Teia strode through the lush tropical valley, the light of Rishi’s sole moon, currently full, lighting her way. She carried a tall, straight wooden staff slightly taller than her almost 2 meters of height. Her right hand held it somewhere below the halfway point, the upper half resting on her right shoulder. The path she walked was not well-trod. Few had occasion to visit the hovel of Dora, the unstable hermit, and even fewer knew that she had a daughter: Teia.
Some three standard years before, a teenaged girl no one had ever seen before appeared in the valley. Curious, but with an almost animalistic, wild fear in her eyes, and obviously famished, it was some time before she could be coaxed to enter a home and accept food. The kindly woman feeding the girl asked who she was. Neisa, the matriarch of the home, had never heard of a girl named Teia – which was unusual in such a small community – and was shocked to discover that Dora was hiding a daughter in virtual captivity for almost fifteen years.
Neisa felt compassion for the girl and convinced her to stay, accepting her as a new member of the small Coran family. She soon discovered Teia was completely illiterate, could not do simple math, and did not know how to cook or clean. With more patience and love than Teia had ever conceived possible, Neisa tutored her adopted daughter, and after two years Teia could read, write, and calculate as well as any Human of her age in the community. Helping Teia learn to associate with community members in public at the local market took significantly longer, but eventually Teia began spending time outside the Coran household on her own. What Neisa did not know was Teia had spent this time with a cocky boy a couple years younger than herself, learning the rudiments of staff combat.
Teia did not immediately understand what drew her to learn to fight. But for some reason, when this youth began bragging loudly in the market about his prowess with a staff, she could not prevent herself from asking him to teach her and offering anything within her power in return. He agreed to teach her, taking strange physical favors for payment. Teia did not understand why this was the only reimbursement he desired, but despite conflicting feelings growing within her, she continued to make payment after every lesson. She practiced between lessons in earnest, and she saw childhood images of Dora in her sleep each night.
After an afternoon lesson that was shorter than usual, Teia's teacher demanded payment. Confused, Teia asked he wanted payment before the lesson was over. The boy's face began turning red. He shouted some cruel-sounding words at Teia that she had never heard before and threw his body at hers, landing on top of her and pinning her to the ground.
But Teia was trained more thoroughly than her teacher realized. Still holding her staff, she threw his body off of hers and several feet across the clearing. He landed within reach of his own staff, which he took up, lunging forward to attack. After receiving a particularly harsh blow to her rib cage and realizing this was not a sparring session, Teia began to feel a foreign emotion…an intense burning that filled her with strength and focus. She flowed from one combat stance to another, her staff feeling like a natural extension of her own body, blocking every one of her teacher’s attacks and going on the offensive. In only a few minutes, the boy lay lifeless at her feet.
Still in the throes of this intense burning, radiating from the center of her chest to the tips of her fingers and toes, Teia looked down at the boy's body.
She began to feel…powerful.
A smirk spread across her face. Her boy teacher had hurt her, yes, with his strange payment methods and sparring that sometimes turned brutal, but she had just made him hurt worse…and the corpse at her feet guaranteed he would never hurt her again.
An image of Dora appeared in Teia’s mind's eye.
Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. Of anyone Teia had ever known, Dora had caused her the most pain. Teia’s childhood was spent in captivity, in disturbing squalor and complete isolation. Why had Dora not taught her daughter to read? Why did she feed her only half-rotted food? Why did she rage and yell when Teia sat too close to the front door, and have heated arguments with someone Teia couldn’t see or hear?
The fact that Teia didn't realize how horrible Dora’s treatment was until her escape just highlighted the pain.
Teia hefted her quarterstaff, leaning it on her shoulder, holding it with one hand. She hadn't seen Dora in years, but over that time she secretly puzzled out the route to the hovel where she grew up.
A satisfied smirk spread across Teia's face as she stepped away from her teacher's corpse and set off without a second glance.
The path was overgrown and hadn’t seen travelers in some time. To most eyes, it would be invisible. But Rishi’s moon glowed brightly that night, and Teia had trod this path before many times in her mind’s eye. She walked confidently, not hurrying, but not dawdling either. She knew where she was going. She knew what she would accomplish.
