On Paper Wings
by V. Shalace
In the mountains, there is a village where the wishes people make on paper butterflies come true. However, each person can make only one wish at a time, and the effects of any previous wish are canceled out by the effects of the new. This is where Shiyo lives.
Delicate, semitransparent wings flittered and glittered in the breeze as Shiyo held it up against the rich gold of the late afternoon sun that spilled through the open sitting room doors. It was her eleventh butterfly, folded and cut carefully out of the glittering tissue paper that she'd taken from the box beneath the low table beside her. Eleven butterflies for her eleventh birthday.
"Are you done?" Her mother poked her head through the doorway from the kitchen, her long, black hair wreathed with bright orange ribbons. She was smiling, the amber butterfly earrings she always wore on this particular festival day dangling from her ears. Shiyo had always loved those earrings. Her mother had made them herself, and she'd made a matching pair for Shiyo—though she wore them clipped in her hair rather than on her ears.
"Just about." Shiyo held the string of butterflies up for her to see. "Is this right?"
Stepping into the room, her mother knelt beside her, rearranging her black and amber robes upon the sun-warmed floorboards and taking the butterflies. She ran her fingers carefully along their delicate wings. "They're beautiful, love. We just need to add one more thing."
Sorting through the open crafts box, her mother pulled a tiny, silver bell from amidst several spools of colored thread and tied it neatly beneath the last butterfly. It chimed softly as she presented it to Shiyo, smiling. "Now put it in your bag and we'll get going right after I finish making our offering."
I wish for someone to talk to…
The entire village had turned out for the Passage Festival and the evening streets shone like day with hundreds of lanterns—dangling from the edges of roofs and swinging atop wooden poles carried from one end of the village to the gushing waterfalls on the other. Shiyo squeezed through the crowd, her pale blue robes tangling a bit about her feet. The outfit was new and a bit large for her, but Mother assured her she'd grow into it. Anyway, she wasn't worried. New clothes were wonderful, but Shiyo had always preferred old clothes, softened and made gentle by wear.
Standing beneath one of the lanterns, a boy lifted his head as she ran up to him. Grabbing her friend's hand, Shiyo tried unsuccessfully to tug him towards the various stands and their offerings of smoked meats and sweets. "Talm, come on, what are you waiting for? You know the desserts are only good when they're hot."
"But Mother told me to stay here," Talm protested, looking a little drowned and rather anxious in his new, butter-yellow robe. "The Hunters will be passing through here before the ceremonies. Mother says we have to pay our respects."
"Besides," he added in a mumble, looking down at his black slippers, "there are a lot of people over there."
Shiyo let out her breath in a rush of exasperation. Talm had always been unbelievably shy, hating to argue, trying so hard to stay out of people's way. It made him easy to get along with, but at times like these it drove Shiyo crazy.
"Fine then, I'll go by myself. What do you want? I'll bring it back for you."
Relieved that she hadn't pressed him, Talm offered her a tentative smile. "Um, I wouldn't mind some rice cakes—if it's not too much trouble."
A cup of tea and several rice cakes later, all laughter and conversation hushed beneath the rhythmic beating of the drums set along the lakeshore. People parted, clearing a path down the center of the street as the pace of the drumbeats increased. Moments later, dancers garbed in brightly colored, flowing robes came racing through the crowd, springing forward on hands then feet as they tossed glowing lanterns amongst themselves. They were followed by the Hunters who protected the village, the firelight illuminating their padded armor and polished weapons, scarred here and there by the demons they had been trained to banish or slay. Each pair of Hunters carried an archway woven of hollow reeds, which Shiyo knew would soon be festooned with strings of paper butterflies. Not her butterflies though; she had another home in mind for the ones she had made.
"Lady Ani," Talm greeted politely as her mother appeared beside them, giving her a respectful bow. "Mother said to pass along her best wishes, and thank you for the work you did on her new clothes and mine."
Her mother smiled warmly. "It's good to see you again, and I was glad to be of help. Shiyo, we have to go. The ceremonies are starting. Talm, I believe I saw your mother coming this way as well. We shall see you later for the feast?"
