Deep underground, far from the dying northlands, Mug sat on a deadwood stump with his elbows on the snail shell bar wrapping around the center of the pub nursing his third beetle ale. A cacophony of excited voices filled the small dirt-walled cavern. The Dizzy Bug was rarely quiet. The locketts followed a wide-ranging schedule causing there to be an ever present group straight off their duties. The regulars varied based on the time it was. Before the snails moved, the thought turners filled the worn tables passing tales of embarrassing thoughts and close calls with hounds.
“Thought I was a mousling, for sure he did.” Bartle would always call out usually splashing his ale from his glass. During mid-rise the merchant and spell makers lingered around lighter fare and plum sherry. But as the far off sky turned darker than the unlit corners of the warren, the stone keepers piled into The Dizzy Bug. The smell of damp dark and thick mud butted against the scents of hazzleberry pies and root stew. The locketts who spent the day mining for secret keys and potion-worthy finds were the rowdiest of the little bark-skinned beings. Yelling stories over each other. Combative tails of who discovered the largest wiprock or brightest essence gem.
Nori, as self-proclaimed storyteller—but really just lazy—dependently parked himself in front of the gas bog bubbling in the center. Nori methodically talked despite the lack of focused listeners on and on about dragons and other dark creatures thirsty for powers and treasure. His stories had interesting concepts but often left out much-needed descriptions and endings. Mug often wished he could shrink the Ravelvn Bards who traveled the lands so he could enjoy a good story while eating supper for once. Unfortunately, he knew nothing of such spell nor anyone who did, so he was forced to listen to Nori’s plotless tales without endings.
Mug stuck one stocky, dirt-caked finger in his ale and gave it a stir. Dirt flecks peeled off and floated into the amber liquid. He chugged the contents, slammed the goblet onto the youth surfaced bar, then knocked his fist beside his empty cup. “Another Wing!” He bellowed,
Beeta, the pub runner, paid him no notice. She chatted smiling with younger fellows on the other end of the bar. She was always after trinkets. He thought knocking his fist louder this time. “Beeta, another or your bana pup gets it!”
This caught the bark keep’s attention. She glared in Mug’s direction, then stomped over.
“No one likes to be lonely,” she warned grabbing the empty goblet to spout opposite from where he was sitting. She filled the clay goblet with one hand with the other rested on her cloth flattened hip. She slammed the cup down without taking her eyes of the young rocksmiths. She started back in their direction.
“When is supper up?”
“Unclump your britches. Soon is soon.” She waved her mossy hand dismissing him before picking back up where left off.
Mug groaned grabbing his goblet. The harsh yet smooth liquid rushed over his tongue. A few drops dripped down his green and brown beard. The droplets clung to the grass-like hair. It had been a long, strange day. Mug was one of the best stone handlers in all the tunnels. That’s why he was head of the Dream tunnel, one of the highest profile in the center. That day he snapped to two axe handlers and didn’t find a single spell rock. Those were all Mug needed to know something was amiss. He sensed a fuddle in the air. He didn’t say a thing to anyone. He kept those things to himself. Locketts that rambled about tingles were often disregarded and certainly wasn’t something a tunnel leader should do. He wished he could convince his daughter to do the same. Toki rambled to everyone about her whims and worries. Mug tilted back his vessel slugged all the bitter liquid as the twig doors swung open. Lead Vana stood in the passway. Varied green hued curls twisted haphazardly on her head. Her eyes and mouth drawn in rage.
Mug sighed before chugging the contents of his glass. His daughter always seemed to interrupt his down time even if not directly. Some kids were trouble. No way around it. There are some touched by something different, an urge to fight against what’s given. Theories on why varied but the fact remained: some locketts wouldn’t be like the rest as trees grow from others-life takes and changes over time. Though sometimes tales and lore hold true.
“Toki never signed in at the post. No one’s seen the foothead! I was supposed to take a breather two ticks ago. Here I’m using the break to track down the mole so I can club here!” Lead Vana shrieked at Mug now standing beside him.
He turned to face her as he reached into his mind trying to place when he’d need her last. “It was prior dark fall when I saw her last. Don’t know what’s she’s been up to today.” Mug knocked his hand on the bar, requesting a goblet full. The blend of drunken voices and terrible storytelling bounced off the dirt walls. Mug stroked his mossy beard. “No one seen her at all?”
Lead Vana crossed her arms in a huff. “Are you listening to me at all? No Toki. I had it up to my eyelids with that lockett. Her chances are used up. I’ll feed her to the hounds above ground before I dry up like a cut stump.” Her wide green eyes stretched as she rambled on. Vana’s grow louder as she went on about horrible threats and peril.
