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There was a loud, metallic bang as the solid metal hand hit the engraved gear on the giant door. Each of the toons felt the vibrations move through the walls of the mountain with a low rumbling. They were afraid the cave would collapse. For a minute, it seemed like nothing was happening. Catman was about to remove his hand when there was a flash of green light. It was a small beam that went up and down. It appeared to be scanning his hand. Once the light disappeared, there were two short, high pitched beeps. The door slid open automatically, and they hurried through before it closed. Catman put his glove back on. On the other side of the door was a straight, narrow passageway. At the end, there was light.
"I knew we would find a way out!" Zany cried. "I hate bats, caves, and darkness!"
Catman quickly followed the others behind. "The only reason we're on this side," he explained, "is because it thought I was a cog." They each considered this. They knew that the gear probably had something to do with the cogs.
"Why would no one be allowed to come to this side of the mountain except a cog?" Simeon asked.
As they exited the cave, they quickly felt a gust of warm wind. There were sand dunes ahead of them, and sand was blowing in all directions. It was extremely hot compared to the cave and the other side of the mountain. There was something black on the horizon indicating that it was big and far away. It stretched like a thin, black line to the left and to the right. Nobody had the slightest idea what it was, but they started walking toward it.
"Judging by my calculations," Harry said, "which are seldom wrong, I estimate that object to be about ten toonmiles away."
"Then it must be huge!" Zany exclaimed, "unless it's just a mirage."
They took off running through the sand, but the object on the horizon didn't get any bigger. It didn't take long for the sand to get in their eyes and clothes. The wind blew relentlessly. Soon, they weren't able to see much at all.
Ricky tripped over something unexpectedly. It was a skeletoon. Everyone turned and looked at the bones, horrified. It was pearly white and had a shovel in its hand.
"Uh, what happened to it?" Evina asked.
Harry didn't answer. He looked at the skeletoon then turned to look at the dark line on the horizon. His face was grim. "I think I know what that thing is over there, but I hope I'm wrong." His tone of voice began to scare the others. "I just need to ask you something," he continued as the other toons stared at him intently.
"What is it?" Pink asked.
Harry froze for a moment like he was in a trance. His eyes glimmered in the scorching sunlight. Then he awoke, and for a second, nobody recognized him. "Are you afraid to die?"
The toons stood still with their mouths open.
"Yes," they all admitted.
"But I'm afraid that doesn't matter. We must do this! We have to go now!" Harry screamed though the wind was just as loud. "Leave now if you want," he continued with the same tone, "but I'm willing to give my life for the good of Toontown."
Nobody replied. They didn't know what to do because they had not seen Harry act like this before. Even Evina was beginning to wonder if Harry had gone crazy, for real this time. But despite not knowing what he was talking about, they were all willing to give their lives for the cause of Toontown. At least, that's what they thought.
"And if we don't survive it," Harry said in a solemn voice, "I hope we will be remembered."
"We'll live, I promise," Ricky said with a quivering voice. "But I really don't know what you're talking about." The wind began blowing harder and harder. It was almost impossible to see now.
"I THINK WE NEED TO FIND SOME SHELTER!" Rocky yelled above the wind.
Harry was disgusted with the skeletoon, but he somehow managed to wrench the shovel out of its hands. Despite being drained of energy from the heat, he began digging into the side of a sand dune. He made one side of it as flat as he could. It would block the wind for the time being. They hid behind it to shield themselves. It got very loud and strong. Sand went everywhere, and nobody could see or hear. Harry handed them each a handkerchief to cover their faces. They helped a little bit. It felt like they had been sitting there for hours before it cleared away. The skeletoon was gone, completely buried in sand. They came out and gasped to see that they were trapped on all sides by huge dunes. They didn't remember what direction they were going.
"I'll go stand on one of them and look around," announced Catman. He leaped up onto one of the shortest piles of sand and climbed uneasily to the top to look around.
"What do you see?" Zany asked.
"I still see nothing," Catman informed them. He leaped up onto a much higher dune and looked around again. "The mountain is that way," he said pointing to their right.
"So, basically, we should go this way," Ricky reasoned, pointing to the left. He took the shovel out from Harry's hands and started digging away the sand dune on the left. After about ten minutes, it suddenly collapsed, revealing another dune behind it.
"Uh... I don't mean to rain on your parade," Catman chuckled, "but there are still hundreds to go." He jumped down to where they were.
"Well, I'm completely exhausted," Ricky said, throwing the shovel on the ground.
"We'll take turns digging the extra tall dunes," Harry said, "and we'll try to climb over the short ones."
Everyone agreed. It was a crazy plan, but nobody could think of a better one. They weren't happy with all the digging and were beginning to get very tired and hungry. The bright sun sent burning rays of heat over them, and dizziness and dehydration came quickly.
"I have a few very weak gags to eat," Ricky said. He took out a bunch of cupcakes and fruit pie slices. "I had to use all my powerful ones on the Head Hunters."
"I have some gags too!" Pink said. She handed out some cream pie slices and seltzer bottles. The water, despite its harsh bubbles, made them feel much better.
"But what if we run into some cogs?" Goopy said.
"Even if we do, what are we going to use these weak ones for, anyway?" Pink replied as she took a few of them herself. After everyone had finished eating, Evina started digging the next dune. They managed to get through a couple dozen sand dunes before the night came. Everything became cold suddenly. They had more throw gags for dinner.
"What? No dessert?" Simeon asked.
"The pie is your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert!" Ricky shouted.
"But I'm so tired of pie," Simeon retorted though nobody was listening. They had already gone to sleep. Simeon sighed and went to sleep as well.
