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 Twelve

Land came sooner than expected. It had felt like so long since Ace and the princess had left the mainland that it was hard to believe they'd been so close to home all along.

They could see from the decks that Prince Victor and his troops had already disembarked, and the captains of the troops seemed to be organizing yet more troops who had been waiting on land. Prince Victor stood on an elevated platform at the base of the mountain some distance from the ships, and he was brandishing the magical scepter for all to see.

"Hurry!" urged Ace to his ship's captain, as he told the ape-gladiators everything he knew about what might be coming next. Admittedly, it wasn't much. The reference librarian had said, so many days ago, that the Protector's items would "mobilize a great weapon." What that weapon would be, or how great, was anyone's guess. At least the ape-gladiators were on their side.

As soon as their ship had docked, Ace and Princess Juliana led the way off their ship and onto the docks.

"We've got to get to Prince Victor," Princess Juliana said.

"You think we're going to be able to convince him to stop now?" Ace said.

"Of course not. But we've got to get that scepter!"

That was all well and good, except for the fact that Prince Victor's considerable army stood between them and the prince. They stood, armed and ready, poised to attack if the princess should make the slightest move forward.

But the ape gladiators were streaming off the ships behind Ace and Princess Juliana. They had pledged their allegiance to the princess, and if anyone knew what good fighters they were, it was Ace. He was awfully glad they were on his side this time.

"Juliana!" called out Prince Victor's voice, amplified by the mountain at his back. "This is your final chance to surrender peacefully. You have my word you will not be harmed. But your apes must stand down immediately."

The apes were looking at her, waiting for her word. The princess hesitated for a moment. She knew that if she authorized the battle, there would be bloodshed. But she feared that if she surrendered and let her vicious cousin take power of the kingdom of Chesterfield, there would be far more.

"We must get through the soldiers to the prince!" she cried out to the ape gladiators nearest her.

Without any further instructions, the ape gladiators surged forward, swinging arms like clubs and taking out the soldiers in their path. Princess Juliana blinked as her father's men dropped like stones.

"They're not your father's men," Ace shouted over the battle cries that had arisen all around them. "Remember, they're on your cousin's side now. Come on!"

Ace took Princess Juliana's hand and pulled her close, huddling behind a small formation of ape gladiators who stayed in tight formation around them, protecting them on all sides and slowly inching forward through the battle. From what Ace could see, the ape gladiators were winning. Here and there an ape would fall, but most of the fallen seemed to be the prince's soldiers. This might not be as brutal as he'd thought when they'd first pulled up to the dock.

But then, Princess Juliana tugged on his arm. "What on earth is that?" she asked, pointing at the mountain behind Prince Victor. Streaming down the mountain's path was a bizarre sight. It looked like trees and bushes and vines were walking, or moving, or somehow approaching to join the battle, and destroying everything in their way.

"Is that the weapon?" Ace asked. "The one Prince Victor mobilized?"

"I guess so," the princess said. "They're just plants, though, right? I mean, they're knocking stuff over, but maybe this won't be so bad..."

She trailed off, though, as she watched the first row of trees reach the battle. With a lash of long, supple branches, one enormous tree reached out and flattened all the fighters within its reach - soldiers and gladiators alike. Some of the monstrous plants worked their way toward the dock, and with an easy swipe of its branches, a tree slashed one of the docked ships in half. Another vine came up behind it, whipped out over the water and encircled another ship, tugging it underneath the water like a child's bath toy. The ship did not come back up again.

At the sound of a roar from Prince Victor, who was waving the scepter madly, the plants turned their attentions away from the ships and back to the battle. The bizarre, destructive plants continued to squash and flatten and strangle everything they could get their branches and vines on.

Suddenly the advantage the ape gladiators had seemed to wield over the prince's soldiers seemed irrelevant, given the overwhelming force of the plant soldiers.

One brave monkey soldier who had remained loyal to Princess Juliana and her father leapt forward as he saw the plant soldiers advancing and was swiftly and mercilessly swept off his feet and dumped in the bay.

Ace was frozen. It seemed completely hopeless. But then a tree soldier turned directly toward the princess and started moving their way. Ace could not let it happen without at least trying.

He aimed his fiery tail at the plant soldier and sent the biggest, hottest blaze he could barreling directly at it. There were shouts of surprise all around, as ape gladiators and monkey soldiers alike were blasted off their feet by the heat. The moment the fire hit the tree soldier, it stopped moving. A second later, it turned to ash and crumpled where it had stood.

