“So how can we find the dancer now?” the drummer asked as soon as the knight’s attention had returned to the present.
“We’ll have to ask around I suppose. You’ve got a description of her? And of the bear what took her? Alright, I know a few good places to float those out. Someone will have seen them, don’t you worry.”
The drummer still didn’t understand, but the knight seemed confident, so that was reassuring. He decided he would just wait and watch what the knight did, and then he would understand what he had meant.
So they ambled along, the knight trying to find his way through roads that he only half-remembered. He had been down in the factories for quite a very long time, and things had changed a great deal in the meantime.
“Things haven’t been kept up very well, have they?” he said as they hopped across a particularly pothole-riddled road. “I mean they were never very good here to begin with. But somehow they’ve gotten even worse!”
“This is not a nice place,” the drummer affirmed. “Is the city at the end of the main road nicer?”
“What? You mean the one they tell you to go to when you first get made? You can’t ever get there, y’know. Probably doesn’t even exist.”
The drummer came to a sudden stop, taken aback by hearing the knight echoing the exact same thoughts as the bear when he took the dancer. “Why do you say that?” he asked sadly.
“Oh…don’t listen to me,” the knight waved his hand dismissively. “People around here just say that, but they don’t know anything.”
“Why do they say that?”
“Listen, when I first went down that road I was quite committed to it. I passed this city and went a long way farther before giving up and coming back. And let me tell you, there is unquestionably something strange about it. Not a normal road at all! Really you get the sense that you’re not even moving forward after a bit, like you’re walking in place and the turns will never end.
“And that’s not just me, either,” the knight continued. “Lots of other toys got the sense that something wasn’t ordinary about it, too. Like some of them turned around and went back to talk to those chess pieces that first set you on the road. They could never find them. The road just seemed to keep stretching out forever in that direction once you got set on it. So don’t let me cast a shadow on your hopes, but I do say that that is no ordinary road.”
“I guess it doesn’t go to an ordinary place then.”
“What’s that? Oho! I rather like that, good point! Couldn’t be a run-of-the-mill road that takes you to the Great City, now could it? You’re probably on to something there.”
“The Great City is supposed to be something special then?”
“Of course! It’s supposed to be paradise! Now don’t ask me what that means, I thought I knew once, now I know that I don’t know at all. But it’s good. And special.”
“I see. Well once we get the dancer free, she and I will be taking the special road to find the special city. You’ll have to decide if you want to come with us or not.”
“I’m with you for as long as you’ll have me, Captain. I like you. So what if I don’t believe that there’s a city at the end of that road? I didn’t believe you could save up all those discs either, and see what happened there!”
At this point they had come to a low, dilapidated tavern.
“This isn’t a nice place, either,” the knight told the drummer as they walked up to the door. “But it was the best place for information back in my day, probably still is. You just keep close to me.”
The drummer didn’t need telling twice, and so the two went through as one, peering through the smoky dark until their eyes adjusted enough to take in the scene. There were a dozen rough tables strewn about haphazardly; the clientele were in the habit of moving them about as they saw fit, and the management was in the habit of not caring. Along the back wall were two counters, the one for buying food was greasy, and the one for buying drinks was splotch-stained. The only light in the place came from some chandeliers with candles set in a ring. The place was so smoke-filled that it seemed to choke the flickering flames, and bid them shine only dimly.
“This way,” the knight said after a moment, leading the way forward to the bar.
“What can I get for you?” the wind-up clock barkeeper asked as they draw near.
“Some information, my good fellow,” the knight said brightly, flicking a medium disc onto the counter. “I’m trying to find someone.”
“Mm,” the clock said, pocketing the disc and cleaning a glass with a rag.
“A dancer, a spinning ballerina in fact. Possibly in the company of a large, tan teddy bear. They would have come into town over a year ago.”
“Well I remember the bear, of course, but not the dancer.”
“The bear is well enough. Where is he?”
“You mean you really don’t know?” the barkeeper asked incredulously.
“Well, no,” the knight cocked his head, wondering just what it is that they weren’t cluing in on. “You see, my friend and I have only just came out of the factory. Been down there for quite a long while.”
“Oho! Hope you aren’t leading the guards to my nice establishment!”
“Not at all! We came out honestly.”
“Sure, sure. Well then you probably don’t know, but a little while back they started a registry. Made everybody sign up, and kept tabs on where they all were all the time. And all the newcomers had to sign it, too. Even if they was just visiting.”
“So that teddy bear is the last name in the book!”
“What? You don’t mean…?”
“I do! Hasn’t been a single other toy shown up since that day.”
At that the clock snorted. “Hardly. I mean some say so, but those of us with sense figure this finally proves that the Maker isn’t real. Course administration claims that he is, and rushed the bear straight up into their penthouse. They use him for a figurehead to push all their campaigns forward. That’s where he is if you want to see him, but good luck!”
“You said you’re from the factory? Any idea why its still running then? We sorta figured it would have shut down after the ‘Maker’ was found.”
“Well it’s not like my friend and I were privy to the board’s motivations…. But really a lot of us inside doubt that summoning the Maker was their real intention at all. Maybe at the start, but not for a long while now.”
“What then? Surely they aren’t trying to make the scowlies?”
