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Sally opened her eyes in the dark. It was earlier than she normally woke. This darkness used to terrify her, but she remembered something her father had said to her. No matter how dark the night is, it will always give way to the light. There was nothing to be scared of here.
She didn't want to get out of bed, but she couldn't go back to sleep. It was a waste of time to lie here, so she rolled out of bed and slowly walked to the door. The hallway was empty. It looked like she was the only one awake now. She decided to go outside for some fresh air.
The sun was starting to rise. She went to the balcony and looked at the clouds lazily drifting by below. She liked watching them twist and turn into strange shapes.
"You're up early," someone said.
Sally was surprised. She hadn't seen her father standing out there as well, only a short distance away.
"I couldn't go back to sleep," she explained.
"Me neither," he said.
Sally paused. "Do you come out here by yourself a lot?"
The father looked out over the vista with a blank expression. "Sometimes I like to watch the sunrise. It reminds me of where I came from," he said. "And it's so peaceful out here at this hour."
"Yeah, it's nice," she said, even though she was already becoming bored. She had always been curious about her father's past, and this felt like the best opportunity to ask.
"Speaking of where you came from," she said, "can you tell me about the war?"
He looked surprised. "Um, sweetie, are you sure you're ready to hear about that? It's a scary story."
"Dad, I can handle it," she insisted.
"Well," he began. Then he hesitated, trying to find the words. "It's hard to explain. Twenty years ago, our world was in the middle of a war. We were constantly fighting the cogs."
"Why?" she said.
"I know it's hard to believe, but we weren't always friends with the cogs. Back then, they were trying to take over our world. We were both fighting for control of Toontown. But I had a feeling I could figure out what was going on if I went on an adventure, and that's what I did."
"What kind of adventure?"
"I had to leave Toontown behind and go where no toon had gone before, deep into the wilderness."
"Weren't you scared? Did you get lonely?"
"Oh no, I wasn't alone," he said. "I had eight other toons with me, and they became some of my best friends. One of them was Harry. I know it's been a while since you've seen him, but you still remember him, right?"
She rolled her eyes. "Of course, I remember him. Finish the story."
"Well," he said, "it wasn't very easy, but I eventually found Cog Nation, the place where the cogs came from. We managed to stop them for good."
"And where is this Cog Nation?" she asked. "Can I see it?"
"You're already seeing it," he said with a smile. "This city was their capital. It used to be called Cogtropolis."
Sally was both amazed by this fact and embarrassed that she did not know it before. "Wow..."
And on this roof we're standing on, I destroyed the chairman of Cogs Incorporated.
"What?" she gasped. "You killed him?"
"Well, um, yes, but he came back to life later."
Sally was skeptical. "Are you sure you weren't the bad guy?"
He sighed. "Yes, sweetie. The cogs used to be the bad guys. But, as you know, we eventually became friends with them."
"So, that was the scary story?"
"Oh no," he corrected her. "I went with your grandpa to Earth and we faced a very scary monster that tried to kill us."
"Dad, that sounds made-up."
"No, it's true! We left the Tooniverse and went to the human world. We encountered weird aliens along the way, and we barely made it back alive."
"And that's the scary story?"
"No," he said. "I almost don't want to tell you what really happened."
"Dad, I said I can handle it," she insisted.
"Sweetie," he paused, not sure if he should continue. "I found out that the real monster was living inside my body."
Sally didn't respond. She didn't know what to say.
"It made me angry all of the time. It made the sun leave Toontown. And lots of toons who were our friends became bad guys and tried to hurt us. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," she said, although she still didn't comprehend it. "What happened to the bad toons?"
"After we stopped them, we gave them a second chance," he said. "Once the sun came back, they stopped doing bad things and started helping us again."
"Still, even though we won the war, it was a very scary time. I had to kill the monster that infected our world," he continued. "A lot of people got hurt, and some of them took a long time to heal. That was ten years ago. Now, do you see why I never told you before?"
"I do," she said. "Thank you for telling me, dad."
"Anything for you, Sally. Now, go see if your mom is awake."
She turned and left the roof through the door she came from.
Evina was left alone. Even though the war was long over, talking about it brought some old feelings to the surface. He was still worried. He was concerned that something might happen to separate him from his family again.
But, on the other hand, even those he thought were lost forever managed to come back. His father returned from exile and sickness, his mother returned from annihilation, and Flippy returned after running away. He knew it was impossible to be separated from those he loved. Even if they weren't there physically, their presence was still inside him, but was there a way to stop the anxiety?
Just as he was thinking about this, an unlikely event surprised him. A small, black spaceship was seen hovering above the city. It wasn't like anything Evina had seen before. He stared at it for a few minutes, then it started heading toward his building. He stood his ground as it landed on the roof, only a few feet from him.
The hatch opened. Evina didn't know what to expect. Then someone walked down the ramp toward him. It looked like a black-haired human woman wearing a long gown covered with delicate embroidery. She appeared to be a stranger at first, but Evina thought she looked familiar.
"Have I seen you before?" he asked.
"Of course, you have!" she said. "Am I really that forgettable, Evina?"
