Starspire

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Chapter 13: Bahati Hangs Out

Bahati took one look at the dazzling colors of the hot-air balloons, and threw up over the railing. After her encounter with the snow cone buffet, just looking at the bright colors had been enough to put her over the edge.

Seconds after making her escape from the snow angel, Bahati had ended up on a round wooden platform, elevated like a crow’s nest from a larger wood platform. After listening to the snow angel for so long, it had taken a long time for the ringing in her ears to go away, but once it did, she felt fine. Wherever she was, the sun shone brightly and a light, perfumed breeze wafted around his lookout tower. Everything was as it should be.

That was, until the balloons showed up.

It seemed the rule at this particular balloon parade was that no balloon could contain fewer than five colors. She saw stripes, checks, polka dots, entire paintings recreated on the balloon’s surface.

As Bahati leaned over the railing, she found that she preferred the light brown tones of the wooden floor far below. She realized too late, however, that she was not alone on the platform. Beneath her, a crowd of short men in jumpsuits shook their fists up at her, having been the recipients of Bahati’s snow cone shower. Bahati had never cared much about heights, and she was glad that she was far above the insults of the angry men.

Her elation was short-lived. With a grinding of gears, the platform descended, slowly at first, but then faster and faster. She wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and straightened up, bringing her staff to the ready position. She hated using magic against other people, but in this case, five frozen angry people would be much easier to deal with.

Wanting to at least think of a Plan B, she looked around the platform for anything she might have missed. She was about to give up when she noticed the wire connecting this platform with an adjacent one. It had been so thin that she had not noticed it before. At the end of the line was attached a pair of black handles, just wide enough to get a good grip. The neighboring platform was still a bit lower than her, creating a downward slant in the string—something that would not be true much longer. If she acted fast, she could use the zip line to get across.

With only seconds to decide, Bahati stuffed her staff into the back of her robe, hoping that it would be enough to secure it during her flight. She grasped both handles, took one look down at the main deck fair below and kicked off with both feet. The motions sent him hurtling through the air, led by the zip line towards the oncoming platform. Bahati felt a rush of elation surge through her. She would make it, and leave behind the group of angry, sticky men.

Once again, Bahati’s victory dance came a few minutes premature. The platform behind her continued to sink and the line leveled out. Bahati’s progress slowed and then stopped altogether. She hung there, suspended only halfway to her destination with a hefty drop below her should she lose her grip.

“Probably should have thought this through better,” she muttered. She could hear the shouts of the angry mob as they ran towards her, intent on getting their revenge for being puked on. Not for the first time since she arrived, she wished that the three of them had gone together.

***

Matt and Neil found themselves gazing into a sky full of the most incredible hot-air balloons they had ever seen. From what Matt could tell, they stood on a high circular wooden platform, protected by both a roof and a railing. It took him a minute to catch his breath after their close encounter with the masked natives, but eventually, his brain got the message that they were both safe and stopped making his heart and lungs work overtime.

His dad stayed closer to the center post of the platform, while Matt walked around the perimeter, enjoying the view. He turned at a sound and gasped as he glimpsed Bahati hanging by a thread not far away. “Dad!” he cried, pointing. “Look out there.”

He skirted around the center post and squinted to see what he was pointing at. “Let me guess, we’re in dreadful peril again and I’m going to look like an idiot. Getting used to it, so bring it on.”

Matt shook his head. “It’s Bahati. She’s in trouble.”

His dad inched forward and leaned his head out. “Yep. I’d recognize those crazy robes anywhere. What on earth is she doing?”

“Nothing on the earth! We need to help her.”

His dad nudged Matt in the side. “Trying to score some points? I don’t blame you.”

Matt rolled his eyes and pointed to the far platform. “Sure, dad. Just what I’m thinking about right now. Looks like that platform is sinking. We need to find a way to make ours do that, or she’ll fall back. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t look like those guys down there want to hug her.”

He considered the growing crowd and shook his head. “Yeah, can’t say I blame them. She gets on my nerves too.”

Scowling, Matt punched his dad’s arm. “Don’t talk like that. Ever think the problem might be you? Sorry, dad, but I’m taking her side.”

His dad frowned and cocked his head to the side. “What did I ever do? Give you guys too many nice things?”

Matt glanced back over his shoulder and though he wanted to have it out with his dad, this wasn’t the time. “Later, dad. Gotta save her first. Did you see anything that might control the platform?”

His dad shrugged. “Unless it was hidden or something.” Biting his lip, he pointed to the other platform. “It doesn’t look like anyone is at the top of that one. The controls must be at the bottom.”

“How do we get down, though? I mean, there’s no elevator or parachute.”

Matt glanced downed and pointed to the hinge of a trapdoor. He bent down and swung it back, revealing a rope ladder that stretched all the way down. He looked back at his dad and raised one eyebrow.

“No way. That thing looks about as safe as a kite in a tornado.” A thin smile crept up his face. “Wait a second. You’re scared aren’t you? You need your dad to save you. I knew it.”

Matt clenched his teeth, wishing he could deny it. “Stop smiling and get down there.”

Not bothering to wipe the smug look off of his face, his dad set off down the ladder, much more quickly than Matt had expected. Once his dad had vanished, he returned to the railing to see that Bahati had already started sliding back in the other direction.

He knelt by the trapdoor and yelled encouragement down to his dad. “Dad, she’s starting to slip! You can do this.”

Though he heard his dad’s voice, he could not make out his reply. Matt watched for many tense seconds as his dad reached the bottom and started running his hands over the wood, fumbling with the controls.

The next moment, Matt nearly fell through the trapdoor, as the platform jerked into motion. He caught himself at the last moment, one hand on either side of the trapdoor. “That’s it, dad. Just try not to kill me at the same time.”

Slowly, the cord straightened out and Bahati came to a stop and then started sliding back in their direction. Matt scrambled back from the trapdoor and returned to the railing, waving his arms and calling to Bahati.

“Bahati! It’s me, Matt. Hold on.”

Bahati nodded vigorously, her arms trembling and her brow damp with sweat. Matt reached out, ready to relieve her shaking arms as soon as he could.

Just as he was about grab her hands, the descent of the other platform sped up, sending the cord the other direction again. For a terrible second, Bahati hung in limbo, and Matt knew that in seconds she would start backwards.

Bahati closed her eyes and an expression of peace settled over her face. Matt gawked, forgetting their crazy situation for a moment. He’d never seen a more beautiful girl. Bahati let go with one hand, and Matt snapped out of his spell.

“No, Bahati! Don’t do it.”

His words had no effect. Bahati swung her legs backwards to give herself momentum and then hurled herself forward.

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