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 Eleven

As Ace and Princess Juliana raced back toward their ship, the crowd of apes following them grew larger and larger, until it seemed almost as big as the one that had gathered to watch Ace get slaughtered in the arena.

"They are going to let us leave, right?" Ace asked the head gladiator, who had offered to show them the way (since they had not been upright the first time they'd made the journey from shore to arena).

"Yes," the ape said. "They are just amazed by your powers. Everyone wants to be able to say they saw you up close."

"Oh, well, here I am." Ace grinned and sent up a shower of harmless sparks from the end of his tail. The crowd gasped and fell back a few steps, but continued to follow.

"I think they would follow you anywhere," the princess said.

"They would," the head gladiator confirmed. "If you allow them, they would assist you in any endeavor you might be undertaking." He paused for a moment, and then added shyly, "And so would I."

Ace and Princess Juliana exchanged glances. "What do you think?" Ace said.

"I don't know. They were just about to kill us."

"Yeah, but I'm thinking we may need all the help we can get. Maybe they want to make it up to us."

"We do!" the head gladiator said as they reached the waiting ship. "We had no idea of your mighty powers when we took you to that arena. If we can serve you in some way, we are in your service."

"You know," the princess said. "You really shouldn't kill anyone who just happens upon your island, whether they've got mighty powers or not."

"Don't mind her," Ace said. "She's a little sensitive. All right, here's what we could use..."

A short while later, Ace and Princess Juliana were resting on the deck of the ship while a crew of able sea-apes manned the controls and served on them hand and foot. They were followed by three more ships filled with apes who had wanted to join in on the mission but couldn't fit on Ace's ship.

While their diversion to the apes' island had been nerve-wracking and terrifying, it had ended up being a good thing. Even if they couldn't convince the Protector to give them control of the great weapon, maybe they would have a chance fighting against Prince Victor with the apes. Maybe.

"We're almost there, Your Highness," one of the apes said, bowing low to Princess Juliana. As soon as they had found out she was the princess, they had begun to treat her with even more groveling respect that they were giving Ace, the fire god.

Princess Juliana stood and stretched. Sure enough, she could see an island fast approaching in the distance.

Ace joined her at the railing. "Here's hoping it goes better here than at the last two islands," he said.

"I know." Her heart was pounding so hard she was convinced everyone on the ship could hear it.

"Hey," Ace said. "Have no fear, Ace is here. Also, an army of ape gladiators. We're going to be fine."

Whether or not they were going to be fine was hard to say, but at least when they got off the ship this time, no army came stomping out of the woods to greet them. Ace and Princess Juliana led the way, with a small group of apes following behind. (They'd had to insist that most of the apes stay behind. Ace had made this seem like an important job by telling them they might need to make a fast getaway, so they should keep the ships ready to go at any moment. He didn't see why this would possibly be true, but it had worked, and now they wouldn't seem like they were arriving to threaten the Protector with their own personal army.)

There was a clear path from the shore that led into the woods, and so they followed the path. It was a short walk until the path led to a small, humble cottage.

"Do you think that's it?" the princess asked.

Ace shrugged. "It can't hurt to try." He turned to the apes following them. "Why don't you guys wait here?" he said. "We'll call if we need you."

They nodded and stood guard as Ace and the princess walked up to the door and knocked.

"Enter," called a voice.

Ace pushed the door open, and they found a tiny marmoset sitting on top of a giant stack of books, reading a book that was itself bigger then he was.

"Excuse us, oh Protector," Ace said, bowing low, having learned how nice it felt when the apes bowed to him. "We are here to seek your assistance."

"And who might you be?" the Protector asked from his perch atop the books.

"Oh Protector," Princess Juliana said, stepping forward. "I am Princess Juliana, and I come seeking your assistance in defeating my cousin, the wicked Prince Victor, who seeks to usurp my father's throne, and perhaps wreak havoc on the entire world."

The Protector paused and then leapt down from the tower of books.

"Welcome, Your Highness. You do understand that in order to meet with my assistance, you are expected to bring certain ... tokens?"

Princess Juliana gulped. "Yes. Well. We arrived here. So obviously, we found the map!"

The Protector gave a tight-lipped smile. "Good for you. Unfortunately, the map is not one of the tokens you need, aside from its obvious benefits in bringing you to me."

"I know," Princess Juliana said, her voice trembling. Ace reached out and grabbed her hand. She took a deep breath and began again. "We should have the necklace and the ring, but my cousin has them now. He hasn't been here, has he? You haven't already given him the scepter?"

"Not yet," the Protector said, examining Princess Juliana's face closely.

