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 Nine

It was a difficult climb up the rough ladder, especially for Ace with his blistered hands and feet. But Princess Juliana carried the canteens the old monkey had so graciously provided, and finally they both made it out of the chute and onto the floor of the cave above. Instead of gulping in the fresh air they would have liked after the demanding climb, though, they were reminded of the reality of life on the surface of Fire Island.

No longer were they breathing in the cool air from down below. The air was hot and sticky, like they were surrounded on all sides by blazing campfires. But as much as they wanted to dive back down the chute to the cool comfort where the old monkey rested, they knew they'd never get off the island if they did that.

So, with grim determination, they headed out of the cave.

"So which way is west?" Princess Juliana asked, looking at the blazing red jungle all around them.

That was an excellent question. The sun was high in the sky, so that was no help at all. There were, of course, no ships to use as a guide as they had done when they'd first set sail in the rowboat.

"Maybe we need to go back down and see if that old guy can conjure us up a compass," he said.

Princess Juliana looked doubtful. She didn't really want to ask that old guy for anything more than she had to. "Don't you think he would have if he could have? But all he said was to go directly west for two miles."

"Across rocky terrain!" Ace added, getting excited.

"I don't see any rocky terrain, though," the princess said. "It all just looks like jungle from where I'm standing."

"Exactly." Ace looked at the tall trees all around him. All he needed to do was get to the top of one of the taller trees and search for two miles worth of rocky terrain leading up to a mountain with a tree on the top. That wasn't so hard, right? A few hours earlier, he wouldn't have hesitated to do it. The problem was, a few hours earlier he hadn't hesitated to climb just such a tree, and now his hands were covered in blisters.

But they were too close to getting off this island to be stopped now. Ace started pulling the biggest leaves he could off of nearby bushes.

"What are you doing?" Princess Juliana asked.

"Help me," Ace said, showing her how he planned to wrap his feet in the long leaves. She understood immediately and helped him wrap his hands as well as she could. The leaves were warm, and Ace could feel his palms growing sweaty underneath, but they weren't going to burn him.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" the princess asked.

"Have no fear," Ace said with a grin. "Ace is here."

He climbed quickly, not wanting to give the scorching trunk time to burn through his leaf bandages. At the top of the tree, he danced lightly from foot to foot, because if he allowed himself to stand still, the heat became unbearable. But as he danced a light circle around the top of the tree, he found what he was looking for. At first, he was so delighted that he stopped to look carefully without bouncing. But it wasn't long before the heat seared the bottoms of his feet and he yelped.

"Are you okay?" Princess Juliana called up from the base of the tree.

"Yes! I see it! It's that way!" Ace called back, pointing. From the top of the tree, he could see a long stretch of rocky ground, just as the old monkey had described it, and at the end of the rocky stretch loomed a tall mountain.

As Ace climbed back down the tree, Princess Juliana drew an arrow on the ground in the direction Ace had been pointing. She was assuming that Ace might be turned around by the time he reached the bottom.

And just as she'd thought, as soon as Ace reached the ground, he shook off the leaves that had been protecting his hands and feet and starting bounding in the opposite direction from where he had indicated.

"Wait!" she called out. "It was the other way. You pointed that way."

Ace stopped, whirled around, and shrugged. "Okay!" he called, as he retraced his steps and bounded off in the proper direction.

The princess laughed. This quest had thus far been filled with more adventure than she had ever dreamed of in all her years of sitting inside the safety of the castle walls. She had never been one to wish for a more exciting life; she had always been perfectly content to experience adventure in the pages of her beloved books. And now here, in the space of a couple of days, she had leapt out of windows and escaped rebels on horseback, stolen onto a ship dressed as a boy, and escaped off the same ship from a knife-wielding crazy man. Now here she was on an island that could quite literally blow at any time. She was ready for it to be over.

But she couldn't have picked a more perfect traveling companion. On her own, she almost definitely would have given up by now, or been handed over to her cousin, or worse. But now, as she dodged branches and leapt over tree roots as she chased after Ace, she couldn't wipe the grin off her face.

After a short time, the trees thinned out and Ace and the princess were making their way through the long stretch of rocky terrain. Things were looking up. It was really just a matter of a hike and a climb, picking a few leaves, and returning them to the old monkey, and they'd be on their way with a fully outfitted ship. They could do this.