Dora would never hurt Teia again.
Even with her memories guiding her, Teia almost passed the hovel. Unlike the buildings she discovered after escape, ones with straight edges, sharp corners, and tall roofs, the hovel looked more like a large mound of dirt, especially with the overgrowth that spread during Teia’s absence. A curious mossy hill made Teia stop mid-step, and within a few seconds, the hovel’s current appearance matched the older image in her memory.
Almost everything was the same at her childhood home, but overgrown. Rishi’s valleys were already lush and tropical, and without any care, the plants swelled in size and reach. The slightly bitter scent of a red flower that grew near the front door piqued memories in Teia’s mind. She still didn’t know what the flower was called, but she did remember the pain delivered by her mother’s hand when Teia, then a curious 4-year-old, cracked the door open to tug a fragrant blossom from the vine.
Teia stepped up to the front door. She quickly realized her staff was taller than the door frame, and wouldn’t be of use in the low-ceilinged dwelling. Teia’s brow furrowed slightly. An inconvenience. But one she could deal with. With care, she set an end of her staff on the ground, leaning it upright against the curved wall of the hovel. She would retrieve it later.
Teia placed her palm flat against the front door and pressed. The door did not move. But Teia remembered where the crude lock was, on the other side of the wood. She struck the door just above where the lock should be with her bent elbow, and a piece of the rotting wood crumbled and fell, leaving a jagged hole. Teia flinched at the slight noise, and reached her hand through. She had miscalculated the placement of the lock – her memories came from when she was significantly shorter in stature, and the lock was lower than she expected. But she was still able to reach it, after extending her arm further into the hole. She disengaged the lock by touch, pulled her arm out, and pushed the door open. Careful to avoid making any more sound, Teia slowly stepped into the hovel.
The interior was dim, except for a low flickering light off to Teia’s right. Her eyes adjusted to the dark slowly as she closed the door behind her, shutting out the bright glow of Rishi’s full moon.
A figure sat slumped forward onto a table, before the light, which came from a crudely-made candle.
Teia took a step and a floorboard creaked. Dora snapped upright at the sound, instantly awake, looking around frantically for its source.
“Mami,” Teia said quietly.
Dora’s head turned until her eyes focused on Teia. Dora’s eyes appeared strangely clouded, and it was a moment before recognition registered on her face.
Memories flashed through Teia’s mind at the sight of her mother. Childhood meals of bread, mostly small bits and crumbs and weevils, that the little girl had to scoop into a cupped hand in order to eat. The swelling and tenderness of her child-sized cheekbone after one of the many times Dora struck her. The stench of the small shared chamber pot that Dora rarely emptied.
Teia’s windpipe felt as if it were closing and her eyes began to sting. She blinked once, her vision blurring. Another memory materialized: Teia's combat teacher pinning her to the ground earlier that day. She blinked again. Her mind's eye saw the image of the corpse of that same boy at her feet. She blinked a third time, wetness gone, and saw Dora clearly before her.
The burning in Teia's chest intensified, above the level she felt when battling her teacher, spreading to the tips of her fingers and toes like electricity. Teia’s face hardened as she focused on the face of her mami, who still looked in Teia's general direction but still confused.
Teia's estimation about her staff was correct: with this low ceiling, it would have been worse than useless. But she could do what needed to be done without it.
Teia took a slow step toward her mother. During her moment of thought, the woman had stood. Dora was now several inches shorter than her daughter, and her face was lined with age. In the back of Teia’s mind, she recognized cataracts on her mother’s eyes. Dora’s sack-like garment hung off of her bony shoulders, barely revealing her distended stomach. Teia’s stomach had been as swollen as Dora’s when she escaped. It had taken Neisa some time to figure out that Teia was not pregnant, but that her digestive tract was infested with parasites. The cleansing had been painful.
Dora took a shaky step forward.
“Teia?” she asked. Her voice was weak and scratchy-sounding, as if she had not spoken in a long time.
Teia's eyes narrowed.
Confusion passed over Dora’s face as she squinted and took another step, extending her arm out toward Teia.