The boy nodded and the other two vanished into the flood of people headed for the lake. Shiyo clutched at her mother's hand, her entire body trembling with excitement and nerves. She'd heard stories of the gift of wishes given to every child on their eleventh birthday, and she could hardly wait for it to be explained to her now that her turn had finally come. She hardly paid attention to the Elders' speeches, watching as the reed archways were set up at intervals along the rocky shore, weaving amongst the drummers up towards the cliffs that guarded either side of the great waterfalls thundering into the lake. She watched as the three other children who had turned eleven in the past year were called and guided away by their parents. At last, someone was calling her name and her mother led her out of the crowd. Her heart pounding, Shiyo followed her through the archways up the winding path towards the shrine that sat wreathed in mist upon the cliffs.
Ani held her daughter close, not speaking until they reached the isolated peace that seemed to surround the small stone shrine, its pillars carved with the images of butterflies and cranes, the messengers of hope and heaven. Moving to sit at the stone benches that lined the railing, she patted the spot next to her and waited for Shiyo to sink onto it.
"Stories say that our ancestors were the first butterflies," she began, clasping her daughters hands in both of hers as they looked out across the lake and the forests beyond, framed by mountains in the distance, "born from the tears of people who thought they had lost all hope. And these creatures of wind and light and that wistful desire that can be worn down but never completely extinguished led them at last from the darkness to the safety and peace of this valley."
Ani waved at the seven great waterfalls stretching away before them like a vast silver curtain, wreathed in mist and spray. From here, they were so close they could have reached out and felt the icy spray upon their fingers. "These waters are the wellspring of Hope, the place of new beginnings and the place where the great Phoenix was first born."
"And it grants wishes?" Shiyo breathed in awe, her eyes wide.
"Yes, any wish you make standing here beside these waters starting from today. All you have to do is come here and wish fiercely with all your heart. But remember, you can only make wishes for yourself."
Her mother stood and leaned against the balcony railing, pursing her lips in thought. "Well, these wishes are a gift given to us by our Lord Phoenix and the sacred waters that we protect. But to be fair, he made it so you can't change other people—these wishes are supposed to help you control your own life, not alter someone else's. That's how it has always been. Only wishes made for yourself and about yourself have any power. And keep in mind that every time you make a wish, you cancel out the wish you made before. You can only have one wish at a time. We musn't be greedy with this gift."
Looking down at the string of paper butterflies in her hands, Shiyo considered this. She didn't fully understand what her mother was talking about, but at any rate, one wish at a time was better than none.
"Mama, what are you going to wish for?"
Ani laughed. "My dear, I haven't made a wish in years. Most of us grow out of it I suppose."
Shiyo's brow furrowed. She couldn't imagine giving up such an opportunity. "Then what was the last wish you made?"
"My last wish…" Leaning her elbows upon the railing, her mother propped her chin on her hands. After a moment of thought, she turned her head slightly to give her daughter a sly wink. "I think it's best if I tell you when you're older. So, do you know what you're going to ask for?"
Shiyo paused a moment longer, her brow furrowed in intense concentration. Then she nodded, stepped forward, and tied the string of butterflies on the railing to join the other flocks of paper creatures fluttering in the wind.
I wish I had a friend, someone around my age, someone...
Shiyo struggled up the last stretch of rough stone and turned to wave back at Iana. "Come on, we're almost there! I'll pull you up."
The other girl looked to be around her age, her long tunic embroidered with a pattern of ocean waves. She paused a couple paces below upon the rocky slope to adjust the sapphire cloth band that held back her long, pure white hair. "In a minute!"
Iana had wandered into the village the day after Shiyo's eleventh birthday, her clothes soaked and with no clear memories of where she had come from or how she had found her way past the natural walls that protected Butterfly Canyon. Or how she had made it past the Hunters who patrolled the valley constantly, searching for the demons that often snuck across the border seeking to destroy the water of Hope. Perhaps it was because she was not a demon and so her presence had not alerted them or perhaps the river had brought her here as it sometimes did with strangers who had lost their way, no one could be sure. But despite that, the village had welcomed her and Shiyo's mother had agreed to take her in.
As Iana drew close, Shiyo reached down to grasp her hand and helped her up onto the ledge beside her. That done they scrambled together up the last stretch of rock and dirt until they stood at last upon the edge of the forest.
Iana bit her lip as she glanced back down the slope and across the fields at the village. They had left before dawn in order to avoid Shiyo's mother and the sun had just broken over the distant, jagged peaks, freeing the valley from the cloaks of night. But the village did not seem as quiet or peaceful as it normally did this early in the morning.
