Once upon a time, in the countryside of Brightvale, there was a miserable little girl named Reyela who lived with her father in a small country cottage. On Reyela's tenth birthday, it was a particularly windy day. The red Draik was walking along the bank of the stream behind her home, when she noticed something very strange. A large purple helium balloon was hanging in the air over the middle of the stream, the silver ribbon it was tied with shimmering in the sunlight, dangling only inches above the murky, grey water.
"That balloon must be for me!" Reyela thought confidently, never considering the possibility that it may not be all right for her to take it. After all, it was her tenth birthday, and it was her stream over which the pretty balloon was floating.
Being careful not to dirty her simple blue dress, the red Draik hopped across the stepping stones to the centre of the stream. She reached out her arm and took hold of the balloon's ribbon, and when she turned around to try and take her supposed birthday gift home with her, the wind picked up and blew the silver ribbon right out of her hand. She jumped for it...
That was the day Reyela's life changed.
Tired ears awakened to a sound they never thought they would hear. It was an echoing, tinkling, familiar sound, and it startled Reyela awake. Tired eyes blinked open, and slowly scanned the tiny bedroom. Late morning sunlight shone in through the dirty bedroom window, and Reyela was relieved to find she had made it through the night.
It was her tenth birthday today, the most important birthday she had ever had. She was now a decade old. Double digits, one step closer to being a lady and not just an incompetent child. It was a very significant day in the young Draik's life. So significant, in fact, that she had stayed up for an undesirably large portion of the previous night, thinking about how the day would play out. Would her father give her a lovely present? Something precious, expensive and very special for his only child? Would he throw her a giant party, or take her anywhere in Neopia she wanted to go? Perhaps he would take her to Brightvale Castle, where she could dance with the princes and princesses at a royal ball held just for her. The possibilities were endless on this wonderful day of her life. She would go and talk to Father as soon as she was dressed.
As she was opening up her wardrobe, she heard the sound again. The strange and familiar tinkling song she had heard while waking up. The nearly forgotten song of her mother's old wind chimes.
"Those wind chimes cannot be working again! I suppose I was wrong: It's not morning after all, and I must still be dreaming."
Reyela's mother's wind chimes had not made a sound since Reyela was eight years old. Her father said they must have been broken, but he had never had the heart to take them down. His wife had hung the metal chimes on the front porch overhang the day they had moved into their cottage home, and she had always loved the melody they would play every time the wind blew. The chimes had an almost magical sound to them, as lighthearted and carefree as it was haunting. Reyela always hoped she would one day hear the song again, but when she stepped out onto the front porch and saw the dull metal tubes silently dancing in the wind, she knew that just the same as every day, today was not the day for her wish to come true.
"What in Neopia was I thinking?" she scolded herself. "That these mute wind chimes would ring for me on my birthday? What an utterly ridiculous thought! I'm such a stupid girl."
The red Draik stomped her feet, until she realized that she was not entirely to blame for this embarrassing little incident. It was as much the wind chimes' fault as it was her own.
"These are stupid wind chimes!" she added, ramming her bare foot into the post by which the wind chimes hung. It was only when she had finished punishing herself and the infernal metal tubes that she decided it was time for her to return to her bedroom and get ready for her day.
"If Mother only knew how ridiculous her wind chimes have become. It seems as though they refuse to make a sound for anyone but her, which is absolutely unfair. I'm her daughter, I should get to hear them too."
For the second time that morning, Reyela began her fight with the rusty hinges on the door of her wardrobe. She firmly wrapped both her hands around the tiny knob, and pulled with all her might until the wardrobe door flung open, almost hitting her in the face.
"Stupid door," Reyela growled. "It makes a fool out of me every morning. Why doesn't anything in this house work?"
It didn't take long for Reyela to find the dress she was looking for in her near-empty closet. She did not own many outfits, and the clothes she did have were not nearly as pretty as her favourite sky-blue dress. Of course, her blue dress was still very plain looking. It had short sleeves which were not puffy like the scarlet Draik would have liked them to be. Far worse was the fact that the sleeves had no elastic in their cuffs, and they drooped down the Draik's arms, loose and floppy like a boy's play shirt. The dress was also too short, and only went down to Reyela's knees, and not to her ankles like the dresses the princesses wore in her Royal Colouring Book.
Other than its sleeves and its length, the dress was really quite pretty. It had a darker blue sash that felt almost like silk, and could be tied at the back in a decent sized bow. The sash matched very well with the ribbon she used to tie back her long chestnut brown hair, and when she stood by the mirror and twirled round and round, she found herself looking rather lovely indeed.
“Mm, yes. This will be perfect for a birthday--" she corrected herself. "For a tenth birthday celebration. I'm ready to go to the castle now."
She knew she was lying to her reflection in the mirror. Even if she was going to a castle, she would never fit in wearing a knee-length dress with boyish sleeves. But wherever her father was taking her, Reyela wanted to look her best. She would stand up tall and smile, and perhaps if her smile shined bright enough, nobody would notice her clothes.
Now all she had to do was ask her father to take her somewhere. She was expecting to find the green Draik in the kitchen, where he would usually have been at this time of morning, drinking his black coffee or cooking an assortment of breakfast foods of varied degrees of edibility. This particular morning, however, her father was not in his typical spot. On the table there was a note propped up against a coffee jar. The note read the following:
Happy birthday Rey!
Gone out for few minutes. Back soon.
