This story is copyrighted by me 11/19/09

The bright sun shown down on the grass in patches, partially blocked by the canopy of trees above. A lone Hoodlum lay on a hill overlooking the rebuilt base camp in Clearleaf Forest. But this was no ordinary Hoodlum. This was the rogue Hoodlum named…Frank. The Hoodlums weren't creative with their names, and Frank was a rare bright spot in what they chose. So, Frank it was.

Frank sat above the hill overlooking the camp, his gun poised. After Rayman has vanished so mysteriously, André had once again hatched a plan to take over the world. The only difference was that it'd worked this time. There were no heroes to defend the world, now, and Frank, having been kicked out of the Hoodlums, had decided to become "Rayman," thwarting André's nefarious plans at every turn, just like his idol. If he was lucky, André would think Rayman had returned, and would cease his evil scheme, knowing that "Rayman" would foil his plans anyway. That's what Frank was hoping for, anyway. Frank couldn't help but recall how he'd been kicked out of the Hoodlums…

It was only the 3rd day of the Hoodlums' invasion. Frank, a new recruit, had been stationed within the Clearleaf Forest base camp, guarding the treasury. He was a Hoodmonger Private 1st Class (he never would advance), and was partnered with Schnitzel, a Hoodmonger Soldier, one rank above his. Frank was sitting on a crate when the sound of a gate opening alerted the pair. Schnitzel ran down the hallway where the sound had come from (there were three gates barring the entrance to the treasury down that hallway, but from where the two Hoodlums were, they could only hear the last one), and Frank heard a shot. Schnitzel ran back in, saying in his heavy German accent: "Ze Rayman is he-er! Jou haf to go-o on'(and) tell ze 'ed 'Oodlum zaz (that's) en Ondré's place! Do it! Do it NAUWWGH (now)!" The Shock Rocket (a Hoodlum-made tool like a rocket launcher missile) followed behind, and Schnitzel was no more. Frank obliged, not wanting to be blown up, and crawled through the air-ducts out of the base camp, found a boat, journeyed to the Summit Beyond the Clouds, went into the Hoodlum Base, and told the Head Hoodlum, only to learn that he got fired for disobeying orders and not guarding the Hoodlum treasury in the Clearleaf Forest base camp. After that, Frank went to…well, somewhere, he wasn't quite sure…and basically drunk himself into a comatose state off plum juice. When he awoke (about a month ago), he learned Rayman had vanished and that André had successfully taken over most of the world. So now he was here at Clearleaf Forest, about to—

A bullet whizzed passed Frank, hitting a nearby tree. When he was lost in his memories, he'd missed his chance, been spotted, and was now in a very bad position.

"Uh oh," was all Frank could think of to say. He got up and started running, and was chased by just about the whole base camp. Numerous shots flew by him, a few hit him, and he staggered. Seeing a tree close enough, Frank grabbed hold, spun around and fired six shots at the lead Hoodlums, all of which hit. Frank was about to cheer when he realized more had appeared. As they fired off shots, Frank leaned back, his arms waving wildly.

I'm doing it! he thought. I'm dodging every single—Frank's thoughts were interrupted when a bullet hit him in a certain bad spot. He came up sharply, hands clutching between the left and right sides of his robes (Hoodlums don't really have legs, or any real appendages for that matter, but they can still move and feel like they do), and was promptly hit by several more bullets that weren't really aimed anywhere specific. He was being forced back, more and more, until finally he was knocked off his feet. He flew backwards, and for one instant his body felt wet. Then, he was hit by a sudden burst of light, blinding him temporarily. He was aware that he was falling down fast. Frank opened his eyes to see that he was falling through a large, vertical hallway. On all sides were beautifully designed windows and bright, stainless walls. The entire area looked as if it was never even touched by any creature. As he was falling, Frank tried to discern a world outside the windows, but only bright white light poured from them. He looked, and saw that there were no Hoodlums chasing him.

"That's weird," Frank muttered to himself. He then noticed that the bottomless, beautiful cave he was falling through seemed to be turning horizontally. He was still falling, but Frank could swear that he was now falling sideways. Frank then looked up, and saw that he was heading straight for an impossibly small mirror.

"Oh, that's going to hurt."