Cheers rose up all around and Ace didn't waste any time re-aiming his tail and taking out another huge plant soldier. He was taking down his fourth or fifth when Princess Juliana cried, "Ace, stop!"

He could not believe she would choose this moment to have compassion on the creatures trying to destroy her father's kingdom. But he couldn't ignore her, either. Not after everything they'd been through together. "What?" he cried.

"Stop, look! They come back bigger!"

He whirled around to look where she was pointing. Where only seconds before there'd been a pile of ash, the pile of ash that had originally been the first tree soldier he'd taken down, a brand new tree soldier stood in its place. It looked twice as tall and many times more deadly. He whipped his head around. Sure enough, the other piles of ashes were turning into bigger, beastlier creatures than they'd been before.

"No fire then," he whispered. But if he didn't have that, what did he have?

"We have to get that scepter!" Princess Juliana called, grabbing Ace's hand and dragging him through the crowd, ducking to miss a lethal vine swinging at the level of their heads.

As they ran through the battle, Ace could see that the ape gladiators were fighting valiantly, but already many had fallen, and it would not be long before they were completely wiped out.

Still, as Ace and the princess began to move, more and more ape gladiators closed ranks around them. More than one ape got hair singed off his back as Ace sent balls of fire shooting out of his tail and toward the soldiers who tried to approach them. But still, they moved forward, clearing a path for Ace and the princess, taking out the soldiers that got in their way.

A well-aimed fireball scattered the monkey soldiers standing closest to Prince Victor, and thankfully he was too enthralled by the show to notice their approach. At Princess Juliana's signal, the ape gladiators peeled away from them and began to fight the remaining soldiers in the area. Meanwhile, the princess pulled Ace off to the side so they could creep a little further up the hill and come back around to sneak up on Prince Victor from behind.

"All we have to do is knock the scepter from his hand," she said as they crept.

"We can probably manage that," Ace said. "But what about the ring and the necklace? He's wearing them - they'll be a lot harder to get."

"We don't have to get them," the princess said. "At least, I don't think so. We don't need to control the plant soldiers. We just need to make sure he's not controlling them. I think."

That was good enough for Ace. Quickly, before any of the disloyal monkey soldiers noticed what he was doing, Ace aimed his tail carefully at Prince Victor. Or, more specifically at the hand that was holding the scepter. Briefly, in the moment between sending the flame and watching it hit its target, Ace had the realization that the fire could possibly damage the scepter.

But he hoped that an ancient magical relic was stronger than that. And besides, if the end result was that no one could ever summon these beastly plants again, then that seemed all right to Ace.

The fire struck Prince Victor's wrist with enough force that he immediately dropped the scepter. Princess Juliana dove to grab the scepter as it began to roll off the stage, and then it was like the entire battle was paused by a giant remote control.

As Prince Victor writhed in pain, cradling his burnt arm in his good one, Ace and Princess Juliana watched as the plant soldiers all froze where they stood. Ape gladiators who had been in danger of decapitation or strangulation at any second were suddenly free to run or fight back, as they so chose.

"I was right!" the princess cried. "He can't control them now that I have the scepter."

Ace and the princess had their eyes fixed so carefully on the ravaged hillside below that they didn't notice as Prince Victor rallied his remaining strength and lunged at Ace. Suddenly Ace felt a dagger at his neck.

"I believe you have something that belongs to me," Prince Victor hissed at Princess Juliana. "Hand over the scepter or your little friend dies."

Ace calculated his position. Was there a way to blast Prince Victor away without burning himself?

"Don't even think about it," the prince snarled to Ace, as though reading his mind. "One move of that tail and this dagger's through your neck."

Princess Juliana faltered. She couldn't just hand over the fate of her father's kingdom to her despicable cousin. But Ace had been so brave, so loyal, so true. She certainly couldn't stand by and watch him finally meet his end. She took one step toward her cousin.

"No!" Ace cried out. "Don't do it!"

"Ace," she pleaded. "I have to. We'll figure something else out."

"Not likely," snickered Prince Victor, reaching out to take the scepter and loosening his grip on Ace.

Then, all three were shocked as something tiny hurtled into the middle of the exchange, knocking the dagger from the prince's hand and simultaneously grabbing the scepter from Princess Juliana before the prince could lay a finger on it.

