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"Please don't go sad!" Ricky pleaded as Harry continued to cry. His tears made everyone reevaluate their success so far. Was it really worth it?
Evina knew things were starting to turn for the worse because they were already beginning to fight with each other. He went up to Harry to help him. "It's not your fault that we're lost, and we don't need another toon to go sad. Remember why we fought those cogs? They're here because they don't want anyone to know what's in the west. I thought I saw a light ahead in the forest. I promise you we'll find the way out."
Harry listened and found the strength to pull himself together. "Ok then, are we ready to continue?"
"I suppose we're as ready as we'll ever be," mumbled Goopy.
The toons continued walking again. It was impossible to tell whether it was night or day. They were weak and had to take long, frequent breaks. On top of that, they hadn't slept at all since they left Clarabelle's facility. They didn't know if there was an end to the forest. For all they know, perhaps one day, they would fall off the edge of the world.
Harry occasionally moved his eyes to look at Catman. He didn't know if there were going to be any more violent outbursts, and he wasn't sure how far he could trust him.
There was still no end to the dark trees. When they noticed that they seemed to pass the same landmarks, they concluded that they were walking in circles.
They sat down to rest at the same place they rested the previous hour. Because of their extreme hunger, they didn't have any determination left to continue. They also had a strange feeling that something was following them. They frequently heard eerie noises and saw pairs of glowing eyes from behind bushes and trees. They feared that one of those pairs of eyes could belong to a cog or a strange, savage animal.
Simeon picked up a stick and traced his name in the dirt.
"What's that for?" Rocky asked.
"It's for if we ever wander back here again. I want to see that we've been here before, and just in case I go crazy and forget my name, I want to be sure I'll remember it."
Zany sighed and leaned back against a boulder. Harry was falling asleep against a tree, and Rocky searched his backpack for any remains of food.
Just then, Simeon saw something shimmer. It lasted only for a second and then disappeared. He shrugged and went back to engraving the letters of his name. He saw it glimmer again, and he looked up. He scratched his head and got to his feet. There was some kind of light ahead.
"Where are you going?" Goopy called out to him.
"I think I see something," Simeon replied. He ran toward the light and saw that it got much brighter. "We made it out!" he shouted excitedly.
The toons jumped up and followed behind him as fast as they could. They soon emerged from the oppressing trees and escaped the forest. The bright light was coming from the sun reflecting off the snow on a nearby mountain range. The sun was going down, and it would soon be dark. There were mysterious noises and smoke ahead in a little valley by the mountain.
"Those must be other toons!" Zany yelled.
"But I thought nobody knew about the other side of the forest," Harry said solemnly.
"If that's the case, then we should be very careful," Evina said.
Nobody could argue. They walked slowly and quietly over to the ledge going down to the valley. Then they lied down on their stomachs and peeked over the edge. Down below there were definitely some toons, but they were not the ones that they had been accustomed to seeing. They were wild toons, in the shapes of all kinds of strange animals.
"This won't be easy," Harry murmured, "but they must know about laff and going sad, shouldn't they?"
"I suppose," Ricky said, "but I'm nervous about them."
They stood up together as carefully as they could and walked down into the valley. They stumbled and tripped from their hunger and weakness. The natives apparently saw them because they promptly turned away from their bonfire to look at them.
Harry went first followed by the rest of the group who kept a good distance away. "We uh... need laff and food."
They stared at him, looking confused.
"Can you help us?"
The natives exchanged uncertain glances at each other then turned back at the strangers.
"Perhaps they speak the ancient language that I learned about years ago," Harry thought aloud, "though I'm not that good at it."
"It's worth a try," Pink said.
Harry turned to face the natives again and cleared his throat. Then he spoke some words that sounded exotic and beautiful.
One of the wild toons stepped forward. He appeared to be the leader of the tribe. He motioned for everyone to come closer. His hand reached into a stone bowl of sparkly powder. Then he threw some out onto everyone, and they immediately felt stronger.
"Ah, pixie dust!" Goopy sighed.
"Tell them we're hungry and tired too!" Zany reminded Harry.
He turned to face the leader of the natives again and said another sentence in the strange language.
The leader of the native toons pointed to some odd-looking structures. The adventurers went inside and dropped all their stuff. A few of their young ones brought in bowls of some thick soup. It was not the best tasting stuff, but everyone was so hungry that they didn't really mind.
Rocky carefully examined the soup after drinking some. "I think I might even like this better than burritos," he muttered.
Everyone laughed for the first time since they left Clarabelle's barn. They felt so lucky to have met some other living beings that weren't dangerous. After lying down on the floor, their drowsiness put them to sleep within a few minutes.
The next morning, they woke up to the sounds of wild birds and the soft light of the sunrise. It seemed to be much later than they usually woke up. The natives brought them some breakfast. Then the group packed their stuff into Harry's bottomless pocket.
Harry used the ancient language to thank the leader and handed him something thin and black before they left.
"What was that thing you gave him?" Catman asked.
