Ace and the Flaming Tail

Ace has no idea that picking a bright purple handkerchief would send him to the adventure of his life.

But will he be able to defeat a gigantic eagle, conquer ape warriors, outsmart an evil Prince while saving Princess Juliana and her kingdom in time?

Chapter 01 Chapter 02 Chapter 03 Chapter 04 Chapter 05 Chapter 06 Chapter 07 Chapter 08 Chapter 09 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12

Chapter Ten

Ace had few doubts himself, as they zoomed along at top speed across the waves and into the open sea. The ship would practically sail itself, and Princess Juliana was eagerly poring over the maps and nautical charts with the enthusiasm of a born sailor.

"I think we'll be there by morning," she said. "It looks really very simple."

"Good," Ace said, sinking into a nearby deck chair. Adventure was one thing, but a body had to rest eventually. He wouldn't sleep of course, but after such a long day, he couldn't help but let his heavy lids fall shut for a few moments and feel the gentle rocking of the waves on the beautiful boat.

"Ace!"

He snapped his eyes open, and was shocked to see it was suddenly full daylight. How had that happened? Had it been another trick of the magical monkey's? But he'd said his magic did not extend off the island.

"You fell asleep!" Princess Juliana said. "We're about to land."

Ace jumped up from his chair, feeling a little stiff but a million times better than the day before and spotted an island coming up quickly in front of them. "The Protector's Island!" he said triumphantly. "Have no fear, Ace is here!"

"That's the thing, Ace. I don't think that is the Protector's Island."

"Why not?

"Well ..." she trailed off and stared into the distance. "Because I fell asleep, too!" she finally wailed. "And now none of this looks right," she said, pointing at the nautical maps spread out in front of her. "I have no idea where we are!"

Wherever they were, they were there. They both jolted forward as the bottom of the boat scraped against the sea floor.

"Looks like it's inhabited, at least," Ace said, as he tried to figure out how to drop the anchor. This time he was determined not to lose their boat. "We might as well get out, figure out where we are, and be on our way. I'm sure someone here can help us."

Just beyond the beach, a small city was visible, with many small dwellings gathered around what looked like a city center. The city center consisted of a handful a larger buildings and one massive arena.

"Seems like an awfully small, remote place to have such a huge sports stadium," Ace said, grinning with pride at his success with the anchor.

"Are you sure we should get off?" Princess Juliana asked, remembering what had awaited them when they got off at the last island they'd happened across.

"Sure! They'll help us figure out where we are, maybe we restock our supplies, and we'll be at the Protector's Island in no time. Have no fear..."

"...Ace is here. You keep saying that."

"And it keeps being true, right?"

Princess Juliana couldn't hold back her smile. She nodded. "You've been a wonderful help, Ace. All right, let's go."

They made their way to the back of the ship, where they climbed into the dinghy and lowered themselves to the gently lapping waves. It was a nice change from the last time they had lowered a dinghy off a ship, since this time no one was chasing them with a knife or trying to turn them in for a bounty to a power-hungry prince.

Ace rowed easily into shore, replenished by good food and a night of rest. He hopped out and held the dinghy steady as the princess climbed out, and then he tied it securely to a boulder jutting out of the sand nearby.

"I say we just head into that area," he said, pointing in the general direction of the city center.

"I don't think we have to head anywhere," the princess said, her voice trembling.

"Look, I told you we just need to get directions," Ace said, turning around to see what was holding Princess Juliana back this time. He froze when he saw what the princess had clearly seen first.

Running toward them from all sides except the water were enormous and heavily armed apes. They weren't just out for some exercise either; they were all, every single one of them, headed straight for Ace and Princess Juliana.

"Okay," Ace said. "It'll be okay. We'll just explain that we're friendly, and-"

But Ace didn't have a chance to explain anything before he was unceremoniously picked up under one arm by the first ape to reach them. The next one grabbed Princess Juliana and let out a roar. On his roar, the entire company of apes that had been running toward them turned and began running in a different direction.

"Hey!" Ace called out as he bounced along. "Hey, come on! Is this any way to welcome visitors? We just stopped for directions!"

The apes just kept running, in perfect synchronization, their feet pounding an ominous drum beat that echoed as they reached the streets with buildings. Ace considered trying his gas-passing maneuver that had worked so well with the eagle. But he was fairly sure Princess Juliana was being carried by the ape directly behind him, so all he would succeed in doing would be to asphyxiate his only friend in this bizarre place.

He finally gave up yelling and struggling and decided to wait until the apes got wherever they were going. Then he would make them listen. After a few early shrieks, Princess Juliana was also quiet, so Ace assumed she had come to the same conclusion. The apes ran through the streets lined with shops, and if he craned his head in the right direction, Ace could see that they were headed toward the massive building that had looked like some kind of sports stadium.