It was strange terrain, almost like a desert with a ton of tiny little rock mountains jutting up out of the sandy ground. But at first it wasn't so hard to just step around the mountains. They were small enough, and spread far enough apart. As they went on, though, the mountains got more closely packed together. To clear the path, Ace kicked a smallish rock out of the way, and then they both watched as the rock sailed through the air in front of them and landed right on the top of one of the tiny rock mountains.

Instantly, red hot lava burst out of the tiny mountain. Princess Juliana shrieked and stumbled backward. Ace caught her just before she fell back onto another one of the rock mountains. She regained her balance, but stood frozen where she was.

"Maybe it was a fluke," Ace said. "Just because one blew doesn't mean they all will." Experimentally, he reached down and picked up another rock, throwing it as far away from himself as he could. Just like the first one, it landed with a thud on top of a tiny rock mountain, which immediately proceeded to spew hot lava.

"How are we going to get through?" the princess cried. "They get so close together further on! We'll never make it! No wonder the others didn't return. That old monkey might have been a little more specific about the rocky terrain!"

Ace paused before he spoke. The princess was right. It was going to be extremely dangerous. Two people walking through a minefield, explosions possible with every step. Except maybe they didn't both have to go. It didn't take two people to pull some leaves off a tree. Two people walking through this minefield meant double the chance of an explosion. If Ace went on alone and failed, well then the princess could take her turn and try. But if Ace could manage the task on his own, the princess's life never needed to be endangered. At least not by mini-volcanoes.

"I'll go on alone," he said, determined.

"Oh, Ace, no!" the princess cried.

"Why not? You turn back - the way to the jungle is easy from here. Just wait on the edge of the tree line. You'll be able to see if anything happens to me. If it does ... well, then things will be up to you. But I'll go faster alone, and probably I'll be back to you before you know it!"

Princess Juliana bit her lip. It did make good sense. "Oh, promise you'll be careful!" she cried. "Nothing crazy! Just get there and pick the leaves and get back, you dear thing!"

Ace grinned. "I'm always careful." With that, he winked and turned back toward the volcano looming in the distance. "Go back to the jungle!" he called over his shoulder.

He didn't wait to see if the princess followed his instructions, though. Ace's concentration was now focused on getting through the range of tiny volcanoes without setting any off. His sense of adventure was rising again. This was fun, like a game. A game with pretty terrible consequences if he lost, though.

Ace steadily reminded himself that it was not a game. If he blew up, he would not be able to simply reset the game and start again. And so he proceeded across the strange terrain carefully, as the mini-volcanoes got closer and closer together. A few times he got to spots where he had to jump and hope he cleared a tiny volcano in his path. But finally, and without incident, Ace successfully got past the treacherous terrain and found himself at the base of a more normal sized volcano.

In truth, it wasn't that large. But compared to the stretch of volcanoes that only came up to his knees, this one looked mammoth. Ace took a swig from the canteen he had brought with him and started to make his way up. The sun was getting low in the sky and he didn't want to be fumbling around the top of a volcano in the dark.

The climb wasn't bad, though it was extremely hot and Ace had drained his canteen in no time flat. He'd left one with the princess, which he was starting to regret. Finally he neared the top of the volcano, his muscles screaming and his throat parched. Just as the old monkey had described, there was a single tree at the top of the volcano.

Ace paused for a moment to catch his breath and examine the tree. He touched the trunk gingerly, but it didn't feel anywhere near as hot as the scorching coconut trees down below. There seemed to be a breeze up here on the top of the volcano that kept things cooled down. At least until the lava started spewing.

There were no leaves within reach at the bottom of the tree, so Ace would have to climb. The trunk seemed cool enough that he could climb without bandaging his hands again, or at least he hoped so. There wasn't much up here to use for bandages anyway. He started up.

When he reached the top of the tree, he saw that the branches were mostly bare. There appeared to be one small tuft of leaves, but they were all stuck underneath an enormous bird's nest. Ace peered over the edge of the nest and into the tiny faces of four baby birds who chirped angrily at him. He grinned. "Hi, birdies. Have no fear, Ace is here! I'm just going to slip my hand under your nest here and grab these-"

But before Ace could get his fingers around the all-important leaves, he heard the squawk of a much louder bird and a second later, he felt sharp talons grabbing him from behind and lifting him into the air.