They all woke up the next day to find themselves covered in sand again. They hated the heat and the sand. They used seltzer bottles and glasses of water to drink and more had more throw gags to eat. Goopy started digging. Evina watched him breathing heavily and noticed that he had a funny look about him when he started the work. He wasn't acting normal. Soon he started singing in an odd way.
"Digging, digging, all day long
That is why I sing this song
I am bored all day and night
Seeing my shadow gives me a fright
I drink water from a squirting daisy
While the sand dunes drive me crazy!"
"GOOPY STOP THAT!" Pink said.
Goopy's eyes were large, but his pupils were tiny. He swayed back and forth in a dizzy way. Nobody could predict what he might do next. Then he started singing again.
"Don't take the shovel out of my hands
I use it to remove the sands
And if I don't, we'll still be here
And sit here for another year!"
Goopy was picked up by Ricky and taken away to sit down to rest. His meaningless singing didn't seem to be getting any better.
"Oh, miserable me, I sit in pain
I work all day and get no gain
The thing we seek we'll never find
Cause' they all think I've lost my mind!
Sand, sand everywhere
In my toes and gloves and hair
This purple dog has had it rough
Just leave me here, I've had enough!"
Goopy started laughing hysterically. Pink took a whistle out of her gag bag and blew it near his ears to wake him up. Goopy immediately looked like he woke up from a nightmare. His eyes returned to normal size.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"I'll tell you where," Evina said, pointing past the sand dune, "we're almost there!"
What Evina said was true; they had cleared away the sand dunes. The black object was much closer than they expected. Although it was still hard to see clearly, it appeared to be a long black wall stretching out in each direction.
"We should be there after one more day's walk," Harry said. "Hopefully, we'll survive until then."
Simeon and Catman took turns digging until sunset. Goopy needed to rest and drink some water.
"I don't remember anything," Goopy said. "I was just digging and feeling really hot and sleepy. Then I kind of blacked out. I've been more of a geek my whole life. I'm not used to so much heat and sun. Maybe a little exercise would be good for me once in a while... as long as it's not that much."
Nobody really knew exactly what happened to Goopy, but it was obvious that he should not dig again. They finished up eating the rest of their throw gags.
"We better hurry tomorrow," Rocky said. "We are completely out of food, and I'm even out of burritos!"
"It would go faster if you helped with the digging," Ricky murmured.
"I'm sure we'll find food," Harry assured everyone. "I know exactly what that is over there. I think I know exactly where the cogs came from."
"Where?" Pink demanded.
"Well, it's obvious, really," Harry said. "Whether you want to believe it or not, I'm sure that is the border wall to the legendary Cog Nation."
Everyone looked shocked. "We won't survive ten minutes in there!" Zany screamed.
"Exactly," Harry said, "I knew it was going to come to this, but you all agreed that there would be danger and that we may die while trying to go in there."
A look of horror spread across each of their faces as they looked back at the giant dark wall looming ahead of them. Harry was famously known for his sudden outbreaks of panic, but the calm manner in which he said this was frightening. He didn't seem that scared at all. The toons looked back at each other. Some of them looked like they were going to break their promise.
"Did I not warn you of the danger?" Harry said.
"It was you who wanted to come!" he reminded them, and it hurt to hear him say it. "It's not my fault, and I figured that since we came all this way, why would we turn and run away now?"
"Because I'm hungry," Rocky replied bluntly.
"You would never survive running home now," Harry assured him. "We've gone a hundred toonmiles. You'll run out of energy before you get halfway back to the mountain. Remember that skeletoon? At least we have a fighting chance of stealing the cog's food if they use any."
"But what if it's not Cog Nation?" Ricky asked.
"What else could it be?" Harry asked. "Who would build a wall like that? Also, if I were you, I would hope its Cog Nation. If it's not, then we failed our mission to locate the cogs, and we'll certainly die without finding supplies." Nobody could argue with Harry's logic. "So, I want to make sure: are you with me or not? It's not like it really matters; you already promised."
"Ok, ok!" Evina interrupted. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you before. You don't have to rub it in. I dragged you into this mess, and I'll stand by you completely. I will trust you and do anything you ask."
Everybody announced their decision to stay; they really had no choice. This was their only chance of survival. So, in hopes of conserving their energy for the day ahead, they went to bed early.
The next morning, they got up and started walking again. There were not that many more sand dunes, so nobody had to dig. They walked for hours and hours without stopping. They were starving. Their bodies ached and were burned all over. Their laff was quickly dropping. Then, at last, they finally reached the wall. A large gate was there. On either side, there stood monstrously huge goons. They were deactivated, rusted, and partially buried in the sand. They looked like they had once guarded the gate.
The wall was ten times taller than the tallest toon, and nobody could see the end of it in either direction. It was solid black granite. In golden letters engraved in the wall were these words:
THE UNITED COG NATION
"We need our disguises!" Ricky reminded them. They each put on a Bossbot suit, except for Harry and Evina; they didn't have one.
Catman wore the dark blue suit he had claimed before. It made him stand out. "If any cog sees us, I'll pretend to take you as prisoners," he chuckled.
"Are you sure you have that authority?" Pink asked him.
"Just look at me! Any cog wearing this suit has got to be an important one," he replied, admiring the merits on the suit. "I think I could get away with almost anything."
"I sure hope so," Pink replied gravely, "because our lives may depend on it."
They knew that the only way to get inside was to get through this gate. Catman stepped up to the wall and had his hand scanned again. Just like before, it beeped and opened for them. They each proceeded in through the gates, one by one before it tightly shut itself behind them.
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