The apes pounded in their steady rhythm up a long ramp and through a massive set of metal doors, and then they were inside. Just inside, though, the two apes holding Ace and the princess took a sharp right turn and ran down a dark, narrow hallway. Finally, they stopped running. The ape holding the princess fumbled with a lock and then shoved open a heavy metal door.

"Okay, now, look," Ace said. But that was all he got out before the apes threw him inside a tiny chamber. Ace landed with a thud on hard concrete, and was joined a moment later by Princess Juliana. Then the metal door clanged shut. "Hey!" Ace screamed.

But it was no use. It was clear no one would hear them.

"What's going on?" the princess cried. "What is this place? I had no idea there were so many awful places near my father's kingdom. Oh, Ace! We'll never get to my father in time!"

Deep down, Ace was starting to agree with the princess. Her cousin had had plenty of time by now to gather all the items and make his way to the Protector's Island. It would take a lot of luck and maybe a miracle or two to get out of this situation, and even if they did, they probably wouldn't make it in time.

"There, there," he said, weakly patting the princess on the back. "It'll be okay."

But he didn't believe it.

He especially didn't believe it a few minutes later when the sound of thousands of feet pounding through the stadium grew into the roar of a not-so-distant crowd. It sounded like the stadium was filling up for a sporting event, and Ace had the sinking feeling that he and the princess would be the centerpiece of whatever crazy game these apes liked to play with their visitors.

After an agonizing wait, they finally heard the lock turning and the door clanged open again. There stood the biggest ape Ace had ever seen. Whether it was one of the ones who had carried them in, Ace couldn't say. They all looked more or less the same to him.

"You!" barked the ape. "Intruders!"

"We're sorry," the princess gasped. "We didn't mean to intrude. We were just lost. If you'll let us go, I promise, we'll leave immediately."

"Only a true hero leaves this island," the ape growled.

Ace straightened up a little.

"That's great!" Princess Juliana squeaked. "Ace here is a true hero. He just saved a monkey's life on Fire Island. And he's saved me a bunch of times in the last couple days-" But she stopped talking when she noticed the look on the gruff ape's face.

"You think we're going to take your word for it, little lady? Oh, no. Your hero here will have to prove his worth. In order to gain safe passage off our island, one of you will have to fight an arena full of gladiators and defeat them all."

Well, that was something. Ace wanted to be swept up in the adventure of it all, but fighting even one of these apes would be quite the task. How was he supposed to take them all on alone?

"Couldn't we do it together?" the princess asked. Ace spun around and looked at her in wonder. Would she do that? "Well, you can't do it alone," she added.

The ape snorted. "No way. We might be tough, but we are not so evil that we would fight a woman. It's got to be him." He turned toward the doorway and paused. "We don't have any problem eating you when your buddy loses, though."

"Hang on," Ace said. "You're assuming I'm going to lose."

"Yeah?"

"Well, what if I win?"

The ape snorted, as if this was absolutely impossible. "You win, and we let you and your little friend off our island."

Ace shrugged. "Okay. Good enough for me."

Ace followed the ape out of the room with what he hoped was an encouraging smile toward the princess. Moments later, another ape appeared and led the princess from the room and into the stands of the arena, where she was seated in a place of prominence. If she hadn't just been informed that she would almost certainly be eaten as soon as the whole thing was over, she might have felt like some sort of visiting dignitary.

From the stands, the noise inside the arena was deafening. Every seat was full, and almost every ape was stomping their feet and clapping their hands. Princess Juliana watched as a fleet of ape gladiators began to pour onto the field of the arena. They were enormous, of course, and heavily armed with shining metal breastplates and helmets and boots. They wielded shields and swords, which seemed like overkill, since they could probably beat any opponent based on their strength alone.

The audience cheered louder as the gladiators strutted around the arena, goading them on with sinister smiles. All these trained warriors against one little monkey? It was so unfair. What kind of barbarians were these, the princess wondered, who took pleasure in watching the defeat of someone so innocent and harmless? If she ever survived this whole ordeal, she would have something to tell her father about this particular island.

A bugle rang out and the audience fell silent. Immediately, the gladiators in the center of the arena formed themselves into a half circle, and stood with their hands ready on their swords and shields. Princess Juliana almost didn't want to look, but she was the only person on this whole island who cared for Ace. She had to be brave and be with him until the end.

So she forced herself to watch as Ace stumbled into the arena, pushed by unseen hands, and then took a few tentative steps closer to the half-circle of gladiators. He must have been given some instructions before heading out, because why else would he be getting closer to them? But then, that was Ace, the princess thought. Brave to the end. And it was most definitely the end.

