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The Price of Returning Home

Here's a flash fiction story I wrote based on my Modrad character. If I were to write additional adventures relating to Modrad's Exile, I suppose this would be one of them. Photo courtesy of "AlgolOnline" at Can Stock Photo.

© Can Stock Photo / AlgolOnline

The Price of Returning Home

Modrad brushed aside the fern, focusing on the skunk cabbage at his feet. Leafy, green, and thick, it seemed to consume the dwarf’s boots. His gaze shifted. A red maple tree towered above, giving him pause.

While some claimed red maples were lower in sugar and possessed unpleasant syrup when compared to traditional sugar maples, Modrad loved them, and his stomach had been growing uneasy. But perhaps later. There were more pressing concerns, especially if he hoped to return home anytime soon.

Accustomed to mountain living, the wetlands were not something he dealt with often, nor did he particularly care for them. Modrad could sense the water before he even saw it. The foul odor penetrated his nostrils, intensifying as he walked closer to the bank. Modrad put an arm to his face, trying to combat the smell.

He often questioned his decisions, and this time proved no different. Would he really find anything of value here? Modrad quickly tucked that thought away. He didn’t have a choice. Nothing had come from his ventures elsewhere.

Modrad reached the shore and surveyed the area. Trees jutted from the swamp, and duckweed covered most of the water, giving it an almost grassy appearance. Not seeing much in the way of importance, Modrad turned, walking away from the water’s edge. Then he noticed it. A sparkle out of his peripheral.

Despite being halfway to the heavens, the sun was blocked by much of the surrounding growth. Small gaps in the trees allowed some of its rays to peek through, but Modrad knew the light came from another source. Something at ground level.

He glanced to the right, but the light had vanished. Modrad took another step, his eyes still focused on the water, and the glow appeared again. The dwarf squinted. He knew he should have gotten spectacles when his friend advised it. Now his eyes were fighting to make out the object. One thing became certain, though. It rested on a yellow water-lily in the middle of the swamp.

A pricking sensation distracted him, Modrad instinctively slapping a hand against his neck. As he lowered it, a dead bug rested in his palm. Wiping it along his pants, Modrad stared out at the water. He dreaded the thought of getting wet, but curiosity eventually prevailed over his fear.

Modrad placed his sack on the sandy bank. He gradually submerged a boot in the brackish water, and then the other. It wasn’t until the swamp deepened, midway between the shore and the water-lily, that he felt the moisture infiltrate his pants. Anticipating a chill, a surprising warmth came instead.

Unfortunately, the putrid smell forced him to raise an arm yet again. He gagged, but nothing of substance came out. Covering both his nose and mouth, Modrad pushed forward, the water rising to his waist. He soon reached the water-lily, the object in question becoming clearer.

Before him lay a diamond. One big enough for Modrad to gain entry back into Vargrom, the mountain city from which he’d been exiled. Because dwarfs had a fascination for gemstones, those who were exiled could only gain reentry by bringing one back. Modrad smiled and reached out, but a small splash stayed his hand.

“I wouldn’t do that,” a female voice said.

Modrad noticed two bulging eyes in the water. A red toad. Her head stuck out between the duckweed.

“Why not?” Modrad said.

No reply. She took a breath, her throat pulsating. A desperate plea, Modrad thought, so he reached for the diamond a second time.

“It will poison you,” she finally admitted.

Modrad mulled it over. What did she care? If the diamond belonged to her, wouldn’t she take comfort in watching the thief die? Unless she didn’t possess the gem in the first place, or her conscience weighed heavy on her. He gave it further consideration, still unsure what to do.

“The real diamond. The pure one,” she clarified, “resides in my head.”

Confused, he contemplated what to say. In the end, though, Modrad found no words. He thought about the joy of returning home. Even without his axe, it would take little to dispatch of the red toad and be on his way, assuming he could catch her. Still, could he accept killing another in exchange for getting his life back? As insignificant as the creature might seem, it had done him no harm and maybe even saved his life.

Modrad’s shoulders slumped. He sighed and turned around, chugging his way back to land.

“Don’t you want it?” she said.

He stopped, keeping his back to her. “Not at your expense.” He continued walking.

“Then let me give you something else.”

Modrad turned to look. “And what might that be?”

“My respect.”

He nodded, even managing a slight grin. Modrad would look elsewhere for what he needed.

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