"Why, thank you, little one. So are you."
"But you're pretty like the sun."
"I am a Light Faerie, I am one with the stars, the light, the warmth of this world."
"What is your name?"
"We do not have names."
"But can I call you something, if I ever see you again?"
"There are millions of Light Faeries in Neopia, young Uni-child. You won't recognize me—"
"But you're my friend."
"—or find me."
"You'll help me find you. You're good; you help people. It was dark outside, and you brought me light."
"...That I did."
"And you are better than all of the Light Faeries in all of Neopia!" A pause. "I'll call you Best!"
"Yes. Best. Because you're the best of all."
A warm, honey-sweet smile. "Alright." The Light Faerie pats the Uni's sparkling, sky-blue mane. "Alright. Best it is, child."
"Mom?" Pema asks, eyes pleading. "Can I have one thousand neopoints?"
Her mother, a Faerie Uni, with moon-creases around her linn-blue eyes, sighs. "I just gave you neopoints yesterday, did you spend it all?"
A bit of guilt flashes over the Blue Uni's features, and then, "Yes."
The older Uni sighs again, before placing the gleaming coins into her daughter's grasp. "Don't come to me tomorrow asking again!" Her sad features pull into a small smile. "I'm on to you."
"Right!" replies Pema, before bustling off.
It is the last day of summer, and everything is shifting: the bright lips of flowers are dimming and leaves are going red as sunset and the air is more brisk.
Everything is cycling except for Pema, who slips into the same shop as every other day, one thousand neopoints in hand. She used to come by more often; things were less expensive, things were more simple, hope was still young, but nothing like that really, ever lasts.
"Same as usual, Pema dear?" asks the shopkeeper, an aging, Red Lupe with kind, pitying eyes.
"Mhm," she replies, handing over the coins, watching them land like tiny, earthbound stars in the Lupe's lines palms.
The Lupe bustles away, before returning with something small and brittle and iridescent, its heart an unwavering, glittery gold.
"I feel like I'm stealing from you." The Lupe sighs. "You've been coming here for years, dear, but you never do find what you are looking for."
"I will," Pema says shortly, clutching the Bottled Light Faerie tightly. "Don't worry."
"Goodbye, then." Pema forces a smile before turning to leave, not missing the shopkeeper's muttered, "For now."
"You're magic, right?"
A high, soprano laugh. "Of course. I'm a faerie, after all."
The Uni blushes, and turns away.
"What is it, child?"
"Nothing you ask could ever be nothing."
"I said, can you make the other kids like-"
"I understood you, child, the first time."
"Why do you call me child? Everyone calls me Pema. Or ugly. Or loser, or-"
"Do not listen to them. They are wrong. And I will call you Pema, if you like."
Tears prickle at the corner of the Uni's eyes. "No. I like that you call me 'child'."
"And I like that you call me Best."
"This makes five-hundred-fifty," Pema mumbles to herself. It is late; the sun is dipping low, and the young Uni sits alone in the park. This is the only way it works, she tries to convince herself; only, it has never worked before.
She places the bottled faerie on the ground before her, and closes her eyes for a moment. Her hands are shaking. That is hope, she thinks to herself, that is hope rattling my bones.
She exhales a breath she didn't know she was holding in and then plucks the cork out of the misty bottle.
The light is blinding. It's like something out of a dream, only it imprints itself behind the blue of her eyes and makes her dizzy and tired; the candle of hope snuffs out immediately.
But even so, when the Light Faerie steps out of the waterfall of light and smiles down at her, Pema asks, in a small, tinny voice: "Best?"
The faerie's eyes are blank, and her lips are a crescent-smile. "I'd like to bless you, for freeing me."
Pema's eyes go hard. "No." She turns away. "I'm fine."
"Will we be friends forever?"
"Best friends forever, right? Right?"
"You will always be my most darling friend, Pema..."
"You're my only friend, Best. My one and only friend. And I like it better like that."
"Child, you will find friends far lovelier than me, one day. But you will always be my dearest friend."
"But nothing." Her eyes are sad. "We are best friends."
"Five hundred and fifty bottled faeries!" Pema shouts, crying into her arms. "Where are you, Best?"
She is in her room; the warm, autumn-summer air is breathing through the window. She shivers as she shuts the glass-face, and goes back to sit on her bed.
A knock comes at her door. Pema perks, and lets out a small, "Come in."
Her mother slips inside, carrying a small, porcelain-white bowl. "I brought you dinner."
Pema's eyes soften. "Oh. Thanks."
Her mother's lips fold into something so very fragile and sad. Something lingers in her gaze, and Pema suddenly finds herself saying, "Tell me a story, Mama?"
The Faerie Uni is surprised for only a moment, but the look melts away into something warm and joyous. "Of course, child."
Part of Pema crumples at the name, but the other part of her is beaming. She says firmly, "Nothing about faeries tonight, please." She pauses, before adding. "Maybe the sun. I... would like to hear about the sun."
Her mother's smile glimmers, like rain-dust and faerie-diamonds.,"Alright, darling, alright."
And the story unravels—
"Why are you looking at the sun?"
"Best, you're always looking at the sun. Like it has something you want."
"Oh? You think so? I just think it's very beautiful, is all."
"Are you sure? Best, you don't talk much anymore."
"There's something I have to tell you."
"You can tell me anything. We're best friends."
"...I lose my magic at night. Because I get my power from the sun. Did you know that?"
"The sun is part of me. I am part of it. One day, you'll understand."
"I.. I don't think I want to."
Pema, the next morning, combs her mane slowly, all the while staring at the glowing, rising sun. The gossamer, yellow face glitters prettily. The clouds swerve around it like music, and Pema wishes she had always noticed the beauty of the sun.
"I wonder..." she murmurs, leaning on the window-pane.
Her mother offers her one-thousand neopoints, but Pema shakes her head.
She does not go to the shop today for the first time in years. There are no glass, faerie-bottles rolling in the lines of her grasp; instead, she goes through the day empty-handed, the sun on her skin.
Something inside of her lightens at the thought.
"Why are you fading?"
"It... it means I'm free."
"Best, tell me the truth, please, please, for once-"
"I'm going to where I belong. Where I was meant to go."
"And where is that, Best? Tell me!"
"I'll be with you every day. You'll grow strong. I'll rise and fall, just like you."
"Don't look for me. You don't need to."
"I'll still try! You can't tell me not to- Best?"
"Best, where are you?"
'No,' Pema swears she hears something in the sky. The sun gleams. 'I'm still here. I always was.'
Five hundred-fifty bottled light faeries.
Pema never buys another one again.
She's had the one she was looking for all along.