She tugged on Shiyo's sleeve. "I can't see from here, but something seems to be happening. Do you think we should go back?"
Turning to follow her gaze, Shiyo shaded her eyes and frowned a little. Even from this distance, she recognized the distinctive armor of the Hunters. There didn't seem to be any fighting though and she hadn't heard anyone sound an alarm. Chewing her lip, she glanced from the village to the forest and back again.
"I think it's probably okay," she decided finally, pulling Iana towards the trees. They'd already come so far and she knew the snowberries they sought were only a little ways within the woods. "They haven't sounded any alarms, and you know there's been a decline in the number of demons attacking recently. Come on, we'll be back soon anyway."
It had rained the night before and the forest air tasted rich with earth and growing things—perfect conditions for the frosted blue snowberries prized for their cool sweetness and their rarity. True to her words, it didn't take them long to find what they were looking for. No more than twenty paces past the tree line, Shiyo grabbed her friend's hand excitedly and pointed. A ray of sunlight, filtering through the dense foliage above, illuminated a patch of silvery green, the long, spade shaped leaves framing small clusters of the frosty blue fruit. Dropping to her knees on the moss before it, she began carefully to remove the berries, passing them to Iana who put them in the tall, wicker basket she had brought slung across her back. Once they had plucked all the berries they could from that patch, they moved on to another but a few steps away.
"Amazing," Iana breathed in wonder as she accepted another handful. "I've never seen so many snowberries before. Everyone's going to be so pleased!"
"We could make cake or sweet rice," Shiyo agreed, scooting over to another patch further past the trees, "enough for the whole village."
As Shiyo brushed aside a couple leaves to reach the berries hiding beneath, she felt a sudden change in the air. A shiver ran down her spine, raising the hairs on the back of her neck. As if on cue, Iana gasped. Shiyo finally looked up.
At first, she could not make out anything visibly different. But as she looked, she began to make out a darkening in the shadows just beyond their little clearing. Where she had been able to see deep into the twilight beneath the trees, she could now make out only darkness like someone had cut out the scenery and left behind an empty void. Then a sudden shift in the wind rustled the canopy and the pale rays of dawn illuminated what the darkness had previously hidden.
It was a creature she had only heard stories about, a dark, twisted shape that seemed to drain away the light of the day like something cut from a cloudy night sky. Its inky face had no distinct features save a ragged gash where a mouth should have been and eyes that burned like windows into an internal furnace. For a moment those terrible, hollow, hungry eyes bore into hers, freezing her blood in her veins, then it lunged and she screamed.
Throwing herself backwards, Shiyo cried out as black claws raked across her collarbone, just missing her throat. She ignored the blood that trickled from the cuts as she scrambled away, stumbling to her feet and into a frantic sprint back towards the village.
"Run!" she shrieked, but Iana stood frozen with terror. In desperation, Shiyo scooped a rock from the ground, turned and threw it as hard as she could at the demon. Ebony claws flashed through the air and the rock shattered into tiny fragments that rained harmlessly to the ground. But the moment was long enough for her to grab Iana's hand and drag her along as she ran.
Behind them the demon let loose a shrieking, hungry, angered cry that seemed to echo on forever in their ears and amidst the trees. And suddenly the woods around them were boiling with darkness. They fell backwards as claws reached for them from every direction, cowering to the ground and trying to shield themselves with the berry basket. Shiyo screwed her eyes shut, unable to breathe for the fear that clogged up her throat. Any second now, those ebony teeth would tear into them, those jagged claws rake into their backs, and they'd never see Mother again or the village or—
"What are you two doing out here?!"
The exclamation cut through the panic that had been overwhelming her thoughts; Shiyo realized that the woods around them had gone silent. Still huddled close to Iana, she looked up to find a man wearing the padded armor of a Hunter. His bared sword gleamed in the morning light, the edge of the blade streaked with inky blood.
"You two shouldn't be out here by yourselves," he said urgently. "There's been strange things going on. Didn't you hear the announcement?"
Numbly, they both shook their heads.
"Damn," he muttered, turning to survey the woods once more with obvious unease, "I've never seen so many demons at once. It's almost like they've all been gathering for something."
"Come on," he added more loudly, "we should head back."