* * *

Frank felt his body shrink, get the same quick wet sensation, expand again, and slam into a wooden wall. He fell for a second, but then stopped, sitting on…something. Frank opened his eyes and looked around. He was sitting in an outhouse, with a brightly lit candle. He groaned, looking around. There was a closed door to his right, but the only place he could've come out of to land like this would be...

"No way," Frank looked at the small mirror across from him. It was the same size, shape, and had the same frame type and color as the one at the end of that weird…area. Frank touched the mirror, but his hand didn't go through.

"Hey," Frank suddenly looked around. "Where's my blunderbuss?" His self-made gun, which every Hoodlum made at the HQ to use for life, was nowhere to be seen. As if on cue, the blunderbuss rocketed out of the mirror, hitting Frank in the face.

"Now that that's solved," Frank groaned. "It's time to figure out where I am." He pushed open the door.

The Bog of Murk

The outhouse door opened to a rainy, dismal scene. Frank observed where he was. Above, dark, depressing clouds interchanged chaotically in no apparent pattern. Strange creatures flew to and fro in the dreary weather. A flock of unidentifiable birds passed in the distance. A ways ahead was a lone tree in the murky water, which appeared to hold some sort of substance that produced an unusually bright light, like a natural candle. Frank stood up, getting off the toilet seat. He was promptly greeted with an incredible pain, and he fell to the wooden floor of the outhouse.

"This isn't good," he grumbled. "If I'm caught by any Hoodlums now, I'm finished." He got back up gingerly, staring at the landscape in front of him.

"I could hide out here until I'm healed," he suggested to himself. "But if the owner of this outhouse or a Hoodlum finds me before then, it's over." Frank sighed. "Guess I'm going to have to make my way out of here…" He stepped out of the outhouse, closing the door.

Standing out in the rain, Frank noticed two things. One was that he was on a small islet, and more little spits of land were all he saw in the murky ocean around him. The second was that the strange glowing substance on the tree was amber, and that it was a useful light source right now—it was late evening, and it was hard to see. Frank saw that most of the trees in this swamp appeared to have similar amber sacks that could be seen through the wispy fog that hung on all sides of the horizon.

"This water's dirty," Frank said. "But it's not poisonous. I could probably swim out to one of those islets out there and maybe find some help." Most Hoodlums couldn't swim, but Frank and a few others he'd heard of were exceptions. However, as Frank looked at the water, he noticed something move through the muck. In instinct, Frank picked up a rock and tossed it into the water. Instantly a piranha leapt out from the murk and caught the rock, then, before going under, spat it out, seeing as it was not meat.

"Guess that rules out swimming to safety," Frank sighed. He then saw that a combination of islets and toadstools formed a path to a larger bit of land with a giant tree on it, topped by a large mushroom. Frank wasn't sure, but he thought he could see light coming from a hole in between two of the tree's enormous partially exposed roots.

"Worth a try," Frank (painfully) hopped from mushroom to mushroom, islet to islet, until he landed on a walk similar in structure to the one leading to the outhouse. On one side there was a clothesline. Frank looked and saw socks, more socks, and the biggest pair of bloomers he'd ever seen (he hadn't seen many, but, you get the idea).

"…Who lives here?" he wondered. Frank continued along, hopping from the wooden walk to two more mushrooms, then finally onto the island with the tree. He had been right; there was a warm light coming from the neatly paneled and organized hole in the ground. Frank jumped—or fell—down into it, and discovered that he was in a house. Directly in front of him was an enormous cauldron, with a bubbling green substance in side of it. Frank continued through the house, as it was warm and comfortable, and discovered various potions and books in the room. He then saw that there was a hallway in the corner. Deciding to make himself as hidden as possible, Frank continued down the hallway. It lead down a few sets of stairs, and Frank looked around at the numerous shelves, filled with books of mystery and magic, while bugs chattered, scurrying around to crevices to hide from his approach. Finally, a large spiral staircase lead down into a tall room, filled with alchemical tools, books, and an enormous mirror. Frank studied the room carefully, but found no other doors or halls.