Ace stumbled away from the prince and shook his head, trying to figure out what had just happened. When his thoughts cleared, he realized the tiny force that had just saved his life was a marmoset. The Protector had arrived.

"You won't be needing those, either," the Protector said as he easily removed the ring and necklace from the shocked prince, who seemed to be feeling the pain of his burned hand anew.

"That's not fair," Prince Victor whined. "I had all the items. I control the soldiers."

"No," the Protector said. "The magical items are meant only for the protection of the kingdom. Not for destruction. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

The prince didn't look ashamed. He looked murderous. But even he knew when he was beaten. Already the plant soldiers were trudging up the hill to return to their resting place.

"My apologies, Princess," the Protector said gravely, "for not realizing your cousin's ill intent before now. You'll take good care of these, yes?" He reached over and placed the ring and necklace in the palm of Princess Juliana's hand, carefully closing her delicate fingers over them. "You know where to find me, should the need arise again." And then he turned and disappeared into the mass of slowly moving plants that had begun to invade the hill.

Prince Victor looked wildly from Ace to Princess Juliana, considering his options, which were few. Then he suddenly darted into the midst of the plants and disappeared.

"Don't worry!" Ace cried. "I'll catch him!"

"No, don't," the princess said. "Right now I'd much rather free my father. If he can't control the plant soldiers, then my foolish cousin is no threat at all."

Rescuing the king from the dungeons proved to be an easy task. First, Ace instructed the faithful ape gladiators to return to the ships that had not been destroyed and wait for him there, while the strong ones gave medical care to the wounded. Meanwhile, Princess Juliana retrieved her faithful horse Chocolate from the feed store near the docks.

Eager to help any way he could, the beautiful horse sped at top speed toward the castle grounds. As they rode through the beautiful countryside, Ace could hardly believe everything that had happened over the last few days.

By the time they finally arrived, word had spread throughout the castle grounds that Prince Victor had fled and the princess was backed by an army of ape gladiators. No one gave them any trouble as they burst into the castle and stormed the dungeon.

Once he'd been reunited with his daughter and examined by the royal physicians, the king insisted on saddling up his horse and taking a ride toward the battlegrounds to check on the destruction and attend to any subjects who'd been hurt in the battle.

Princess Juliana wasn't letting her father out of her sight, so it was for that reason that Ace found himself on horseback once again, clinging onto the princess and feeling the wind in his hair.

"I can't thank you enough, Ace," the princess said as they waited for her father at one house, where he had stopped to check on an injured soldier resting inside. "I would never have succeeded without you."

"Have no fear, Ace is here."

"Promise you'll always be here! You can live in the castle, if you'd like. I want to know you're always nearby. We can ride horses, and read books from the Royal Library. I know you'll love it."

It sounded nice. Ace liked books and horses. But he knew that he could never live a quiet life, confined to the castle grounds. No, now that he'd had a taste of true adventure, nothing else would satisfy him.

"Thank you, Princess," he said. "It has been my extreme pleasure to accompany you on this quest. I am so glad your father is safe, and I look forward to the next time I see you. But I heard some of the apes talking about a treasure map they found on the ship. Some of them were talking about hunting for the treasure after the battle here was won. If it's not too late, I was thinking about maybe joining them."

He looked carefully at her face. He didn't want to hurt her feelings, after all.

She smiled. As soon as her father was back on his horse she called out, "Papa, do you mind if we stop by the waterfront next?"

"If you ever need me," Ace said as they approached the docks. "I'll be back before you know it. Oh, and I've been meaning to give you this."

Ace reached into a pocket and pulled out a crumpled handkerchief. It was the one Princess Juliana had dropped by the fountain days ago, when the whole adventure had begun.

"I vowed to return it to you," Ace said.

"Oh, you dear, dear thing," Princess Juliana said, her eyes welling up with tears.

"Just remember, have no fear..."

"Yes, yes," Princess Juliana said, laughing. "Ace is here." She kissed him on the top of his head. "Now you go on, or you'll miss your ship."

Ace hopped off the horse and stroked Chocolate's velvety nose. Then he gave a jaunty little wave and sprinted toward the docks.

"I'll miss you, Ace," the princess cried out.

Ace didn't stop, or turn around. At first, Princess Juliana wasn't sure he'd heard. But then, happy little sparks like fireworks burst out of the end of his tail, and Ace swung himself up the gangplank onto the next great adventure of his life.

- End of Story -