"Oh, good. Good! Because, you see, even if he should show up in the possession of the correct objects, you absolutely cannot hand over your assistance to him. He's wretched! A horrid, evil man bent on ruling the world for his own evil purposes!"

"It's nice to hear what you truly think of me, cousin," said a voice from the doorway. Ace and the princess whirled around to see Prince Victor standing smugly before them, the necklace around his neck and the ring on his finger. "Thanks for the map," he said, waving the tattered copy of the The Horse, the Key, and the Golden Blanket carelessly through the air. "You really made this all incredibly easy, Jules."

"No!" Princess Juliana shrieked and lunged toward her cousin, but one of his soldiers stepped forward and easily knocked her to the ground.

"All right, all right," the Protector said, frowning and getting between the princess and the soldier. "That was unnecessary." He helped the princess to her feet.

"How'd you get past the apes?" Ace asked, unable to contain his curiosity.

Prince Victor sniffed. "Those buffoons? All I had to do was tell them I was here to assist the princess, and they let me right through. Now, little Protector man, I have what you require. Hand over the scepter."

The Protector bristled at the disrespectful treatment and looked like he'd swallowed something incredibly distasteful. "May I examine the ring and the necklace please?" he asked.

Princess Juliana's heart sank. If all he needed to do was verify that they were authentic, then they were doomed. Of course her cousin had the right objects.

"But don't you understand?" she wailed. "If you give him the power, he will destroy us all!"

"I'm very sorry, Princess, but the rules are the rules. There were many safeguards in place to ensure that power did not fall into the wrong hands. If what you say is true, well then, something has gone terribly wrong. But I'm afraid it is out of my hands."

He retreated to a closet at the back of the room and rummaged around inside, emerging finally with an old, dusty scepter.

Meanwhile, Ace was considering the situation. If he used his tail at this moment in this tiny cabin filled to bursting with books, all he was likely to do was burn them all to death. He could try to galvanize the apes to fight once they were all outside the cabin, but there was no way to know how many men the prince had brought with him. Would the ape gladiators be a match for the royal army?

The Protector sadly handed the scepter over to the prince, who smirked and turned on his heel just in time to see Princess Juliana running from the cabin. "Such a delicate little thing," he said to Ace. "I don't know how you fell in with her, but I'd advise you to switch your allegiances elsewhere, and soon. A change is coming, and being aligned with the likes of her will be nothing but hazardous to your health."

Ace scowled at the prince and followed Princess Juliana out of the cabin. He had to run fast, and she kept up a steady sprint all the way down to the shore, where she stopped short. Ace skidded to a halt behind her and looked back up the hill. Prince Victor didn't seem to be in any hurry, as he was still lingering in the doorway of the Protector's cabin, no doubt taking the time to order the poor marmoset around a bit more.

"Royal soldiers of Chesterfield!" the princess cried out, and Ace spun around to see what she was going to do next. The soldiers who had accompanied Prince Victor on his voyage to the Protector's island all straightened up and looked at the princess curiously. Her cousin might have usurped the true king, but Princess Juliana had been their princess for seventeen years and it was hard to break themselves of the habit of respecting her as royalty. "I beseech you, each and every one, to consider where your true loyalties lie. My cousin Prince Victor is not the true ruler of Chesterfield as you know full well, and to remain in his employ is to follow a traitorous villain."

Eyebrows raised all around as the soldiers shifted uncomfortably. The ape gladiators who had accompanied Ace and the princess looked on curiously from the decks of the ships, which were clearly ready to set sail at any moment. Ace looked back up toward the cabin, where Prince Victor was chatting casually with the soldiers who had followed him up.

"My father is the true king," the princess went on. "And Prince Victor has thrown him in the dungeons. Did you know that?"

There was a murmuring among the soldiers, some of whom seemed to be aware of that fact, but some of whom seemed to be horrified. The ape gladiators were watching very carefully and Ace noticed that many of them had a tight grip on their spears.

"He has snatched power unlawfully and with the vilest methods, and he will treat you with the same ill-contempt and abuse if he should go on to be king. As you can see, I have already marshaled the support of the ape-gladiators of the fierce island nation of ..."

"Apelandia!" shouted out several of the apes from the decks of the ships. "Long live Princess Juliana!"

"Yes, thank you. Apelandia. And they are vicious fighters who will fight to support my father's reign. Should you choose to fight against them, I know many of you will fall."

The soldiers looked more uncomfortable than ever, and Ace noticed that Prince Victor had begun to move down the path toward the shore.

"Hurry up," he whispered to the princess.