With his free hand, he helped them to their feet. Iana clutched the berry basket to her chest as though it was the only thing keeping her from breaking down. But before they could start walking, screams and shouts broke out in the distance followed by the sudden smell of smoke. And they came from the direction of the village.
Someone who will always have time to play with me...
Shiyo ran through the streets, stumbling over broken timbers and scuffed earth. The smell of blood and burning things bled the warmth from her veins and replaced it with a mixture of horror, fear, and confusion.
The attack had come too swiftly, with more ferocity than any of them had expected. Though in the end they were able to drive away most of the swarm, the demons left behind a trail of devastation. Countless houses had been torn apart, their occupants either dead or injured. These latter had been moved to the meeting house, the largest and warmest building in the village, and it was here that Shiyo at last found her mother.
"Mama!" She dropped to her knees beside the blanket where her mother had been placed, tears flooding her eyes. Lady Ani's face seemed so pale framed by her stark black hair and the pure white sheets. Her clothes were soaked with blood.
A healer knelt down beside her, placing a comforting hand on Shiyo's shoulder. "Don't worry, child, your mother will be fine. We just have to clean and bandage her wounds then we'll take her to a separate room to rest."
Shiyo sniffled but nodded and moved back to watch as the healer worked. When he finished, he directed some volunteers to move her mother into one of the side rooms and Shiyo followed them, lying down on the side of her mother's bed and pulling her knees to her chest.
At first, it seemed her mother would make a full recovery. Her wounds mended and she was able to stand and move around for brief periods of time. But one morning with a breakfast tray in her hands, Shiyo opened her door to find her mother unconscious upon the floor, covered in sweat. It turned out there had been poison in the claws of the demon that injured her, and with every day that the healers failed to find a cure, she grew weaker.
Consumed with worry, Shiyo could hardly bring herself to eat or sleep. When not at her mother's side, she huddled outside the door listening to the healers' discussions and Lady Ani's dry coughs.
A week dragged by and then a month. Finally one day after the healers had left, her mother called her back inside. She was sitting up in bed propped against several pillows with the blankets pooled in her lap. She patted the spot beside her and Shiyo scrambled up to lean against her side. Ani stroked her daughter's hair, her heart aching at what she had to tell her.
"Shiyo," she said at last, her voice gentle, "I want you to promise me that you'll take care of yourself, and that you'll go live with Talm and his mother and treat her with the same respect you'd treat me."
Shiyo tensed, her lip trembling. "But, Mama, I want to live with you."
Lady Ani sighed and pulled her into her arms, cradling her. "I don't have a lot of time left. I just want to make sure you'll be well taken care of when I'm gone."
"No." The whispered word nonetheless carried through the quiet room as Shiyo shook her head, as though she could rewrite history with her denial. "That can't be true. We'll find a cure—you'll be fine, you'll see."
A finger was placed on her lips and Shiyo stopped rambling, staring up at her mother through watering eyes. She knew the healers had tried everything they could.
"Listen, Shiyo, I know it's hard but everything will be all right. I've always lived my life so that I'd have no regrets. It's all right—"
But Shiyo just clung to her more tightly. She didn't want to hear that it would be all right because it wasn't. Nothing was right anymore. Suddenly, an idea flashed across her mind and she straightened, her heart speeding up with sudden hope.
"Mama, please, can't you just wish yourself better? I know you haven't made a wish in a long time, but surely you still can."
But her mother just shook her head. "It's all right, Shiyo. There's a time and a place for everything. We aren't meant to live forever."
"That's no reason not to at least try," Shiyo argued.
For several long moments, her mother only looked at her, her gaze gentle but determined. "No," she agreed, "but some things are too precious to lose, and I would lose it if I made even one more wish."
"But you'll die!"
Lady Ani's eyes glittered with tears and she pulled Shiyo back into a tight embrace, pressing her face into the warm, soft cloth of her gown. "I'm sorry, Shiyo, so very sorry. But I promise that someday you'll understand."
I wish to be strong, strong enough to protect everyone...
The wind caught at her clothes and snatched at her hair as she ran, pelting through the woods with her bow in her hands. The demons fled before her, the last of the flock that had escaped their dark world into hers. It seemed so very long ago. She and the other Hunters had spent the better part of four years weeding them out, trying to keep them from raiding the village.