The knight leaned in close, to be sure he wasn’t overheard. “Oh yes, indeed. They’re entirely committed to it now, trying to find ways to make them useful.”
“Train a scowlie? Why I never!”
“Only very basic things, you understand. They’ll never talk or reason like you and I do, but I’ve seen some tests run with them, where they had been fashioned for single, simple behaviors.”
“Well…” the knight drew back somberly. “Not very nice things. But enough of that for now. Thank you for the information.”
The clock clearly wanted to speak more with the knight, but already the knight had turned, shepherding the drummer across the room and out into the light.
“What is a Maker?” the drummer asked when they were out in the open again. “And a scowlie?”
“You mean all that time in the factory and you never found out what we were doing there?”
The drummer just shook his head.
“Well…the Maker, according to those who believe, is some great being who made all of us. That’s why none of us knows where we come from, because he makes somewhere else, puts some of his own life inside of us, and then places us secretly in the world. Now that’s a long-old religion, and people don’t really believe in that today. They don’t like the idea of anyone out there having that sort of unbridled power.”
“They’re afraid of him. See we all know he wouldn’t be too pleased with us if he saw us right now. And anytime something bad happens they say its him punishing us. So one day, long time ago now, some of the richer toys got together and built the factory. Said they were going to start making toys of their own. Take the responsibility from the Maker. Not only that, but they said they were going to make the Maker! Fashion him right here in toy form!”
“But…I thought you said they didn’t believe in him?”
“Well, they don’t…and they do. It’s confusing, I know. I guess you could say they wanted to make him here just in case. Because then he couldn’t be up there anymore if ever he did exist.”
“So how did they know how to make him?”
“They figured that if they made enough toys they might make one that looked just like him. And then he would sort of–transfer into it. I don’t understand it all, it was based on ancient manuals that had been written about the Maker. Something to do with: if you capture his image, then he will be in that toy. Don’t quote me on that, but that was the gist of it. Anyway, just think about it: then you would have the Maker of us all caught up in a box. If he still had any powers you could make him do whatever you wanted, or at the very least keep him bound down so that he can’t blast us all into dust.”
“I see…and now they think that the bear is him?”
“Well, you heard the clock. They do and they don’t, same as ever I suppose.”
“Well I think that I’m the Maker.”
“What?! Don’t say that!”
“It’s blasphemy. Well, I guess maybe you don’t know enough for it to be blasphemy. But a lot of people around here would find a claim like that insulting. They’d say you were being disrespectful to the Maker.”
“But what if I am him?”
“Well…no offense, but you just don’t seem the type.”
“What is he like, then?”
“I–I don’t really know…. Well, obviously he makes things, right? That much is clear. Can you make things like he can?”
“Sure.” The drummer reached down and stacked one rock sideways onto another.
The knight laughed and slapped the drummer on the back.
“Well who’s to say you aren’t, then! Really if any of us was, I suppose why not you?”
“Anyway…the teddy bear wasn’t even the last toy made either. I came after him, I just never signed the registry.”
“You what?! Well I guess that makes sense, you’ve already mentioned that you were around at the time.”
“And actually the dancer came even after me.”
“Well then maybe she’s the Maker!” the drummer laughs.
“I suppose she might be.”
“Curious that she wasn’t on the registry either…. Course, if the bear had her against her will, perhaps he was keeping her hid at the time.”
“But what’s a scowlie, then?”
The knight shuddered. “Nasty thing. See they couldn’t make anything proper in the factory. They couldn’t even make toys like you and I. They could make things that looked like toys, but they were just vacant and lifeless. They tried figuring out the secret of life, and that led them into…weirder experiments. The result were these strange, warped beasts. Random forms of metal, monsters really. And they weren’t ever really alive either. Just like I said in there, they can’t talk or reason, they just operate on one intent, usually a destructive one.”
“I don’t think I like the sound of that.”
“No, you don’t. Trust me.”
“But at least we know where the bear is now.”
Here the knight sighed deeply. “Sure, we know. But that’s a long ways from actually being there. You can’t just stroll into the Administration Building. Especially if he’s their precious figurehead, he’ll be safe from the public, somewhere locked down tight.”
“You don’t think we could get there?”
He shrugged. “Frankly I don’t know how…. But I imagine you will want to try anyhow?”
“Of course. And if that’s where your quest goes, then I will come along. Whether I can see success in it or not, I meant my pledge to you sincerely.”
“Well then…I guess the first thing for us to do is get a look at this place. Let’s go.”
On Monday I shared how story characters do not always progress towards the destination they are striving for, but that they should at least progress towards the conclusion of the story. They should be ever drawing nearer to their own, personal conclusion, even if it isn’t the one that they wanted.
This is certainly the case with our little drummer. He finally found his freedom, but still has yet to reach his long-lost dancer. In fact, he seems to have only grown further and further from her, the breadcrumbs are being laid down faster than he can pick them up.
That is an intentional pattern of this story, as I want it to have a theme of tireless pursuit, no matter how many discouragements he faces. With this I am taking cues from some of my most favorite heroic epics, stories that feature a very long way home. Come back on Monday where we will examine this theme more closely, and then on Thursday we’ll get to see the drummer and knight’s daring heist played out!