Mug stopped tuning into her words shortly after the word “guts”. All the letter sounds mushed into his oversized ears as random noises. It dawned just then he hadn’t seen Berki since they parted ways in the mists to different tunnels. His son a natural with stones just like himself. Mug cast his worried glance about the cavern until he found who he was looking for. Tunnel Chief Surpt of the Windy One sat at an overcrowded table across the room. Rows of plump locketts sat elbow over elbow hollering over one another. Probably who dug up the shiniest rock. Without a word Lead Vana, he slunk off his tool.
“Are you listening to me? I want her sent to the traps. Wonderous folks are the dangerous ones. They threaten all the realms.” Lead Vana went on following Mug to Surpt’s table. “...the specks were a purple like I never seen,” Surpt rattled to the others.
“Hey Surpt, where’s my boy at?” Mug tapped Surpt’s shoulder as his stomach filled with the dread of not knowing where either of children were. Berki should be sharing stone stories just the others.
“Not since his break. Said something about checking on Toki.” Mug sighed.
Vana groaned eyeballing Mug with a “Your girl is no good,” expression curling up her face in all the wrong places.
“You didn’t think it was odd he didn’t return?” Mug’s arms hung at his sides, his shoulders hunched in concern. Worry climbed up his short legs.
“Sure. He looked worried, figured he got held with his sister.”
He sure did, Mug thought, but doing what? His mind played various images of trouble and danger Toki got her loyal brother caught up in. Mug gave a nod to his fellow locketts before leaving The Dizzy Bug without eating supper.
After finding both his children’s holes empty, Mug had no choice but to visit Overseer. Mug was old and tired and at that moment rather hungry, he wasn’t going to wander all over the maze of warrens. He hadn’t a clue on where to start anyhow. Mug had the habit of ignoring his daughter. Placating tall tales and paranoid philosophers wasn’t a past time he subscribed to. He was much more comfortable talking about changes in dirt with Berki over a nice game of blue slinging. Pretending an issue isn’t present only works when the issue doesn’t ball up into a tunnel clogger.
Mug climbed the dirt carved path in a slight incline, then turned a short right into a tunnel which opened up to the Hall of Glory. He went over what he’d say to Overseer. Not that he was concocting a story, Mug was always honest. He didn’t care to talk much especially when the topic was troublesome. This often caused him to studder and mix up his words “the after pick” which was the sort of jumbling around that embarrassed Mug—an experience he’d learn to avoid. So there he was practicing the truth as if it was a script written by one bard for another. Murals of green lockets drawn in dirt covered the long hall. His family line didn’t even come close to being featured in the Hall of Glory. Mug didn’t long for legacy’s and stone embedded goblets–though he wouldn’t mind one. A lockett who had no idea where his sproutlings were. Family was family it didn’t matter how old. Mug had feared the worst ever since it was clear Toki was only a thought turner, but she found lives of others much more interesting than anything underground. The fate for those locketts didn’t glow bright. A square, filed down stump led to the Hall of Keys. The wooden door etched with a picture of wind and soaring birds. A perfectly square dream stone served at the door puller. Mug wrapped his little hand around it and gave it a yank.
The hall of keys was the brightest cavern in all the underground realm. Whereas the others just had the glow of oil lanterns and gas bogs, the Hall of Key’s had shelves from floor to ceiling and wall to wall of glowing stones. Rare and hard to find keys to other realms.
What a collection.
Mug temporarily forgot his children were missing. His eyes transfixed or the varied hues and sizes. All breathtaking.
“Very dangerous in the wrong hands,” an old voice spoke behind Mug, whose eyes studied the glowing orbs.
“Sure are,” Mug replied. Then with a sudden shock of realizing he temporarily forgot his mission he spun around on his narrow, mossy feet. He bowed, “Overseer.”
The old man shook his leafless head. “Oh nonsense with the proper way. I know why you are here.” The old man wandered past the visitor. The tapping of his cane echoed in the chamber. He chuckled in response than spat, “I’m Overseer. I oversee. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
"Do you know where they are?” Mug asked.
Overseer stood silent with wise eyes set on the keys. The varied hues glowing on the shelves cast a dance of rainbow light across the room. Overseer Cleared his throat. “See that one there?” He pointed at a large oval shaped stone. It was bright white and freckled with blue. He didn’t wait for Mug’s response. “That’s to the Great Afterlands. Though it only be used twice a turn.” He cleared his throat again. “That one.” He not pointed to a dark black stone no bigger than the size of his fist. “Those are to the darklands.
“Where are my children?”
“Above ground on a mission,” he sung softly.
“A mission? What mission. Did you send them? I thought you called a thought turners in. What does Berki have to do with it?” he rushed at the wise man much like Lean Vana had done to him at the pub. A flurry of embarrassment crossed his bark-skinned cheeks as his need for answers climbed his spine.
“Toki indirectly. Berki, well that’s all him. They are together.”
“Mug pushed out a gust of harsh air. He pulled on the ends of his beard turning the little he understood around his mind. Then finally asked, “What mission?”
“Huditra needs the locketts now more than ever. Though only two won’t be enough.”