"It was an ordinary portal hole. I found a spare with me just now. It's about time they learned how to use modern technology."
Smiling, they followed him to the mountain. They began by climbing up foothills and approached the face of the cliff.
"I'm ready to go up!" Evina announced enthusiastically. "It doesn't look that tall at all."
"Your right Evina, it isn't that tall." There was concern in his voice, "but it is a lot steeper than it looks and it's slippery from the ice. It'll be impossible to go over."
"Then we have to go around it?" Simeon asked. But after noticing how long the mountain range was he said, "Oh, that's impossible too."
Ricky looked perplexed. "I can't figure out a solution."
"Ladies and gentletoons," Harry smiled, "our next challenge is to find a way through the mountain."
It took the others a while to comprehend what he had meant.
"And just how are we going to do that?" Rocky asked.
The explorers moved closer to the face of the mountain. It soon became apparent that the cliff was indeed too steep to climb.
"So... let's look for a hole in the mountain," Ricky said.
Half of the toons went in each direction along the base of the mountain, looking for openings. They searched diligently for an hour and still, there was no visible opening. They began to think that is was impossible, but it wasn't the first time they were proven wrong. Finally, Zany spotted something.
"Look, I found a hole!" she exclaimed.
Everyone with her was cheering. It was barely large enough to squeeze a hand through.
"There is no way we'll get through that!" Pink laughed.
"Or maybe there is," Catman said.
"What?" Ricky yelled. "Do you think we can shrink ourselves or something?"
"Nope," Catman smirked, "I think I can do this." As he said those words, he slammed his robotic arm into the rock with magnificent force. The vibration sent a shockwave through the wall. The other group rushed over to them to see what had happened. The tiny hole was crushed, and rocks collapsed revealing an opening big enough that everyone could fit through.
"I discovered it, so I'll go in first," announced Zany. She carefully crawled inside. "It's really not so bad in here. It gets bigger and... wow! I can't see the end. This place is huge!" Her voice echoed inside and faded away.
Harry arrived, at last, trying hard to catch his breath. He was surprised to see they had really found a cave.
"Let's hope it gets us all the way through the mountain," he murmured. "If we get stuck or lost, then we'll be in trouble." They each stepped in, one by one.
"This will be annoying," Simeon said. "We have enough hard hats and flashlights, but I wish there was a way to get the lights on the helmets. My arm is going to be sore."
Zany and Evina reacted quickly, and they both pulled out a roll of duck tape. It is one of the strongest known things in Toontown.
"Hey Zany, what is the secret of duck tape?" Pink asked.
"I can't tell you," she replied bluntly.
"Well, can't you at least tell us where you got it?" Ricky asked.
"Nope, that's a special duck secret. You can't tell me that your species doesn't have your own secrets."
"Well, we do," admitted Ricky, "but it's not as good as duck tape. All dogs can imitate the 'Look, there's a cog outside!' face from Tutorial Tom."
"And I love that!" Zany giggled.
They turned on their helmet lights and were better prepared to trek deeper into the cave. The air became cooler, and the light behind them faded away. Their lights glittered off the water and minerals on the walls. There were some places where the ceiling was really low, and they had to duck down. Then after a few hours, they came to a circular room with a dome-shaped ceiling. There were lots of stalagmites and stalactites. They stopped there to rest for a little while. There were bats and spiders hanging on every visible surface, and they listened to the quiet sounds of dripping water. The overall effect was calm but creepy. They knew they couldn't stay there too long. The smallest of echoes created eerie noises that almost sounded like ghostly voices.
They had not brought in very much food with them, only a few leftovers from the native camp. They worried about seeing the cave stop at a dead end and what would happen to them then.
"I think this is the center of the mountain," Harry reasoned, although it was just a guess. "We are about halfway through."
This disappointed them because they were eager to get out as quickly as possible.
When they were rested, they continued again. Fortunately, there was another passage at the opposite end of the cavern room. They hoped that this would lead them outside. It became very narrow and began to slope downward. It got so steep to the point that everyone had to climb on hands and feet to get down. They reached a barrier shortly afterward. It was a large, steel door. It sat there blocking the whole passageway. There was no doorknob; it seemed to be impenetrable.
"Oh, that's just great!" Goopy cried. "We'll be here forever!"
"Evidently someone doesn't want us to get to the other side," Harry said.
"This is no time for jokes!" Simeon said. "What will we do now?"
Just then, Catman noticed a gear shape in the middle of the door. It was engraved delicately and lightly, and it seemed to glimmer even with the very little light they had. Something seemed very special about it.
"What are you doing?" Pink demanded when she saw Catman remove a glove. Everyone could now see his shiny, silver robotic fingers where there was no fur.
"I said, WHAT ARE YOU—" Pink was cut off as Goopy silenced her with his glove.
"Be very careful," Harry whispered.
All the toons held their breath as Catman moved his hand very slowly toward the ominous gear. The suspense almost made them sick. They were wondering if it was a trap. They didn't know what was going to happen. Then Catman built up enough courage. He shoved his robotic hand flat against the center of the gear.
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