Teia raised a hand and slapped Dora’s arm away, toward the wall. There was a quiet smack of skin striking skin, and then Dora's body followed the path of her arm, staggering into the wall. Dora's legs gave way, and she slid down the wall to the floor. She tried to gather her legs to stand up, but age and malnutrition had taken its toll. Dora was weak.
Teia was not.
Teia took another step and stood in front of her mother, crumbled on the floor.
“Get up,” she snapped at the woman.
“…Teia?” Dora asked again, this time in disbelief, raising her clouded eyes to the young woman towering above her.
“Get up!” Teia snapped again. “Get up, mami.”
Dora’s eyes widened and her body froze. The burning in Teia’s chest intensified again, like a roaring fire that had just been fed dry tinder. She reached down and grabbed a handful of the front of Dora’s garment, pulling the slight woman up. Dora’s body rose a few inches but then fell back to the ground, the fabric of her garment ripping, leaving Teia holding a piece of rotting, oily cloth.
The burning ran anew to the tips of Teia’s fingers and toes, so intense that it felt as if her extremities would visibly smolder. Teia had originally been loathe to touch Dora, in her disgusting state, but the burning overcame this aversion. Without conscious thought, she leaned down, picked up the slight woman, and savagely threw her across the hovel. Dora struck the far wall with a thud and slid to the floor.
Teia was proficient with a staff, but she was not trained in hand-to-hand combat. Yet somehow she knew what to do. In this strange, focused state, her body consumed in ever-increasing burning, she felt…powerful. The more she burned, the more powerful she felt.
A whimpering sound, like a wounded animal, came from Dora’s body.
Teia slowly strode forward. Her shoe touched something heavy, and she instantly recognized the hated chamber pot, filled to the brim with filth, just as she remembered. She kicked it and it flew forward, turning in the air and landing upside down on Dora’s body, covering her with its contents. Teia’s nostrils twitched at the stench.
Dora’s body jerked, the smell rousing her. She began to tremble.
“Corruption!” Dora whispered.
“...corruption?” Teia asked slowly. She inhaled the humid, stinking air in the room, enjoying the moment. “The taint of the outside world?" Teia scoffed. "The only taint here is that of your own making, mami.”
Dora began to crawl to the left. Teia's eyes followed Dora and she recognized her mother’s religious H’kig chimes hanging on their hook. When young Teia would stray toward the front door, Dora would sound her sacred chimes until the evil was gone - after first savagely striking her child across the face.
Teia took a step to the left, reaching out and retrieving the chimes from their hook while Dora was still out of reach. Teia threw the chimes against the wall.
There was a shriek-like sound, a cry of horror from the ground, and the brittle crystals shattered against the wall. Shards of Dora's sacred chimes rained onto her soiled body, glowing iridescently in the candlelight.
“I have learned many things since I escaped you, mami,” Teia said, her voice low. “I have learned how to read. I have learned how to cook. And I have learned how to make sure you never, ever hurt me again.”
Teia reached down and placed her hand around Dora’s throat, up against her jawbone, lifting her and pressing her against the wall, while holding her own body away from the filth and sharp crystal shards.
Dora gasped, trying to draw breath, but only made a wheezing noise against the constriction of Teia’s hand and the weight of her own body.
Teia shifted her right hand slightly, gripping the base of Dora's jawbone, and grabbed a fistful of the woman's hair with her other hand.
“Goodbye, mami,” Teia said.
Teia snapped her mother's head horizontal, hearing the snap of her spine and brain stem.
She dropped Dora's body. It fell to the floor, her head landing at an unnatural angle.
Teia turned and strolled leisurely to the front door. She opened it, stepped through, and left it ajar. She looked down at her hands, illuminated by the full moon, and saw they were covered in excrement and iridescent shards. She kneeled and wiped her hands on the overgrown grass, enjoying the earthy scent of the ground.
She stood to pick up her staff and a bit of color caught her eye - the small red flowers by the front door from her childhood.
Teia crouched, plucked a blossom, and tucked it behind her ear. She stood and picked up her staff, hefting it as before and resting it against her right shoulder. Teia strode away from the place, wearing a satisfied smile.