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In the darkness, Ricky pulled out one of their flashlights and turned it on. Behind them was a wall of dark trees, and ahead of them, there were more dark trees. There were dark trees to their sides, too, and they couldn't see or hear anything from the outside world. It frightened them.
"Do you think we're lost?" Simeon asked.
"No," Harry assured them. "If we keep going straight, we should find the end... eventually."
"But how do you know we've been going straight?"
Harry paused for a second, his eyes moving back and forth in every direction. They all looked the same. "I don't know," he said calmly, even though now he looked scared. "I know little about this forest, let alone what lies beyond it. You can't rely on my navigation skills anymore."
"I'm climbing up that tree to take a look around," Evina said.
"Be careful!" Pink shouted.
"Don't worry," he assured her. "I've always been an expert at the Jungle Vines game." He got a firm grip and began climbing up the giant tree, trying not to look down. Finally, he broke through the canopy.
"What do you see?" Ricky yelled from below.
"Not much," Evina replied. He turned around, and everywhere he looked, he saw the tops of trees. There was a lot of fog around, and it was very cold. "There's nothing but trees everywhere!" he said, shuddering. He slid down the tree and stood with the others. "I guess we should keep going."
They continued in the direction that they thought was the correct way. Time seemed to pass slowly because they were very bored and nervous at the same time.
"Um, do you think we should sing a song?" Simeon said.
"No," Harry said firmly.
"I think it would really help—"
"We're fine. Let's just keep quiet."
"Ok." Simeon was quiet for a minute. "Wait, what was that noise?"
Everyone looked around them and began to panic. There was a bush rustling not too far away. They cringed as a strange creature slowly emerged from the leaves. It looked like a toad with think black fur. It has small beady eyes and stared at them.
"WHAT IS THAT?" Zany shouted.
Nobody replied because they were all focused on the thing, without a clue as to what it was. They feared something terrible would happen.
After a minute, it raised a foot and pointed to their left. Then it commenced hopping in that direction
"I think," Harry whispered to everyone, "he wants us to follow him."
They didn't know whether to trust it or not, but since they were lost, they followed the creature anyway. It hopped for a long time until it reached a place where the trees were growing a little farther apart. It was in a circular area between the trees that it stopped. Then the creature turned around and looked at them.
"There must be something special about this place," Catman said. "Maybe there is a way out." He walked out to the center where the toad thing was standing, and then he started sinking slowly.
"IT'S QUICKSAND!" he shrieked.
The others sprinted over to him and tried to pull him out, but he didn't budge.
"Wait!" Harry yelled. "Remember what happens to the cogs?"
They understood what he meant and let Catman slide helplessly down under the quicksand. Then they looked up to the treetops. But Catman didn't fall down. Where he was now, nobody knew.
Zany began crying. "CATMAN!" she stood on the spot he was at and began sinking. Simeon, Rocky, and Ricky followed. Harry stood back with Evina, Pink, and Goopy.
"I wonder," Harry thought aloud, "that maybe..." He paused, looking like he was thinking something over. "Let's just go!" he said.
They went and stood over the quicksand. It felt like a weird sensation as their legs got slowly pulled under the cold sand. They held their breaths as their heads went under.
They were being dragged down deeper and deeper. It seemed like it would never end until their feet finally felt air. They came out from the ceiling of a small cave.
Everyone was there, safe and sound, but Harry was not so happy.
"This is not good!" Harry cried.
"Yes, it is!" Zany interrupted "We're safe!"
"No, we're not!" he insisted. "This was no accident, this is a trap. This is a prison! See? Look at that quicksand trap up there. That is certainly not natural. Also, the cave walls are smooth and shiny like they've been carved. And there's a door over there!"
Catman stood up and ran to the wooden door, but it was locked tight.
"I have an idea!" Ricky said excitedly. He walked over to the door and placed a lit stick of dynamite.
"I don't think that's a good idea!" Harry warned him.
"Dyna-BOOM!" Ricky exclaimed. There was a tremendous explosion. Shrapnel went flying in every direction, and everyone was pushed up against the walls from the force of the blast. When the smoke cleared, they could see a giant hole where the door had been, revealing a long hallway.
Harry was furious. "The cave could have collapsed! If there are enemies around, they would have heard that!"
Just then, they heard a cog's voice. "Yes, this is Mr. Hollywood 12 at station 37A Forest Fortress. I am reporting an explosion I heard from the main entrance."
The toons scrambled to hide in a corner. While Harry wasn't looking, Ricky reached inside Harry's bottomless pocket. He removed the Bossbot suit. Then he put it on and stood up just as the Mr. Hollywood was coming in. The real cog saw Ricky and paused. It was a mysterious fact known to toons that they could not be detected by a cog while wearing a cog suit.
"Excuse me, but what was that explosion all about?" the cog demanded.
Ricky froze in place and didn't know what to answer.
"And why aren't you wearing your uniform?"
Everyone had quickly noticed that the Mr. Hollywood wasn't wearing his Sellbot suit, but a dark blue suit with badges on it, and he was carrying a large laser gun in a holster on his belt. Ricky still didn't answer.
The Mr. Hollywood suddenly caught a glimpse of the other toons in the corner and pulled out his walkie-talkie. "RED ALERT! RED ALERT! INTRUDERS! INTRUDERS!" He pulled out his laser gun and pointed it at everyone. "DON'T MOVE!" he shouted, though he was unaware that Catman had been directly behind him, about to pounce on his head. The cog was instantly knocked unconscious.
