One Last Adventure

They were in trouble.

Jessamyn sat on the floor, unrolled the world map, and rested it on top of her knees. "We turned west at the Orval Mountains, right?"

"Yes."   Arturo peered over the edge of the thick, woven basket and then at the sputtering fire pot keeping the emerald green hot air balloon aloft. "But that wind storm from the north swept us too far off course. I think that's the Aurelius Coast below us."

They both wore thick aviator leathers, including a cap and goggles, to protect them from the cold air at altitude. Jessamyn was older than Arturo by a year, and this was to be her last adventure before she was sent off to the Tosonin Institute to learn all the boring things that females were supposed to do, like accounting and management and government operations. She'd rather be exploring or in the military, like the males, but her mother wouldn't sign the special dispensation.

A strand of blue hair escaped the confines of the leather cap and tickled Jessamyn's brow. She used her prehensile trunk to tuck the strand away. She was of average height for her age, around seven feet, and her four arms were muscular from cavorting with Arturo around the countryside. The sun had tanned her skin a deep red.

Arturo stood a head shorter than her, but his trunk was longer and his body stouter. The pink of his hair was visible where it curled from beneath his cap. His dark eyes, distorted by the goggles, looked nervously at her. "If we don't find a place to land soon, we might end up in Danzisen territory."

Jessamyn worried her lower lip, two hands holding the map open, while a third traced a path from the Orval Mountains to the Aurelius Coast, trying to determine where they might be. They had blown a long way off course, and they were running out of the fuel that kept them in the air.   "See if you can spot the Bragga Atoll."

Arturo peered over the edge of the basket again. "No.   It's mostly sand and water-- wait.   There it is!" He pointed with his upper hand toward the southwest.   "I can just make it out in the distance."

"Good. Then I know about where we are."   Jessamyn's gaze searched the world map for a place to put down, preferably far from the Danzisens. They also needed to harvest more fuel.   "Tazo might be coming up, to the north. Do you see any bristletops?"

Arturo stepped carefully over Jessamyn's knees to reach the north side of the basket. He scouted below. "Oh! We passed them, but not by much."

"Then get us down!" Jessamyn scrambled to her feet and grabbed the cord to douse the fire pot. She rolled the map with her other hands.

Arturo lowered the anchor over the side, the sandbag descending on its long rope. Jessamyn watched with anxious eyes as they kept drifting farther from Tazo and closer to Danzisen territory. The balloon floated at height for what felt like forever before it finally began to descend. Eventually, the anchor touched down, creating drag in the black coastal sand.   The basket bounced to a stop on the ground not too long after, and Arturo jumped over the side to secure the anchor rope around a heavy rock.

With the map safely tucked into her pack, Jessamyn joined Arturo on the beach. The balloon would deflate on its own. Normally, they would wait as it did, and spread it out neatly for easier inflation. But Jessamyn wanted to get moving. The sooner they reached Tazo and harvested more fuel, the sooner they could lift off again and hopefully avoid the Danzisens notice.

Arturo fetched his own pack from the balloon's basket and slung it over his two left shoulders.   He pushed his goggles up onto his forehead with his trunk. "Ready?"

Jessamyn removed her own goggles, pocketed them, and checked the anchor one more time before nodding.   "Let's go."

Together, they set off toward Tazo.