"This house is deserted," Frank grumbled. "But it's too small. There's nowhere I can hide, and since there's no one here, I'm not protected very well. Is this it?" Frank dropped to the ground, angry with himself for messing up so soon. He was supposed to be saving the world! Instead, here he was, wounded and trapped in a house under a tree with nowhere to move. Frank turned his head and looked at the room hopelessly. Then he noticed it again. It was filled with alchemical tools, books, and—"an enormous mirror," Frank finished his thought aloud, and a smile crept across his carefully sewn mouth (he is a Hoodlum after all). Frank stood up, his blunderbuss slung across his back, and moved to the mirror. He placed his hand on it, but it felt firm and solid. Frank's smile fell.

"Why isn't it working?" he wondered. He pressed harder. Still nothing. Frustrated, Frank rammed his shoulder into the mirror, pressing in all his weight. His body felt wet for a moment, and then Frank fell.

He got up unhappily, expecting to see the mirror in the room. Instead, he saw that he was inside the hallway again, but this one was different. Fragmented. Outside of it, he saw nothing. Above, he could see a mysterious stream heading somewhere unknown. The hallway had become a tunnel of moving rectangles of light, endlessly spinning, with the occasional flicker of the spotless hallway Frank assumed it should be. Every time it flickered to this, Frank could see a mirror at the end, but when the hallway vanished, so did the mirror. In its place, the spinning rectangles that gradually moved forward would end mysteriously.

"This won't do," Frank said. "I can't time such small increments like that." He then noticed something. Every 5th flicker was longer, and lasted about a minute.

"That I can use," he grinned unconsciously. He positioned himself, and waited. 1…2…3…4…5! Frank darted off immediately, moving as fast as he could toward the mirror. He made a final leap toward it and—the hallway flicked out and Frank realized he'd just jumped into the spot where the rectangles ended.

* * *

The soft, marshy earth cushioned Frank's fall, and he quietly stood up and turned around, expecting to see a mirror behind him. Instead, he saw a small vibrating sphere of light. It split into four teardrop-shaped lights, which spiraled out for a second, then faded away. It had been in front of a small cave, and Frank noted the outside was shaped like a cauldron.

"Well," Frank turned around. "At least I can move about now. So I'm still in the swamp…" He looked onward, and saw that this section was glazed with green fog. It looked like an alien landscape, everything tinged with the sickly green of swamp gas. In the sky, two deep yellow half-moons stared down at the landscape. At first, Frank doubted he was even in the bog at all, but then saw many silhouettes of the amber trees in the distance, their sacs glowing in the alien fog. There was a large tree in front of Frank on a small island, but it had no amber. Instead, there was a light coming from a lantern. Below the lantern was a table with…two Hoodlums playing poker, plum juice bottles at their sides.

"That's not good," Frank looked around a bit more, and saw a Hoodboom on stilts, circling the island. "That's really not good." Desperately searching for a way around this, Frank spotted a row of mushrooms that curved around the island. The Hoodboom had moved to the opposite side of the island, and Frank had his chance. Doing his best to run, he leapt from mushroom to mushroom, praying that one of the Hoodlums didn't look up from his hand in the poker game. Frank had finally reached a wooden walk, and was out of the sight line of all three of the Hoodlums.

*Clang!*

Frank looked ahead and saw a Spineroo, a Hoodlum type normally only assigned to prisons. He didn't move for anything, not even the higher ups. The clanging was coming from the two heavy iron balls sewn onto his hands. He could see Frank, and Frank didn't have the firepower to move him. If Frank got too close, the Spineroo would spin violently, dangerously waving the iron balls (hence his name).However, Frank also knew that Spineroos were mute, and wouldn't talk of his appearance. This gave him an idea. Frank rushed toward the Spineroo, which, as anticipated, began to twirl rapidly. Frank saw his chance, and grabbed one of the too iron balls on the Spineroo's hands. It continued swinging, and Frank let go an instant later, and was catapulted off. Thankfully, there was a low cliff

behind the Spineroo, and Frank had to pull out his blunderbuss and stick it in the ground to avoid sliding straight into a cave further along the top of the cliff. Frank pulled his blunderbuss out of the ground and looked around. The cliff had a watch outpost with a sleeping Hoodlum in it. Behind him was the cave he'd almost flew into.

"No other options," Frank told himself. "Time to move." He walked into the cave.

As he exited, Frank noticed that the outside bog was no longer alien looking. It was later in the night, and the green mist had vanished, revealing a calm, purple-tinted sky and swamp. There were many of the amber trees here, and Frank noticed that, other than the glowing amber sacs, they were barren and dead.

