. But instead, shyness took control, and Joshua moved along the edge of the hill, trying to stay invisible behind chunks of ice as he gradually made his way to the water.
As he cautiously made his way to the shore, he saw a couple of penguins turn their heads towards him, their eyes full of curiosity. They have the right to be, Joshua thought. Either they've never seen an Emperor Penguin, or they've never seen an Emperor Penguin who still has his baby fluff. When he came up to the water, he wasn't sure what to do. Just barely, he could see penguins swimming to, and fro, looking for or chasing after fish. It would be rude of Joshua to start hunting on another penguins' territory, let alone a completely different species. But he was oh so hungry! He leaned forward, unsure whether if it was okay for him to hunt or not.
Then, a voice behind him made him nearly jump into the water. "You lost, pal?"
Spinning around, Joshua saw one of the miniature Emperors. This was slightly smaller than most of the others he had seen, and was slightly chubby. He had very bright orange markings on his neck, and light brown eyes that looked almost amber in the sunlight.
Joshua opened his beak, and spoke in his shy, quiet voice. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."
The penguin had started to waddle around him, stretching up his neck to get a closer look at Joshua. Even with his neck stretched out, this penguin wasn't much higher than Joshua's shoulders.
"I-I'm sorry if I'm causing any trouble. I just wanted some fish," Joshua said innocently when the penguin came to a stop in front of him.
The penguin shrugged. "Naw, it's fine. We get loners, and travelers here often. But you're the first fluffy penguin to come here," he said, looking at Joshua curiosly.
Joshua looked down at his fluffy chest. "Yeah. I'm... I'm an Emperor Penguin," he murmured.
The squatty penguin's eyes widened. "Oh, so you're one of them fancy singin' penguins, aren't ya?" he asked.
Joshua shrugged. "Something like that." A prick of homesickness hit his heart as he thought of Katie again.
"Never seen an Emperor Penguin like you before," the miniature Emperor said. "You're so fluffy!"
Joshua nodded. "Yeah." He wasn't sure what to think. It was nice to finally have someone to talk to, but at the same time, it was strange talking to a small penguin that looked like, and acted like Greg or Andrew.
"Well, fluffy, welcome to King Cove," the little penguin said, waddling past Joshua to stand closer to the shore. When Joshua didn't follow him, he turned around, and said, "Well, are you comin' or not?"
Relief spread through Joshua as he realized he could finally have something to eat. And better yet, he wouldn't be alone. He would be with this... what had he said? King Cove. So did that mean that these were King Penguins? Josh assumed yes, and followed the shorter penguin.
"By the way, the name's Kyle," the King Penguin said. And with that, Kyle took a flying leap, and dove head first into the water.
Slowly, Joshua stepped forward until his toes hung off of the edge of the ice. He could see Kyle swimming not too far below him with several other penguins darting to, and fro in the water. Taking a deep breath, Joshua leaned forward, and fell headfirst into the water. He let himself sink a bit before looking around. Not many penguins noticed him. Maybe one who looked startled as Joshua fell into the water, and another giving him a curious look as if wondering, What kind of penguin are you? Josh looked around, and spotted Kyle just ahead of him. He swam after him, wanting to introduce himself since he failed to tell the King Penguin his name. As he came closer, he noticed that Kyle was swimming like an Emperor at Graduation Day. He was swimming to, and fro, his body moving to a beat. None of the others were doing that. Suddenly, Kyle arced upward before diving straight down deeper into the water.
Before Joshua could follow him, a fish flashed right past his beak. Captivated by the first fresh, live prey he's seen in days, Joshua pushed himself through the water as fast as he could, determined to catch this fish. He darted through the water, following the fish as intently as if he was a leopard seal. He could almost taste it as he opened his beak, ready to chomp down on it. Driven by hunger, Josh ignored the King Penguin coming up front beneath him, also chasing the fish, and didn't apologize when he shoved the smaller penguin out of the way, and grasped the fish, biting down hard on its spine. Looking around, Joshua spotted a chunk of ice not too far ahead of him, and made his way to it to eat his fish in peace.
Just at that moment, Kyle showed up beside him. "Having fun?" he asked, a smile on his beak.
Joshua nodded, unable to answer because of the fish in his beak.
Kyle pushed farther ahead of Joshua. "C'mon, tall guy!" he called. "I wanna show you something." Without waiting, he made his way to the shore, and launched out of the water.
Joshua followed, arcing upward before coming down on the hard ice. Quickly, he swallowed his fish, which he noticed was unusually large, and followed Kyle as the King Penguin led him away from the cove, and through the tiny chunks of ice. Up ahead, Josh could see a mound of ice, like a miniature, unmoving glacier, sitting there, and he realized that that's where Kyle was leading him. As they came closer, the chunks of ice around them grew larger, and were packed closer together. The ravines in between them were deeper, steeper, and curved in crazy directions. There was nothing like this back at the kingdom, and Joshua thought about playing in those ravines, slipping, and sliding around with his friends. Nostalgia pierced his heart for a moment, but not as bad as before. He did have a friend. Kyle.