"Now's your chance!" she cried out, her voice cracking slightly in her panic and diminishing the effect somewhat. "Now's your chance to switch sides, join us, force Prince Victor to hand over the magical objects he holds, and peace will reign in the kingdom. None of you will be charged with treason; I offer you full immunity right now if you choose to stand on the side of good. But you must make your choice right here, right now."

There was more murmuring among the soldiers, and a few looked like they were about to step forward when another voice rang out.

"Choose carefully," said Prince Victor's oily voice. "Do you want to follow a silly girl and a pack of brainless apes, or do you want to follow the seasoned military veteran who this very moment holds in his hands the ancient magical tools to awaken the plant soldiers and rule the world? Seems an easy choice to me."

Prince Victor had kept moving the whole time he spoke, and now addressed his soldiers from the decks of his ship. The moment he'd said "brainless apes" the ape gladiators had let out a roar of outrage, and many had jumped from the ship and were swimming madly to shore.

"If you are with me, come now," Prince Victor barked. "We set sail immediately."

A handful of soldiers darted for the prince's ship, where the sailors were already hauling up the anchor.

"Back to our ships!" Ace called to the apes in the water.

A handful of the prince's soldiers remained on the shore, looking uncertain.

"Aah, too late!" the prince called as his ship began to move. "If you have not joined me, I suggest you do not return to Chesterfield. The moment you set foot on the capital's soil, you will be sentenced to death for high treason. Farewell!"

Buoyed by fair winds and a terrified crew, the able ship was already moving across the water.

"Back to the ships!" Ace called again, as the confused apes floundered in the water, halfway between the ships and the shore.

By the time they all got turned around and back on their ships, Prince Victor already had a decent head start into the ocean waters.

"We can catch up!" Ace said to the princess as he helped her from the rowboat up the ladder to the deck of their ship. "This is an excellent sailing vessel."

"What about them?" she asked, pointing to the soldiers standing on shore. "We can't leave them behind. They are my father's subjects."

Ace thought that if they were really her father's subjects, they might have spoken up sooner and helped disarm the prince before he escaped. But he wasn't about to contradict the brave princess.

"Are you with the princess or not?" he shouted to the sailors on the shore.

They looked at each other, and most of them nodded.

"Get on that ship!" Ace shouted out, pointing to one of the ships filled with ape gladiators. "Don't hurt them!" he called helpfully to the apes. "We'll see you there!"

They didn't stop to see if the soldiers were brave enough to board the ship with the menacing looking ape gladiators; there was no time for that. No, Ace gave the order to the ape he had designated as captain to set sail and do his best to catch up with Prince Victor, whose ship was still visible on the not too distant horizon.

Their ship clipped along at a decent pace until they were, Ace thought, within a good striking distance. Then he decided to try something out. He situated himself right at the very front of the ship, thought up the biggest fireball he could imagine, and sent it hurling toward Prince Victor's ship.

The apes on deck cheered as the fireball burned through the hull, leaving a charred circle behind and angry shouts from inside and above deck. But it wouldn't be enough to sink the ship.

"That's good, Ace!" Princess Juliana. "Can you do more? And bigger?"

Ace wound up for another, but just as he let it fly, his captain cried out in alarm. "Cannons, sir!"

Ace dropped his tail and pulled Princess Juliana down to the deck just as they heard the first cannon blast. Prince Victor's cannonball struck their ship low down and they immediately began to take on water.

"Turn about! Turn about!" Ace cried wildly.

But there would be no escaping the cannonballs once Prince Victor had gotten started. Three more hit Princess Juliana's ship before the evil prince had had enough and turned his attention back to racing on toward the mainland.

"We're sinking!" Princess Juliana cried desperately, peering over the railing, which was much nearer to the sea than it ever had been before.

"It's okay," Ace said. "It's okay."

"If you say Have no fear, Ace is here, I'm going to burn you with your own tail!" the princess shrieked. "We're about to drown!"

"But we have three more ships in our fleet!" Ace cried out. "Have no fear, the apes are here!"

And he was right. The other three ships full of ape gladiators and a few straggling soldiers were just catching up, and one drew itself up alongside the sinking ship and spread out a gangplank to transfer passengers. Princess Juliana was the first one sent across, and it took a good twenty minutes to get everyone safely aboard.

The other ships had gone on ahead, with shouted instructions from Ace to follow Prince Victor's ship and stop him if they could or fight him on the shore. As soon as everyone from the sinking ship was safely aboard the second vessel, they hurried on in hot pursuit.

No more fireballs, Ace decided. At least not until they reached the safety of the land.

- End of Chapter Eleven -