The gladiators on the field didn't move, and it looked to the princess like they were waiting for Ace to make the first move. So polite of them to give their guest the first turn before they slaughtered him. But Ace stood frozen to the spot, and the silenced crowd began to stomp its feet and clap its hands again.

"Fight!" shouted someone from the stands near Ace, and he jumped as though he'd been startled into action. That slight movement was enough for the gladiators, who all began to creep closer to Ace.

Princess Juliana's hands flew to her face, but she watched through the cracks of her fingers, unable to abandon Ace in his moment of need. He stumbled forward, so that he ended up in the center of the gladiators, who closed the circle around him and crept closer. There was no way out. He'd be dead any second.

They were so close. Almost there. And then Ace let out the strangest cry and pointed up at the sky in shock, as though he'd seen a flying pig or an approaching asteroid or worse. It was so surprising that the gladiators all stopped creeping toward Ace and looked up into the sky.

Much of the watching crowd did the same, although the ones who kept their eyes on the field watched as Ace deftly dove through the legs of the closest gladiator and scurried across the field.

The gladiators were enormous, but not all that smart, so it took them a moment or two to realize there was nothing to see in the sky, and to understand the shouts of the crowd telling them their prey was getting away. Of course, there was really nowhere for Ace to go, though Princess Juliana was quite proud of his little maneuver. From the indignant shouts all around her, she got the impression this was the first time a visitor hadn't just immediately surrendered to the army of gladiators.

It took her a moment to locate Ace, and unfortunately the gladiators spotted him just after the princess did. Toward the end of the field, he had climbed a pole that must be used in some less lethal sport, one that did not involve unwelcome visitors to the island. He had reached the top, and it was really quite a clever place to be, because the gladiators were not so enormous that they could reach him there, and they were far too big to climb the thin pole, which would have immediately collapsed under their weight.

Ace, feeling rather proud of himself for his momentary escape, chose that moment to stick out his tongue and thumb his nose at the approaching gladiators. That might not have been the brightest move, because the enraged gladiators quickly realized that though they could not climb the pole themselves, between two of them, they could easily shake that monkey down, like Ace had shaken coconuts off the tree on Fire Island.

Ace went flying through the air and landed with a thud, his backside burning from the scrape against the artificial turf. He reached back gingerly, with the fleeting thought that his bum was on fire, and as the thought crossed his mind, a shout went out from the gladiators around him. They all immediately stepped back and the crowd fell silent.

Princess Juliana could see why, although Ace had no idea. When Ace had thought of fire, sparks had flown out of the tip of his tail.

Ace stood, grateful that the gladiators had not completely closed in, but since no further sparks emerged and he continued to look completely unthreatening, the gladiators began to close in again.

"Ace!" Princess Juliana shrieked from across the stadium. "Your tail! Use your tail!"

A strong hand instantly clamped over her mouth, keeping her from assisting him any further.

But it had been enough. Ace had heard her. He hadn't understood, but he had heard. His tail? He turned, almost in slow motion, to consider his tail. That was when he saw the glowing red tip and remembered the parting words of the magical monkey on Fire Island.

Fire, Ace thought experimentally, and a small flame shot out of his tail, narrowly missing his own head. The gladiators stepped back again. Ace aimed his tail more carefully. Giant balls of fire, he thought, and sure enough, enormous fireballs flew out of his tail and barreled toward the gladiators he'd aimed at.

They screamed and hit the ground.

Streams of lava, Ace thought, and sure enough a wave of rolling fire flowed out and around the stadium. He was having fun now, and the gladiators were scattering. Half had already fled from the arena.

Just for fun, Ace thought of fireworks, and sent an impressive display resembling a Chinese dragon circling the stands. It might have delighted a different crowd of onlookers, though in this panicked crowd, it had rather the reverse effect. The hands that had been holding Princess Juliana so she wouldn't call out to Ace dropped her. All around, the crowd ran for the exits.

She stayed where she was, as she preferred not to be trampled. Plus, she was having fun watching Ace. He galloped around the arena, looking more like a circus performer than someone in imminent danger of death, shooting different forms of fire in all directions.

Finally, only a handful of spectators remained in the stands, and one gladiator remained on the field with Ace. Princess Juliana recognized him as the one who had come to retrieve Ace from the chamber before the fight. He laid down his sword and shield, and stood with his hands up in surrender until Ace realized they were alone.

"What?" Ace said. "Is that it? Did I win?"

The gladiator dropped to his knees and Princess Juliana jumped up, worried that he was reaching for his sword again. But the gladiator bowed all the way down until his forehead touched the ground.

"You have won," he said, when he finally came back up.

Ace grinned. "Terrific. Then my friend and I would like to get back on our ship and get out of here. We've got a kingdom to save, if it's all the same to you."

- End of Chapter Ten -