Kyle led Joshua up to the mini glacier, and began to climb a steep trail that wound around it. "C'mon, tall guy!" he exclaimed as he noticed Josh's clumsiness. Kyle had apparently been here before. He was nimble, climbing up the ice like an expert. Joshua, on the other hand, was having a hard time, and nearly slipped off several times. He cursed his large, clumsy Emperor body as he slipped a third time, and crawled after Kyle.
At last, they made it to the top of the ice. The cove was hidden by the rising, and dropping hills of ice, and snow that littered the ground. Joshua thought he saw a couple of specks of black in the ravines farther away, but he wasn't too sure. He approached the edge of the cliff, unafraid of the dizzying height before him. He felt like a gull, like he was just hovering gently in the air, and for the first time in days, he didn't think of Katie. He just thought of freedom.
"Look down there." Kyle's voice broke into Joshua's thoughts.
Curious, Joshua leaned forward a bit, and looked down at the steep slope below him. Then, without warning, he felt a flipper hit him into the back. In less than a second, Joshua was pushed off of the cliff. "Hey!" he shouted at Kyle, but he kept his body straight, and lifted his head as he slid down the icy slope at an incredible speed. Another sound behind him, a sound of feathers brushing against ice, told him that Kyle had jumped, and was following him. A sense of playfulness filled up inside Josh as he swayed back, and forth in the ravine. Kyle suddenly arced into the air, and zipped past Joshua.
"My name's Joshua, by the way," he said as Kyle flashed past him.
If the King Penguin heard him, he didn't answer. Instead, he just slid on through the ravines. Joshua pushed himself along the ice, determined to catch up with him. As the two penguins swiftly turned the corner, Joshua suddenly heard a sound, a sound he hadn't heard in so long, he almost thought it was strange. Ahead of him, Kyle rose his voice into a song, a song that started quiet, but within seconds, it was bouncing off the icy walls. The King Penguin was swaying his head from side to side to the beat that he had created with his flippers, which slapped against the ice rhythmically.
"Hope that you spend your days, but they all add up.
And when that sun goes down, hope you raise your cup.
Oh-ohh-oo. I wish that I could witness all your joy, and all your pain.
But until my moment comes... I'll say,
I, I did it all!
I, I, I did it all!
I owned every second that this world could give!
I saw so many places, the things that I did!
Yeah, with every broken bone, I swear I lived."
Then, as fast as a skua diving into water, Kyle slid up the side of the wall, and arced into the air, performing an amazing spin before coming down on the ice again as he rose his voice in a loud, and proud, "Oo-whoaaa-ohh-whoaa-oh-whoa-ah! Ohhh-oo-oh-oo-ohh!" He did this repeatedly as he, and Joshua raced through the ravine, making Joshua feel at home again. And for the first time in days, he felt the familiar rush of happiness in his feet, and longed to tap them, and click them furiously against the ice, adding to Kyle's wonderful song.
"With every broken bone, I swear I lived.
With every broken bone, I swear I...
I, I did it all!
I, I, I did it all!
I owned every second that this world could give!
I saw so many places, the things that I did!
Yeah, with every broken bone, I swear I lived!"
Suddenly, the ground gave way, and Josh and Kyle fell down into an icy tunnel, completely surrounded by bumpy, icy walls. Yet, they continued to slide through, faster than ever, and Kyle continued to sing his "Oo-whoaa-ohh-whoaa-oh-whoa-ah!" Within seconds, the ground sloped upward, and a circle of light appeared, indicating the way out. Joshua panicked slightly, knowing how he would take off, but he didn't care. Sure enough, when the two penguins erupted from the tunnel, Joshua went spinning through the air, the world a blur of whtie around him. He saw Kyle spinning too, and heard his singing turn into a thrilled "Ah-ha-ha-ha-haa!" They slammed down on the ice, Joshua balancing on one foot for a split second before spinning around, and landing on his stomach again. The hills off ice, and snow were smaller now, and the smooth icy ravines were now covered with a thin layer of snow. Josh could see another hill of ice up ahead. Kyle went flying, and disappeared behind the hill. Joshua, still going at high speed, flew through the air, and over Kyle, but managed to catch his balance. When he came down on the ground, he landed on his feet, and slid forward for a moment before letting out a woot... and he began dancing for the first time in days. T-t-t-t-t-tap click, shshshsh tap click, t-t-t-tap click, click c-c-click c-click.
When Joshua came to a stop, panting, he was so pumped with happiness that he hadn't realized that Kyle was staring at him incredulously until the King Penguin said, "Hey, dude, do that again!"
Joshua turned around, and faced his friend. "Do what?" he asked shyly, still gasping for breath.
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Come on! Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about!" he exclaimed.