Soon Ace was soaring through the air in the clutches of what looked to be a giant eagle, although it was difficult to be sure from his present angle.

"Hey!" Ace called out, his voice drowned by the wind. "I wasn't going to hurt your babies! I just needed some leaves from beneath the nest!"

But the bird didn't respond. She was flying away from the volcano, back out over the stretch of mini volcanoes. If she dropped him from this height, he didn't stand a chance, and even if he survived the impact, he was so sure to cause an explosion (or four) when he landed. Ace began to struggle against the eagle's talons until he got his own hands firmly around the great bird's legs.

She didn't like that. For one thing, it threw off her flight, and when she tried to let go and drop Ace, he didn't go anywhere. The eagle began to swoop up and down, making hairpin turns and doing everything in her power to shake off the determined monkey. Ace, for his part, did not look down. He just held on for dear life as he formulated a plan. He couldn't be sure it would work - one never could - but anything was better than being flung to his death by mini-volcano.

On the eagle's next dramatic swoop downward, Ace let go of her legs just as she began to dive. He was in freefall for a couple seconds, following her down and then landing with a thud on her back as she flattened out.

She let out a squawk worse than when she'd seen him intruding on her nest. Eagles are not accustomed to being ridden, and certainly not by monkeys. The eagle began trying to buck Ace off even more frantically than she had before.

Ace had a new plan. He was definitely not sure if this would work. But he didn't know how much longer he could hold on to the eagle's slippery feathers as she demonstrated her crazy flying tricks. His idea was crude and definitely rude, but it had always been effective when he'd used it before. Granted, he'd usually been wrestling with his older brothers at the time, not flying through the air in danger for his life, but it was worth a shot.

Ace's first task was to turn himself around so that he was facing backwards on the eagle's back. This was no easy task as the eagle swooped and dived, but Ace managed it (taking out a few feathers in the process). Then he leaned forward, laying flat on top of the eagle's back. And then he began to scoot backward, so that eventually his rear end was situated right on top of the eagle's head. This was a very uncomfortable position.

But Ace didn't need to hold the position for long. He just needed to stay in place long enough to let loose the most magnificent stream of gas he'd ever set free into the world. It was loud, it was long, and it was smelly. If Ace had any concerns that the rushing wind would diminish the effect of this maneuver, they were immediately squashed by the eagle's reaction.

The eagle swooned and immediately went into a tailspin. Ace clung to her feathers as they spun closer and closer to the volcano-dotted ground. Just at the last minute, she regained her senses and pulled them out of the dive. But she was disoriented and it was all she could do to fly straight and slow.

Ace flipped himself over easily to a normal riding position. "Let me explain or I'll do that again!"

"No!" the eagle squawked. "Anything but that!"

"I don't want to hurt your babies," Ace said again, knowing that was the eagle's first concern. "Or your nest. I just need the leaves that are under it. Please."

The eagle was quiet for a minute and Ace began to shift himself back around into firing position. "No!" the eagle squawked. "I'll take you back to the nest! Please!"

Grinning at the power he wielded and how he had yet again defied death, Ace held on as the eagle returned him to the top of the tree above the volcano. "Hello again," he said to the angry little baby birds, who had been watching their mother's aerial show with interest. He reached out and plucked a handful of the leaves from beneath the nest. Then he turned back to the eagle. "Would you be so kind as to return me to the edge of the jungle? I'd hate to lose control of my wind again here, in front of your impressionable little ones."

The eagle grimaced but sat still as Ace jumped back on. Flying was much faster than crossing the mine field and climbing the volcano, and Ace found himself deposited unceremoniously on the ground a few feet from the princess just as darkness began to fall.

"Ace!" she cried. "Oh you made it! And you got the leaves!"

They tore through the jungle and this time entered the cave carefully, edging themselves carefully into the chute and down the stone ladder, Ace in the lead.

"Have no fear!" he called out as he was halfway down the ladder. "Ace is here!" And with that he leapt off and fell with a thud and an ominous crack to the bottom, which had been a little further down than he had estimated. "Ow!"

"Ace! Are you all right?" Princess Juliana scrambled down the ladder and to his side. Ace's legs splayed out at odd angles. "Oh no! Can't you do something?" she said to the old monkey, who was sitting very still and examining them carefully with a cocked head, like he thought they might bite. "Hello! We just risked our lives getting you your medicine. Could you please help him! I think he's in a lot of pain!"