The twisted letters burned into Reyela's mind, and the dispassionate words went right to her heart. Her father was constantly going out, saying he would be back in a few minutes and not returning until the sun was high in the sky. She had determined by now that the man had no concept of time whatsoever, thinking an hour to be only a few minutes, and believing that working ten hour shifts, five days a week from nine until seven, was perfectly convenient for raising a child. Reyela didn't mind his absence most days; She could get along fine by herself. But today was her tenth birthday, a day she didn't want to have to spend alone. It was a day to be celebrated with family and friends, and Reyela didn't have any friends. Her closest neighbour was nearly a mile away, and he was a retired Yooyu Ball player who had no wife or children. There were many woodland petpets on the plain where Reyela lived, but she had never been one to appreciate the company of petpets, and it seemed the little creatures knew it, as they generally kept their distance from the scarlet Draik.
Her father was all Reyela had in the world, and if he had taken off on her, what chance did she have of her tenth birthday being a happy one?
"No trip to Brightvale Castle for me this year." Reyela sniffed. Her sadness quickly turned to anger. "He would not have taken me anyway. Brightvale castle is in Brightvale City, and that has to be at least a million miles away from this dreary plain. Father would never be willing to travel that far to ensure his only daughter's happiness. Why, he wasn't even willing to stay home long enough to wish me happy birthday personally!"
Reyela was hot with rage, even before she noticed that her father had referred to her as 'Rey' in the note, a nickname she vehemently hated. Her mother had named her Reyela, and that was the only name she wanted to be called. What did she care if 'Reyela' was too hard a name for her father to print? Was she not even worth enough to him for him to call her by her full name?
The enraged Draik grabbed the note off the table and crumbled it into a tiny ball. Then she stomped down the empty hallway, threw open the front door, tossed the ball of paper off the porch, and watched it be carried away by the breeze.
"There," She forced her face into a sickly grin. "Now all my problems are lost to the wind."
Out of the corner of her eye, Reyela caught sight of the wind chimes. The metal tubes were clearly touching, and yet they still remained as silent as ever. A vision of a white Draik flashed in her mind. Her mother would have wanted her to have a happy birthday. If only she hadn't had to leave her...
"The wind could never take all my problems away, could it?" Reyela sighed.
It was then that she decided that she needed to go for a walk. She strolled around to the back of the cottage, and before long she had reached her backyard stream. The water was especially cloudy today, filled with dirt and debris from the previous night's rainstorm. Autumn leaves littered the stream for as far as the eye could see, and Reyela thought it was a miracle that the trees were not completely bare. She started to follow the fast-moving water, hoping to find out if the leaves really did go on forever, or if it merely seemed that way. After a moment of walking, Reyela caught a glimpse of something unusual in the distance.
"Now what could that be?"
She started to jog toward the mysterious object, and the wind seemed to help her by pushing her along. As she approached, she realized that the object was a deep purple helium balloon, hanging strangely in the air above the middle of the stream.
"How extraordinarily odd..." the red Draik breathed as she moved in closer. "The wind must have blown it over here."
Suddenly, an idea formed in Reyela's mind. "If Father bought this balloon for me, and left it outside on the front porch, surely the wind could have carried it this far. This is still my stream, and it is my birthday. That balloon must be for me!"
At this part of the stream there were stepping stones, that led from one side of the narrow body of water to the other. With one hand holding up the skirt of her dress, and the other hand stretched out at her side to help her balance, Reyela hopped across the stones until she was in arm's reach of the pretty balloon's silver ribbon. She held onto the ribbon, and tried to tug it in the direction of her house, but to Reyela's surprise, and annoyance, the balloon refused to budge.
"How ridiculous! The confounded thing is stuck in the air!"
She pulled harder, this time with both hands, and when she thought that she finally had the stubborn balloon bested, the wind picked up, blowing the ribbon out of her grasp, and sending the balloon floating higher into the air. Reyela stood on her toes. She jumped in the air and flapped her little wings, and she caught the silver ribbon inches before it was out of her reach. Reyela grinned, but her celebration was cut horrendously short. In an instant her happiness was turned to terror, as she realized her feet were not returning to the ground.
"Wha-- What in Neopia?"
The balloon continued to rise higher and higher into the air, with Reyela holding onto it, screaming for dear life.
"Sweet Fyora! Put me down! This can't be happening — It's not even possible! A child blowing away on a balloon? I've never heard anything so--" Reyela's stomach did a somersault inside her when the wind suddenly changed direction, and she started moving sideways towards her cottage at a truly frightening speed.
"Father!" Reyela shrieked at the top of her voice. "You'd better come home and rescue me! I can't get down!"
As the balloon carried her over her cottage home, Reyela heard the same tinkling sound she had heard earlier that morning, and this time she was certain that it was her mother's wind chimes. The sound was as clear and as beautiful as she remembered it to be; as haunting and enchanting as a siren's song, and as bittersweet as yesterday's dream. But the scarlet Draik had no time to neither stay and listen, nor wonder why the chimes were ringing after two full years of silence. Before she knew it, the winds had changed again, and the balloon was taking her farther from the ground than she had ever been before.
It was simply no use. No matter how she screamed, no one came to her rescue, and the persistent balloon apparently was refusing to put her down. Oh why, oh why had she tried to take it home with her in the first place? It was now apparent to Reyela that she was going home with the balloon.
To be continued...