Shiyo now lived alone in one of the houses on the edge of the village reserved for the warriors. She'd been alone ever since she'd made her last wish. That was the day Iana had disappeared, though she tried hard not to think about that.
A demon shrieked as her arrow pierced its heart. For a moment its form wavered as though struggling to retain its shape, then it evaporated. Its remaining fellows howled in rage and fear, picking up speed as they hurtled themselves towards the mountain pass that led from Butterfly Canyon to the lands beyond. Shiyo slowed to a stop at the cluster of white-streaked stone statues that marked where the forest ended and the rocky pass began. Two years ago or even one, Shiyo would have pursued them even across the border until she had destroyed every last one. A year ago, her anger and frustration had still burned strong in her, still driven her on and goaded her into action. But years of running and fighting had wearied her and she found herself wondering more and more often what she was doing.
Shaking her head, Shiyo started to turn back towards the village when movement above caught her eye. That split-second warning was all she had before something dropped from the dense foliage onto her back. Shiyo staggered forward, dropping her bow and yanking a knife from her belt. Black claws dug into her shoulders as the beast snarled right beside her ear. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she threw herself backward, slamming her attacker against a tree trunk. It yelped in pain and the grasp on her shoulders loosened—only slightly, but enough. Bracing the creature against the tree, Shiyo twisted around and stabbed her blade into shadowy flesh, blood like dark ink spilling down her hand and side. The runes carved all down the knife and along its cross guard flashed brightly and, with a thwarted cry, the demon dissolved into smoke and black ash.
Shiyo stood for a moment breathing heavily, then sheathed her knife, retrieved her bow from the leaf-strewn ground, and started back. A year ago, she had still been so full of anger, but now she just felt numb.
By the time she reached the village, the sun had almost sunk out of sight behind the mountains. Her stomach rumbled at the aroma of roasting fish coming from the village square where people were laughing and talking as they worked, but she ignored it and made her way to the lake, following the path that wound up to the shrine perched beside the waterfalls. She sank onto one of the stone benches, resting her elbows on her knees and leaning forward as she breathed in the chill, refreshing air.
Startled, she straightened and looked behind her. "Talm? Why aren't you at dinner?"
The young man standing beside one of the shrine pillars looked down at his feet and mumbled something, his black hair flopping into his eyes. He may have grown taller over the years, his features somewhat more angular and his complexion now darkened by sunlight. But in the times they had spoken, she had found him still as shy and hesitant as he had ever been. Granted, those times had been few and far between in the years since she'd stopped living with his family. She had seen him at times lingering by the door during meetings amongst the Hunters and the Elders, but he had never come in and she had always left so quickly. Now that they were both here, she missed when they used to talk more and wished she had tried harder to make time. It had been so long since she had really spoken to anyone.
"May I sit down?" he asked finally, shifting awkwardly on his feet.
Shiyo said nothing but moved to make room for him. As he moved to sit beside her, he finally looked at her and his eyes widened. "You're hurt! You should go see a healer."
Shiyo's hand jerked reflexively towards the gashes on her shoulders then she dropped it back into her lap. "I'll go later. I just want… to sit awhile."
Shiyo's eyes straying to the strings of paper butterflies swaying gently in the breeze, they sat in silence. Partly to her own surprise, Shiyo was the one who broke it. "It never seems to make a difference, no matter how many demons we kill or chase away there are always more, always another fight."
Talm lowered his head, mimicking her position by resting his elbows upon his knees. Most of the young men and women of the village trained and served as Hunters for at least a couple years. But Talm was one of the few who never had. When asked by any of his friends, he had flatly refused the idea, which surprised them—not necessarily because he had refused but because Talm almost never refused anything so bluntly.
"You aren't angry anymore?"
Shiyo thought only for a moment before she answered. "No."
There just didn't seem to be any point in being angry anymore. It wasn't going to bring her mother back, and it hadn't eased the ache she'd left behind.
"Shiyo," Talm said, following her gaze to the butterflies. "Do you ever wonder where the demons come from?"
"I… never really thought about it."
Silence fell between them for another long moment before he sighed and looked back up at her. "Demons are creatures born from all dark emotions that people have, like hatred and jealousy, anger and despair. Such emotions only make them strong. That's why they're always trying so hard to destroy this place, because the waters in our valley are the wellsprings of hope."