"Come to think of it," he recalled. "All the trees here are dead, and most hold that amber." Frank could hear snoring. He looked and saw another Hoodlum outpost, and presumably another sleeping Hoodlum. It was then that Frank's injuries chose to act up.

"Agh!" he groaned, kneeling down. "Guess that slide took more out of me then I thought…" Frank knew he had to continue, and so he took out his blunderbuss, and, using it as a cane, proceeded along the series of islets and up to the outpost and another cave. Sneaking past the sleeping Hoodlum he continued to find a huge group of islands in front of him, ending at the largest outpost in the bog. Frank knew he'd have to act fast, when he moved; the entire area was crawling with Hoodlums. He then saw that the nearest land was to his left, where a crashed boat lay on its side. A hoodlum was moving crates back and forth on the shore.

"So boats can get passed the piranhas, huh?" he mused. "Now, how am I going to get passed you?" He then saw a metal tin a ways off the path he intended to go. Frank aimed his blunderbuss and fired. The shot flew behind the Hoodlum and struck the tin. The Hoodlum, ever wary, immediately dropped the crate and ran to the tin. Frank jumped onto the land and sprinted off down the northern path. He skidded to a stop in front of a larger, amber-bearing tree. Frank looked around and saw a stack of crates. There was an island further out, and Frank got an idea. Picking up the crates, he tossed them into the bog, and formed a somewhat-complete path to the island. Hopping along the crates, Frank reached the small island, and found several boats lined up in a row to another spit of land in front of the outpost. Frank took one immediately and rowed away.

"Mission accomplished!" he grinned, rowing away. Then he stopped, looking at the horizon. There were several blimps, with lights coming from each of them.

"I know those," he muttered. "Those are Hoodlum blimps. And…they're coming this way." There was an entire Hoodlum patrol approaching on all sides, as was custom in Hoodlum controlled areas. Go in, come out. Converge and expand. Frank had miraculously ended up in one of the worst places to be transported to. The only thing worse would've been if the hallway had dumped in the Hoodlum HQ. He was a wounded enemy of the Hoodlums, and in about 5 minutes, every Hoodlum in about a 500 mile radius would be on top of him. Frank knew of only one place to go; the outpost the boats led to. It had a roof and wouldn't be searched by the Hoodlums. If it followed like the others, everyone there would be asleep. Frank knew one thing: He couldn't turn back and go back up the cave. He knew going that way would only lead him back to the small cauldron cave, and by then the Hoodlums would be awake. He had to keep moving.

Frank silently brought the boat in under the outpost. Climbing the ladder, Frank saw that sadly, the two Hoodlums manning this one were awake and searching for something in the bog—or someone. One approached the ladder. Frank ducked down and waited until the footsteps stopped. Then, he grabbed the Hoodlum by the cloak and threw him into the water. No sound was made. Frank proceeded up the ladder and into the outpost. he saw the other Hoodlum was looking over the other side, out one of the three makeshift windows. Frank snuck up, and then pushed him over. There was a small yell, a splash, and then the distinctive sound of piranhas tearing apart clothing made of animal hair. The Hoodlums had been disposed of.

"I could try to hide out here," Frank looked out one of the windows, watching the patrol close in, "but if there's a way to move on, I'd be a lot safer." He looked through the outpost, and discovered that there was a hole in the far right corner, behind a table with two unopened bottles of plum juice and a lit candle. Frank jumped down the hole, and was now almost certainly safe from the Hoodlum patrols. He was in a series of tunnels underneath the water in the bog. Frank continued on, distancing himself from the hole.

"Ugh," he groaned. "Everything's damp down here." Ignoring the feeling he'd walked into nature's mouth, Frank continued through the surprisingly deserted tunnels. He hopped onto mushrooms and jumped from land to land, but saw no Hoodlums. Evenutally, the tunnel came to an end. Frank looked at the enormous opening and saw a huge manor, partially silhouetted in the double-moonlight. A flag waived from the top, and there were many lights on. There were no Hoodlums anywhere, save the patrol enclosing. Frank looked at the Mansion in amazement, and noticed numerous emblems everywhere, all a regale-looking "R" in a circle. The most impressive was over the door.

"I doubt the Hoodlums will ignore this tunnel," Frank looked behind him. "There was nowhere to hide there either. Looks like this manor is the only place left to hide." With that, Frank pushed open the double-doors and stepped inside.