Evina smiled. "Kate!"
"Yeah, it's me," she said awkwardly. It was almost like she was ashamed of something.
"How did you get here? Where did you get that ship?"
"I built it. It took forever, but the plans your dad gave me helped out a lot."
"Gyro," Evina muttered. "He's always full of surprises. Anyway, how have you been? And why are you dressed up so nicely?"
"I'm the empress of my world now," she explained.
"Oh, and how are you liking that?"
"I don't," she replied sharply. "That's why I've been looking for any excuse to get away for a while. You can't imagine what it's like having people watching you all the time, trying to get your attention, trying to tell you what you should and shouldn't say."
"That sounds crazy," he said.
"Sometimes, I wish I could go back to the old days when I didn't have to care about anything," she sighed. "But never mind that. I didn't come all this way to talk about myself. Tell me what's going on in your world."
"It's going pretty well," he said. "Or it has been after the massive civil war we had a decade ago."
"Ooh, war. That's sounds exciting."
"I can tell you about that another time, but as for my life right now, things are good."
"While I was on my way here, I saw a yellow duckling here with you. Am I right in assuming she's yours?"
"Yep, that's Sally," he said.
"Being a parent is difficult," Kate said.
Evina shrugged. "It sometimes can be, I guess."
"If it's not bad now, just wait until you have your fifth!" she said.
They both laughed. "I don't envy you!" he said.
There was a minute where they quietly looked out over the balcony. As the sun rose higher into the sky, it began to dispel the cloud layer. Now the whole city could be seen in all its splendor.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Evina said.
"Yes, the rising sun is a very special symbol to my people. But tell me, what's the story of this place?"
"I think I told you about the cogs before. We recolonized their capital and renamed it Toontown City."
"That's not a very creative name," she remarked.
"Eh, in my opinion, we have worse names for other places," he said. "And it is an appropriate name. This used to be the first city of our world, but that was over a hundred years ago."
"I see. Well, from what I've seen of it, it's a little too silly for my tastes. But it seems to suit your people well."
"I suppose it does," he admitted. Then he became silent again. "I still miss the old Toontown, though. Even though it had so many problems, it was my childhood. It's what made me who I am today. I can't help but feel nostalgic."
"I feel it too, Evina. But we can't live in the past. Things must change."
"I know," he said. "We must keep moving forward."
Once again, they didn't speak for a few minutes. Most of the city was starting to wake up. Some toons were seen walking in the streets below now, like colorful, tiny specks. The buildings glimmered in the daylight. Many were still cog-like, covered in metal and glass. Others were newer; they stood out because of how colorful and toony they were.
"I'm scared of The Shadow coming back," Evina suddenly said without warning. "I haven't told anyone else. I don't want to worry them. But no matter how hard I try to stop thinking about it, I know it's going to return one day."
Kate remained silent. He wondered if he had ruined the spirit of the moment, but she eventually replied. "If it does come back, I think you guys will handle it just fine."
"You really think so?"
"Yeah," she said. "I know I've made fun of you in the past, but honestly, the toons are a really strong people. You guys never give up. No matter what comes your way, I'm sure you'll find a way to fix it."
"Wow, thanks," Evina said. He was flattered. "You know, I don't think I could do something like that again, but I have faith in the next generation. They are so young, so flexible and free. They continually amaze me."
"Well, of course, they're better than you," Kate said. "The story isn't about you anymore. You have to pass it on and let someone else have a chance. It's a beautiful, crazy cycle that never ends. Just be glad you had a chance to be part of it."
Evina thought about it for a while. "You're right. I know Sally is going to do great things one day."
Just then, the door opened up and someone ran onto the roof shouting, "EUREKA!"
Evina turned around, even though he knew who it was. "Dad, what are you doing up here?"
"I just finished my latest invention!" he exclaimed.
Evina looked at the complicated mess of cables and gears in his hands, dripping with a mysterious slime. "So... what is it?"
Gyro hesitated. "Well, um, I'm not sure yet," he admitted, looking embarrassed. He set it on the ground and wiped his hands clean. "But I need to finish it for Scrooge by Friday. Anyway, are you going to introduce me to your friend here?"
"Don't you already know her?" Evina asked.
Gyro's eyes grew wide. "Oh, Kate! Wow, you finally made it."
"You always knew I would come back, didn't you?"
He laughed. "It looks like you finally grew up."
"And you look younger than ever," she replied. "Why is life so unfair?"
They laughed together for the first time in ages.
Sally ran out from the door again, this time with her mother and Evina's mother. "Are we having a party out here?" Sally asked.
"I guess we are," Evina said. "Say hello to Kate. She's an old friend."
Sally wasn't sure if she trusted this stranger. "Hi, Kate! What kind of weird toon are you?"
Kate returned a serious look. "I'm the kind you don't want to mess with, kid."
Here at the top of the world, a family stood, talking and laughing together. Three generations of toons shared memories from the past and hopes for the future. Of course, this didn't mean they never had troubles again, but they no longer feared trouble. There was nothing they could not do when they were together. It was just another chapter in the legend of Toontown, a story that never ends.
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