That night, after my experience in the memorial grove, I slept better than I had in years. Keeping my mother’s pendant around my neck, I drifted quickly into a slumber that lasted well into the next morning.
I had vivid dreams. Nothing out of the ordinary — scenes from my childhood and thoughts from the day mingling, slightly off-center, but more real than usual. I sensed my mother’s presence, in particular, with unusual clarity. When I saw her, it felt like she was really there. I felt her warmth, heard her voice clearly — I even smelled her sweet floral scent.
When I awoke the daylight was already hours old, and the sky an intense azure where it shone through the thick clouds that hung above Plumeria. I was disoriented, the way one often is when one sleeps too late. Haze of sleep still about me, I wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water, an apple, and a breakfast roll. I brought my bounty back to my bedroom.
As I pondered what to do with my day, I remembered my father’s assignment from the previous morning, imagining him kneeling before me where I sat on the same spot on the bed. I didn’t think “I want my mom” was the kind of answer my father had in mind when he asked me what I really wanted.
But then again, something magical did happen to me in the grove that night. Maybe it didn’t come from my intentions alone, but clearly something worked, somehow. And now I had this pendant. I finished my fruit and held the little glass bulb in between my fingers, examining it for some kind of answer to my questions. Nothing appeared besides the slightest reflection of daylight from the window. Still, I figured, having this charm had to help in some way. I resolved to try connecting to the Heart-Blossom again.
I slipped into the closet to grab a pair of pants and a shawl to conceal my embarrassing adolescent torso. As I was leaving, I chanced a look in the mirror I so rarely used. I usually slept with my hair up in a little bun, but the previous night had been so emotionally exhausting that I had just let out my ponytail and passed out. Where I would have expected a tangled disaster, my hair was instead elegantly pushed to one side, draping over my right shoulder in a way that looked almost intentional. I smoothed over a few stray locks and felt oddly pleased with myself.
Once again, I found myself sitting cross-legged, eyes shut, facing the Heart-Blossom. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I found a steady rhythm. My thoughts began flowing, wandering through my head without any particular destination, and quietly passing by. The events of the previous day replayed: me, frustrated; my father leaving; Willow sitting in our tree; crying at the memorial; my mother’s spirit comforting me — the pendant that still hung around my neck.
One by one, the thoughts and images drifted away. Feeling that my head was as clear as it would get, I began to focus my intentions. First, I tried to think of what I would do with the magic. Fight? No, I wasn’t a fighter. Who would I fight, anyway? The Horde was a threat, sure, but they were still far away from Plumeria. Protect? Protect who from what? My father didn’t need protecting, he was a powerful magic user. Willow never did anything dangerous, as much as I tried to help her out of her comfort zone sometimes. And my mother…
That line of thought soured, so I abandoned it. Okay, back to square one. Just… me. Doing plant magic.
I visualized the roots and vines around me pulsing with magic, trying to feel the energy from where I sat. There was a slight tingle — promising, but I needed to go further than that. I needed to channel that magic through my body, become one with it. I turned my thoughts inward. I imagined that tingle taking root in my body and growing, intertwining with my spine, branching out to my fingertips. But when I tried to picture myself, my body, channeling this energy, it wasn’t the energy that was unclear — it was the body. I felt something, some power humming quietly around me, but I couldn’t see myself, Chrysanthemum, Prince of Plumeria, harnessing it.
The lack of clarity was confusing, if not downright disturbing. It felt like having a dream where I was watching myself from the outside, except it wasn’t quite me — it looked like me, but there was just something fundamentally off about it.
Still, I was determined not to lose that energy. Just like I had the day before, I allowed my arm to drift upwards from my lap, extending towards the runestone. Focusing on the tingling sensation, I leaned forward and reached toward the glassy surface of the pink crystal, holding the next breath, concentrating, visualizing…
A spark! Not the shock of the cool stone against my fingers but a sudden, alarming heat on my skin that I had never felt before. Gasping, my eyes snapped open to focus on the Heart-Blossom. There was a faint light, deep in its core, illuminating the reflection on the smooth gemstone. But the reflection wasn’t what I expected; it wasn’t Chrys.
In my place, fingertips meeting mine on the surface, was a woman. She was older than me and Willow, but her skin was not the warm, rosewood brown of my mother’s; her hair was not the same pale orange. The hue of her skin was a deep, sandy tan, more like mine, with freckles dotting her cheeks. Her blush-blonde hair, decorated with pink blossoms, reached down to the small of her back. She wore a beautiful pink dress, leaving her shoulders and collarbones bare. Her figure wasn’t cushioned by a layer of softness like my mother’s, instead she was square and slender. She was glowing, not with magic but with joy. Actual, genuine happiness, which seemed so distant and foreign, was being reflected back at me as if it were mine.
I wanted to memorize every detail of her, but when I blinked in amazement, she was already gone. I saw myself — Chrys — again, with hair windswept from the breeze that blew gently through the village and my mother’s pendant still dangling from my neck. The warmth from the Heart-Blossom faded from my fingertips as I struggled to comprehend what had just happened.
“A woman… like your mother?” Willow asked, her feet swinging from our favorite branch.
“No,” I replied shyly, “it wasn’t her. It didn’t look like her. But she was familiar somehow.” I shrugged and stared across the village in the direction of the Heart-Blossom.
“Familiar, huh?” Her eyes darted from me, to the ground below us, and back to me. “Did she look like me?” Her tone perked up hopefully.
I considered for a second. Then, hesitating, I replied, “No, I don’t think it was you. I’m pretty sure, at least.”
Willow’s posture sunk. “Oh.”
We sat silently for a little while longer, watching the daylight disappear as the canvas of the tents and yurts reflected golden, then almost-red, then the cool gray of twilight.
I broke the silence just as it started to become uncomfortable. “Who could she be? Am I supposed to find her or something?”
Willow bit her lip, then replied, “Maybe she’s like… your soulmate? If you believe in that stuff, I don’t know.”
I chuckled quietly. “No. Definitely not.” I wasn’t the type to subscribe to the idea of soulmates, or destiny, or whatever. I guess because I didn’t want to think about the future at all — let alone believe that it was already decided. But for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that Willow had been on to something. I didn’t think this woman was my soulmate, but she felt important in a way I couldn’t explain.
I didn’t let it show, though, and Willow looked disappointed that I had dismissed the idea so quickly. She was a sap, through and through. It felt like every other conversation we had was about what she imagined her wedding would be like, and who she would spend her life with. But when asked if she had anyone specific in mind, she never really gave a straight answer. She would always blush and look away, then say something like, “I know it will be someone who’s very important to me.”
I glanced over at Willow as she gazed out over the village. A cool breeze swept through her long, dark brown ringlets, making them dance. Part of me wished that it had been her in the reflection; then I might have understood what it was supposed to mean.