* * *

The inside of the manor was almost overly fancy. The foyer alone was decorated lavishly, with bright red carpets and golden chandeliers. But there was not a soul to be seen. Frank decided to start on the first floor. He went to his left, and entered a small kitchen. In the corner there was a cauldron with a bubbling green substance in it.

"That looks…" Frank stared, "…familiar." He continued on, until he found a peculiar room with a telescope pointed, not up, but out.

"Weird," Frank stated. "There's a mirror attached to it, and a chair. The mirror's reflecting the foyer, at an angle which…" he stopped. The mirror was at an angle so that the viewer could look at who entered the manor. It viewed the main door perfectly. Instinct took over, and Frank felt the seat. Sure enough, it was warm. Someone had watched him come in. As if on cue, Frank felt a rush of wind go by him. A bronze arrow wobbled in the wall, with an "R" engraved upon it. Frank spun around only to see a strange lizard-like man with a large nose, clad in red and yellow garb and a very foppish hat, rushed out. Frank went through the same door, but the lizard was too fast. Frank stopped short. He was back in the foyer, and the lizard was nowhere to be seen. Frank sighed. This guy wasn't a Hoodlum, and this meant he wasn't a threat. Just an annoyance. Then a ball of the green substance he'd seen in the abandoned house under the tree and in the kitchen flew over his head. Frank turned to see a gray, fat frog in a green dress with yellow polka dots and a red cauldron on her head, as well as an impossibly large fork, run away.

"Geez, there's two of them?" Frank grumbled. "Alright, now I'm annoyed."

"You will not escape!" The lizard jumped from the second floor, firing his rifle, which shot the arrows Frank had seen earlier.

"How dare you trespass in here! You're dead meat!" The frog rushed out from the kitchen, speaking so fast Frank almost didn't understand her.

"Oh, for the love of…" Frank turned to the lizard first, punched him in the stomach, grabbed his gun, spun around and fired it with one hand and no preparation time. The arrow hit the frog's fork (her weapon) and shot it back, pinning it to the wall.

"Will you guys at least give me a chance to explain?!"

* * *

"So you aren't one of the Hoodlums, then," the lizard concluded, after Frank's explanation.

"No," Frank said, "I'm not."

"Well, you should have told us!" the frog was suddenly incredibly cheery. "We wouldn't have attacked you had we known that!"

"My I ask who's company I'm in?" Frank turned to the lizard.

"I," the lizard began. "am the great, and esteemed Count Razoff, the Hunter! There is not one thing in this bog I have not caught!"

"You can call me Begoniax," the frog told Frank. "I'm a witch, you see. That potion would've turned you into a frog! Razoff and I are living together now!" She gave a dreamy sigh, which seemed weird coming from her, who'd tried to skewer him on a fork 10 minutes ago.

"I'm Frank," Frank introduced himself. "I'm trying to save the world from André, and find Rayman." Both Razoff and Begoniax gasped at the mention of Rayman's name.

"We've both crossed paths with Rayman in the past," Razoff said. "He was the one that got away."

"I mistakenly took him for a pervert when he burst through the ceiling of my outhouse," Begoniax said. "We have a little spat. He won. In the end we're both glad we didn't kill him. He saved us from André more than once, and we were thinking of starting a Resistance to help keep André at bay and find him again."

"But what about this place?" Frank asked. "In the bog, this mansion is fairly obvious."

"I've covered it with foliage," Razoff smiled. "It looks like a hill now!"

"I can use my magic mirrors to transport members to different locations," Begoniax chimed in. "Are you familiar with them?"
"Yes," Frank replied. "I've had experience with mirrors on multiple accounts."

"Excellent!" Begoniax exclaimed. "And now, I have a mission for you."

"Mission?"

"Yes," Begoniax said. "It's my job to do two things: cook, and supply missions. My frogs bring me information from all over the world! With our base in the Bog of Murk and my mirrors as transportation, we'll be untraceable!"

"Alright," Frank gave Razoff a questionable look. Razoff pointed to his mouth, shook his head, and moved his hand horizontally across his throat. Don't try to argue or she'll become nasty.

"Okay!" Begoniax was clearly enjoying this. "One of the frogs is on his way back with something important. Get yourself set up and ready to go!"