Harry carefully pulled off the cog's suit, folded it neatly and dropped it in his pocket while Ricky took off the Bossbot suit. Goopy went over to the Mr. Hollywood with Rocky. They broke open the control panel and started unplugging random wires, so he wouldn't revive. After that, the adventurers sneaked into the hallway. There were doors on each side. At the end of the hall, there was a staircase that went up to the forest. Head Hunters were searching the entire area for them.
"I don't see any intruders," one of them remarked. "Do you think it was a drill?"
The toons tried to run away before the cogs saw them, but it was too late. A Head Hunter shot Simeon with his unusual gun. Simeon fell and instantly went sad.
Pink and Zany carried him away while Ricky used his other stick of dynamite to destroy a few Head Hunters. There were three cogs left. One of them shot Goopy who also went instantly sad. The other two missed.
Evina was one of the only free toons left, so he used a Wedding Cake to destroy them all. Everything else became quiet, and they sighed with relief. Goopy and Simeon were carried to a soft mossy area beside a river where they all rested. The sad toons appeared to be paralyzed. Everyone else was injured as well. The snowflakes in Harry's pocket had melted, so there was nothing they could do. They wondered if they would ever make it out of the forest.
Zany and Pink got an idea. They ran off toward the river and got some water. They brought it back and poured it on the sad toons. It worked like a squirt gag and awoke them. But they were still very weak and couldn't walk.
Harry was still out of breath and wheezing. "I haven't run like that in years. I wonder what those weird guns were. I've never seen stuff like that before. And I don't know why that Mr. Hollywood was wearing that suit."
The other toons were just as clueless as Harry was. They knew that if he didn't understand it then they might never figure it out.
Harry picked up a muddy gun off the ground, one that a Head Hunter had been using. "I think these things act on some kind of happiness draining technology. I noticed that the cog's tech is getting more advanced, especially since the time we left Toontown. They may be a much bigger threat than we realize."
He paused, and everyone dropped their heads, sighing. "I think they are planning something big," Harry continued. The toons raised their heads to hear him again. "Now, I may be wrong, but I have the strangest feeling that they might be making something that will cause a lot of destruction."
The toons glanced at each other nervously. "I haven't noticed anything unusual going on with the cogs until now," Pink said.
"Yes," Harry said, "they are clearly trying to hide something from us. And I bet it is something big. They tried to apprehend us at Pete's Palace, and why else would they have a hidden fortress out here? They don't want anyone going this direction. Does anyone have good gags left?" Everyone shook their heads. "Not a single level seven gag?"
"No," Evina said, "I used the last one to save us."
Harry was growing more concerned. "Then that means we will have to continue our quest without gags. We'll have to avoid combat at all costs. We have to be practically invisible."
"I don't know about invisible," Catman said, "but I do have something that can help a lot." He revealed five Bossbot suits from the cogs they had just defeated.
"That's great!" Harry said. "Now, we only need a couple more so we'll all have a disguise."
"I call dibs on that blue one!" Zany said.
"Why?" Goopy asked.
"Because it looks like a powerful cog suit. It's so official-looking. I could do things that few other cogs could do."
Catman was staring at the suit with a funny look in his eye. It looked unnatural and sinister. Evina noticed this, but he didn't know what to think of it.
"Oh yeah, well I think I should have the suit," Goopy continued, "because I'm famous and all of that."
Evina failed to act in time. Suddenly, Catman pulled out one of the cog's ray guns. He pointed it at the other toons, and they put their hands up. "I'm sorry about this everyone, but that special suit belongs to me."
"Catman, I thought I could trust you!" Pink exclaimed.
The cat paused but still had the ray gun pointed at them. They waited in silence as he glared at them with madness in his eyes. "I used to be the greatest hero in Toontown!" he cried, "until this!" He used his free arm to rip off the arm with the gun in it.
Everyone cringed in horror to see gears and wires that were underneath the artificial fur.
"I lost my powers when I lost my arm! I couldn't believe it! It was a disaster. It ruined my life. I came with you to seek adventure again. I wanted to start a whole new life. But in order to do that, you'll have to cooperate with me."
"We would cooperate more willingly if you didn't have a gun pointed at us," Harry said.
Catman gazed at Harry for a moment and sighed knowing he was right. He lowered his head and the blaster, but he still held onto it. "When I got this thing," he said, lifting his detached arm, "I felt like a fool while making it. It's not normally something you would see on a toon, but my injury wasn't normal either. It was a while before I discovered the new talent. I now have something that no other toon has seen before: metallic power. I can unlock doors and lift heavy things just like a cog can. That suit is for a cog with high authority. I believe that if I can pretend to be someone important, I can use my powers to help us. We can survive, and I can become a hero once again."
Harry wasn't expecting to learn this personal information so suddenly. "Ok, Catman, you win," he said, although he sounded disturbed. "You can have that suit for all I care as long as you promise not to harm us."
Catman crushed the weapon with his powerful robot arm. It fell to the ground in little pieces.
"I apologize for losing control like that," he said. "You don't know what it's like to be a hero and then lose it all." He sat down and cried. "I built this arm for myself out of broken cog parts, and I've been living alone for years. Nobody has ever been my friend. Pete and his entire neighborhood think I'm crazy." Pink ran back to the river to get more water in case Catman went sad.
"You're right, Catman, I don't know what it's like, but I do know that we've been in this forest for a very long time. Just remember that I was chosen as the leader of this quest, and it is my responsibility to protect everyone. I can't allow you or anyone else to put them in danger." Harry was shuddering. He looked up into the trees, appearing dizzy. "We need to get help... WE NEED TO FIND A WAY OUT OF HERE!" The dark trees surrounding them didn't respond, they only echoed his voice. He buried his face in his hands, knowing that they were hopelessly lost.
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