Ace was, indeed, in so much pain he was about to pass out from the shock of it.

"You got the leaves?" the old monkey said, his thin voice rich with wonder.

"Yes," the princess snapped. "Well, he did. Anyway, they're here." She pulled the leaves from Ace's hands and shoved them at the old monkey.

"Remarkable. I never imagined ..." He shook his head, and then wasted no time in shoving the leaves into his mouth. The effect was almost immediate. Before the princess's eyes, the old monkey transformed into a strong, healthy monkey with glittering eyes. With a careless wave of the old monkey's hands, Ace's legs straightened and the pain left him.

"That was amazing," Ace said, sitting up and examining his legs.

"Yes, well, would you follow me?" the invigorated monkey said, pushing open a small door in the stone wall that Ace hadn't noticed before.

"Why?" Princess Juliana snapped. "You said if we brought you these leaves you'd help us get out of here. What is it now?"

"Just a moment longer," he said with a benign smile. Then, to Ace he said, "You're lucky to have this one on your side. She's not going to let anyone get the better of you."

He turned and walked through the door, stooping a little to make it through. Ace shrugged and followed, as did Princess Juliana. They found themselves in an even smaller and darker chamber. But Ace blinked in surprise as his eyes fell on a beautifully carved stone pedestal in the middle of the chamber, above which was suspended a flaming red stone. Ace felt Princess Juliana grab his arm and pull him a few steps back toward the doorway.

"Easy there, Princess," the monkey said. "No reason to be afraid."

If he was trying to reassure them that he meant them no harm, his next actions did not help much. With another lazy wave of his arm, he sent the flaming stone flying off the pedestal. Ace and the princess watched, as though in slow motion, as the red-hot rock arced through the air gracefully and landed precisely on the tip of Ace's tail.

Ace howled. He howled so loud it echoed through the chamber, and the one they'd been in before, and up the chute, and through the jungle, so that had any ships been passing by Fire Island at the moment, they would have heard Ace's blood-curdling howl and wondered what barbaric form of torture was practiced on the red island.

But the pain passed even before Ace had quit howling.

"What are you doing?" the princess shrieked, flying at the magical monkey and pounding his chest with her fists. "He saved your life! Why did you do that?"

"Because he saved my life," the monkey said. "And your friend is fine, by the way. If you want to stop hitting me long enough to take a look at him."

"He's right," Ace said. "I'm okay."

Princess Juliana turned away from her assault on the mysterious monkey and saw Ace standing and holding his tail, examining the tip. A glowing red flame burned brightly on the end. "Does it hurt?" she asked.

"Nope." He touched the end tentatively but did not flinch when he made contact. "Feels the same."

"But it's not," the monkey said. "It's not the same at all. Consider that a small token of my thanks, which will carry you through your adventures. Whenever you should find yourself in danger, just think of fire, and you'll see what you can do.

"Now, let's get out of here," the old monkey said.

With another wave of his hand, they were standing at the shore, the water lapping gently on the red sand.

"How'd you do that?" Ace asked, marveling at the transformation in the old monkey who had been so sick only minutes earlier.

The old monkey shrugged. "I told you. I really needed those leaves. Now you two need a boat, yes?"

"Yes," Princess Juliana said. "A boat that will take us to the Protector's island. Do you know where that is?"

"Better yet," Ace interrupted. "Couldn't you just wave us there? Forget the boat?"

They had, after all, been instantly transported all the way from the bottom of the cave, through the jungle, and to the shore. It didn't seem like such a leap to imagine the magical monkey might be able to do that much.

But he shook his head. "My magic doesn't extend beyond the Fire Island. Otherwise I'd come with you myself. I'm incredibly grateful for all you've done. But for now, I just need to set you up with whatever you need and send you on your way."

In the end, they left the island in a beautifully appointed boat, outfitted with a top of the line navigational system, detailed nautical maps of the area, and a galley stocked with food and fresh water.

"You couldn't rustle up a first mate or two, could you?" Ace asked, eyeing the complex nautical instruments and hoping he could figure them out.

The magical monkey smiled. "My powers do not extend quite so far as to create life where it did not exist before. You two, however, have impressed me beyond my wildest dreams. I have no doubts you will complete your mission."

- End of Chapter Nine -