Shiyo said nothing. That was what her mother had called these waterfalls the very first time she had come here on her eleventh birthday. She looked down at the traces of inky blood that still clung to her hands then back up at the mighty cascades of shining water caught in veils of mist and spray that both hid the water's onward path and promised change, promised that despite the dangers of the day they could continue forward if they chose—promised hope.
She said nothing, but he thought she understood.
I wish not to hate anymore… to move on...
"There sure is a lot of stuff up here," Talm sighed, shifting aside a box of old clothes. "You know, we have an extra room downstairs. You don't have to use this one when you move back."
"It's all right. I've been meaning to go through all this eventually, and I like this room. It has a great view of the waterfall."
Straightening, Shiyo stretched, trying to relieve some of the tension that had accumulated in her back from more than half an hour bent over various bags and chests of the odds and ends she'd collected over the years. Most of the clothes were too small for her now. Aside from one or two which she would keep for sentimental reasons, the rest could be donated to the village stores.
"Mom said that she wanted you to look in this box in particular," Talm noted, unearthing a small wooden chest from behind a stack of old books. "Are you going to open it or shall I?"
Sweeping her hair behind her ear, Shiyo glanced back at him. "Go ahead, I don't think it matters who opens it. You want to know what's inside too, right?"
Talm laughed a little sheepishly. "Yes, if it's all right with you—I don't want to be nosy or anything."
She turned away again to hide her smile. "Well then, what are you waiting for?"
The latches clicked open and there was the rustle of silk and what sounded like paper. Then he gasped.
"Look at these," Talm breathed in awe. Scooting back from the chest, he carefully unrolled several scrolls upon the floorboards. There were four paintings in all, one of the waterfalls, one of the mountains with the sun just rising above their peaks, another depicted eleven brilliant yet delicate butterflies, and the last… the last was a painting of Shiyo.
Talm pointed at the signature in the bottom right corners. "It looks like your mother painted these. They're so beautiful."
A faint blush colored her cheeks as one of the paintings was of her, but Shiyo quickly dismissed it. She crouched down beside him to examine the artwork more closely, feeling a slight pang in her heart. Though now that she no longer sought revenge so desperately, it was a different kind of feeling. There was still a lot of sadness, but perhaps less hurt.
"We can hang them up," she said lightly.
Leaning forward, she picked up the painting of herself. It rustled as she lifted it and she noticed that the scroll had been made with two layers of the ivory, cloth-like paper. Something white was poking out from between the sheets. Freeing it with a gentle tug, she found herself holding a piece of paper. Curious, she unfolded it and gasped.
It was a letter addressed to her.
Her fingers trembled slightly when she recognized the handwriting and the name signed at the end.
"It's from my mother."
Shiyo nodded and he fell silent, watching her as she took a deep breath and began to read.
My dear Shiyo,
I have asked Talm's mother to give this to you when she feels that the time is right. I know that you will grow into a wonderful young woman, and I hope that these years have not been too hard on you. But you know, we all have to walk in the rain sometimes, and even though we may not be able to see where we are headed, we also have to learn to remember that it can't rain forever. Not if we don't let it.
Oh, listen to me. I guess it's just in a parent's nature—not to be able to resist giving advice whenever we talk to our children. Yet life does have so many treasures to offer. I wish with all my heart that you will be able to enjoy them as I've learned to enjoy them, without letting the occasional storm hold you back.
Looking back, I realize that I've never told you much about my life before you came into it. I suppose that in some ways I've been running away from my own storm too. You were so young that I didn't want to taint your world with my shadows. I saw so much death in my years as a Hunter that I wanted to just leave it all behind—my own parents and the man I'd hoped to marry... But you're no longer a child and I find that those memories no longer hurt, for the time I had with you was the brightest and most beautiful I could have hoped for.
My only regret is that I had to leave you so soon. And I'm so sorry that I had to leave you alone and how hurt you must have been. I just want you to understand that if I could have stayed with you longer, I would have. But if I had wished for anything, even to be well again, I would have lost what was and will always be most important to me. As you know, a new wish always cancels out the effects of the last wish, and I could not risk that. I could never risk that...
Talm took a step towards his companion in alarm as she began to shake. "Shiyo?"
Shiyo shook her head, unable to stop the tears that blurred her vision and spilled from the corners of her eyes. "She said—her last wish… was me."