Joshua felt his happiness be replaced with embarrassment. He hasn't danced in front of a penguin for so long that he wasn't sure how Kyle would react. But he seemed eager enough, so... "Oh. You mean this?" And he tapped his foot a couple of time. Tap tap, shsh t-tap.
Kyle nodded enthusiastically, mesmerized by the tap dancing. Joshua smiled. "I just kind of do this." T-tap t-t-tap tap.
Joshua tapped his feet again. Tap tap, c-c-c-click click, tap tap tap. C-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-click. Kyle had begun to join in, his big, webbed feet creating more of a slapping noise that a tapping noise. But he still enjoyed it, and gave another woot when he came to a stop. "That is awesome! Where did you learn that?" he asked eagerly.
Joshua shuffled his foot shyly. "I... I kinda taught myself," he answered. "I've been doing it ever since I hatched. I taught a few of my friends to do it."
"Can others do it where you come from?" Kyle asked. "The other Emperors?"
Joshua shook his head, his heart beginning to feel like a weight in his chest. "No. Actually, besides my friends, everyone else despised me. It was... not penguin," he said, saying the very words his father had told him. Did his father even care that he was gone? Was he glad that his ridiculous dancing son had left?
"What?" Kyle's voice was filled with shock. "How could they despise you for that? That's awesome!"
Joshua shrugged. "Apparently not. That's actually why I left."
A moment of silence settled down on the two penguins. Then, it was broken when Kyle said, "Wait, you're an Emperor Penguin. Can't you sing? Can't you just hide this from the other penguins?"
"That's the problem," Joshua replied in a murmur. "I can't."
Kyle tilted his head. "Can't what? Sing? Ha! Come on, show me," he said.
Joshua glanced at him. "You're better off not hearing it," he replied, refusing to let his broken voice out into the world again.
"C'mon!" Kyle complained. "How bad can it be?"
Joshua gave up. "Alright, if you insist," he murmured. He closed his eyes, and let his Heartsong envelope him in his mind. Doing his best, he began to sing.
"As you doze off toniiiight, I'll tooooooaaaaaahhhs aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!"
"Okay, okay, don't break yourself," Kyle said, taking a small step back.
Joshua sighed. "That's what I thought you'd think," he said sadly. "And then, her singing...." His voice trailed off.
"Her?" Kyle asked. Joshua stiffened; he hadn't meant for Kyle to hear him. "Who's her?"
Joshua closed his eyes, and smiled as his mind painted a picture of the penguin he loved most. "She has the most beautiful voice in the Emperor Kingdom. She's the greatest penguin to be around, and loves dancing just as much as I do." He sighed, and resisted crying in front of his new friend.
Kyle nodded in understanding. "Wait, so she knows of your poor voice?" he asked.
"The entire kingdom does!" Joshua exclaimed, anger for the Elders beginning to mix in with his nostalgia, and sadness.
Another moment of silence settled on the two penguins. Joshua could see Kyle looking around as if looking for something else to talk about. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet, but seemed content. "You know, your dancing makes me think of our customs here at the cove."
Joshua looked at him curiously. "Really?" he asked, incredulous.
"Yeah!" Kyle exclaimed. "Sure we don't... er, tap dance, but we do dance. We just get into it. Just... mm!" With that, he closed his eyes, and moved his body in a wave like motion to one side before stamping his foot on the ground, and he straightened up, flailing his flippers in the air.
Joshua smiled. "I don't dance just because I can't sing," he said. "It adds more... more music to the singing. I mean, sure we sing, but surely a beat plays in our heads, and the only way to play that beat is by dancing."
"We sing, too. I know you Emperors have Heartsongs. Well, we Kings have Heartdances. That's what you have, Josh!"
Joshua smiled, accepting the small penguin's praise gratefully.
Kyle continued talking. "I mean, we sing too, but we mostly rely on dancing when it comes to finding our soulmates. Beat first, and then, we find a song that matches our beat. And then, when the day comes, we just let it out!"
Josh sighed. "I wish it was that simple in the Emperor Kingdom," he murmured.
Another moment of silence awkwardly settled on the two penguins. Then, suddenly, a light came into Kyle's eyes, and he took a small hop toward Josh. "You know what?" he said. "I think I can help you out."
Joshua looked at the King Penguin. "How?" he asked.
"I'll help you sing!" Kyle exclaimed, raising his flippers happily into the air as if it was the best idea on the planet.
Joshua shook his head. "How are you going to do that?" he asked, his voice full of doubt. "I've taken classes. I've tried to teach myself, but nothing works."
"Trust me, I have an idea," Kyle said. He stepped up to Joshua, and stretched his neck up so that his beak almost touched the Emperor Penguin's. "Do you trust me?"
Josh stared down at his friend, and thought of Katie. He thought about how wonderful it would be if he could sing with her. If Kyle really can help me, he thought, I'd better take that chance. Rather this than nothing. Finally, he nodded, and said, "Yes."