Risa held the crystal jar up to eye level as a single teardrop splashed onto the marble at her feet. The lights in the jar, the lights that had guided her for as much of her life as she could remember, were growing weak and dim, changing even as she watched. Risa thought this would work, thought the jar would preserve them, but instead it seemed to be hastening their demise. Another teardrop fell. Risa could not imagine the thought of them not being with her; they were as permanent and sure in her life as Mother or Father, as the marble pillars that held up her home.
When the lights were free, they flitted about her room in the darkness, sometimes moving slowly as if dancing to one of the stately dirges Risa often heard from the court musicians, other times tearing madly about like flames caught in a gale. They always came, always came when she called, when she needed them. Faerestra. That was what they called themselves, the Faerestra, and they lived in Risa’s room.
Long ago, when she was too young to even know how old she was, Risa had awakened in the darkness of her bedroom, terrified and trembling. She didn’t even know what frightened her, just that there were monsters out there, horrible beings that would rend her body and consume her soul. She cried out, but no one heard, no one came to pick her up and comfort her, calm her fears. Risa did not know why Miss Addy did not wake to pick her up, Miss Addy was always there, but not that night.
Lost in her childish terror, Risa was answered. A light came. It was pale blue and pulsed as it hovered in front of Risa’s goggling green eyes. Suddenly she found her fears gone, evaporated like a puff of smoke in the wind, and she smiled, cooing and reaching out. The tiny spot of luminosity landed on her outstretched hand and spoke to her, calming and soothing. Little Risa had never heard such a voice, not even Mother’s.
Tonight Risa did not live up to her name. she felt no joy, no glee, no desire to laugh. Her heart was fragmented into as many pieces as there were lights in the jar; the Faerestra were dying and Risa did not understand. They were eternal; they told her so long ago. They were eternal, but were tied to this place, to the land and to the forest that surrounded her home.
Risa had coaxed them into the jar, and the Faerestra had come, trusting, only to find that the crystal had trapped them, severing their connection to the world around them. They began to fade.
“Child, you must release us. You must set us free else we perish.” The collective consciousness spoke kindly, but urgently.
“But I must take you with me when I go to the north. You told me you can only live where the sun is warm and the days are long, but I can keep you safe, keep you warm in my room.” Risa answered, then whispered, “I need you. I cannot face my life without you. I am being sent away to live with relatives to prepare for my coming of age, and I am frightened.”
“You must trust us, little one. You must trust us.” The voice was soothing as always, but this time there was an edge, a hint of desperation, and it was softer than ever.
Risa held the jar with one hand on bottom and the other on top, wavering. The Faerestra had always been there for her, not only with ready comfort for a frightened child, but with wisdom and more as she grew. The light beings made her graceful; confident. Risa could not give that up, not now, not when she must face leaving her home for a new life. She could not; would not. She shook her head vigorously, heat in her voice, “No. Find a way to live. I will release you when we reach the north.”
Sorrow filled the voice of the Faerestra, but no hint of accusation. “Risa, beloved child, after so long, do you not trust? Do you not remember all you have learned from the Faerestra?”
Risa paused, but did not ease her grip on the lid of the crystal jar. She was torn. From the Faerestra she had learned to laugh, to sing, to dance. She had learned to share and to…the list was endless, and suddenly Risa understood why they had come. Yes, they had comforted her in the darkest hours of the night, the deepest times of her soul, but they had been so much more. While she learned numbers, science, history, and languages from the stream of tutors, it had been the Faerestra who filled in her education. They taught her the important lessons of life: compassion, sharing, empathy, and all the things a privileged child of nobility seldom learned. Risa understood.
“How can I set you free? I need you, I owe you so much.” Risa’s hands trembled. Inside, she knew this was selfish.
“We will die if you keep us trapped in the jar.”
“Will you go to the north with me?”
“We cannot. This you know. We require warmth as we require freedom.” The voices were weaker now, yet they did not plead.
Risa’s eyes widened as a thought popped into her mind, “Tell me, Faerestra, tell me, my friends, is this a test?” She flinched. Had she gone too far? Would they deliberately set up a test to see what she would do? Her face grew hard, her green eyes flashed with reflections of the full moon. “If I release you, I might as well die. I have never known a day without your guidance, your peace. I would not survive on my own.”
The Faerestra were silent for long moments, waiting for Risa to understand the last lesson they needed to teach her. Finally, they spoke, not answering her question, “Yet if you do not release us, we will perish. Choose quickly, little one.”
Risa set the jar on the balcony rail and stared out across the expanse of lawn below, bathed in the glow of the full moon. The silvery orb hung in space as a representation of her future. Cold. Far. Impossible of attainment. Tonight would be the last time she saw the manor grounds under the light of the moon. She would depart for her new life in the morning.
Jaw clenched, she spun on her heel and strode toward the door. If they could desert her, she could desert them. She took three steps, four, five.
A sob broke the stillness as Risa turned and dashed back to the balcony, spinning the lid from the crystal jar. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, voice cracking with implication. “I cannot let you die. Go. Be free. Live and bring joy to another little girl just like you did for me.”
The lights were bright now, blinding, and Risa covered her eyes with a gossamer sleeve as she fell to her knees. The Faerestra swirled in the night air and Risa was surrounded by the lights and the music that the Faerestra sang. Risa heard the joy and gladness in the song, but her own soul was dust. She sank to her knees, fighting tears, “You are free. You are free.”
One light hovered below Risa’s face, forcing her to look up. All of the Faerestra lights had gathered in front of her and she gasped at the brilliant beauty of them. As her mouth opened, they flooded in, into her mouth, into her body, into her spirit, filling, filling. The Faerestra filled her until she shook uncontrollably, until her very being shivered with the intensity of their coming. Every space filled, her eyes glowed with blue light for long moments, then returned to their natural green.
Inside her, part of her now, the Faerestra spoke again, “By sacrificing yourself, your own happiness, you passed the final test. You showed yourself ready for us to inhabit your being. There will no longer be a need to be separated. No longer will you call on us, for now you are us and we are you.”
Risa stood and gazed silently out at the moon as her heart beat many times. She no longer feared her future, no longer dreaded the nightmares of what would come in the years ahead. She had been forged; purified in the fire of testing and proven worthy. With a smile, she turned and strode into her suite and set the empty jar on a high shelf.