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 Eight

Ace wasn't hungry anymore. He wasn't thirsty, or hot, or tired. He felt peaceful. He felt like he was floating through the clouds, which kept changing into horses and giant books and ships and soldiers. It was mostly silent up in the ever-changing clouds, but Ace could hear a very distant sound. Someone was calling something. His name, maybe? He wasn't sure and didn't really care.

But then the sound got louder. "Ace!" the voice called. "Ace, can you hear me?"

He wanted to shrug it away, make it be quiet, so he could enjoy the clouds. But the voice kept calling. "Ace! Please! You have to wake up!"

He shook his head a little, trying to shake off the sound, but suddenly he felt hard earth beneath his head, instead of pillowy clouds.

"Oh, thank goodness, Ace," the voice said. "You moved. Now open your eyes."

This voice was bossy. And it had rudely awakened him. Ace was going to have a strong talking-to with the voice when he figured out what was going on. It was a struggle, but Ace finally pried his eyes open and blinked at the blurry figure hovering above him.

"Oh, Ace!" it wailed. And then it was crying and throwing its arms around him. Ace winced. His body hurt. "Sorry," the voice said. "I'm so sorry. Do your hands and feet hurt very much? I covered them with moss - I remembered reading in a book that that's supposed to help with burns. I don't know if it's doing anything, though ..."

As the voice rambled on, things started to come into focus. Ace was lying on his back in the middle of a jungle. A red jungle. He was staring up into the branches of a tree, and as he stared at the leafy red fronds, he suddenly remembered climbing the tree, very nearly burning off his hands and feet as he climbed. He had been in search of coconuts. For the princess.

The princess was the one talking. Princess Juliana. She was still talking, in fact.

"Can you eat?" she was saying. "Or drink? Several of the coconuts cracked when they fell to the ground. I've got coconut water, and some good chunks of..."

Ace sat up, his head spinning as he did so. "Princess Juliana," he croaked.

"Oh, thank goodness you're okay," she said, pushing half a coconut shell filled with milky liquid into his hands, which were covered with a fuzzy red plant. "Here, let me."

She held the coconut up to his lips and Ace sipped at the cloudy liquid. He hadn't realized until that moment just how thirsty he was, but as it went down his throat, the coconut water felt like the best thing he'd ever tasted. He felt better immediately.

"What happened?" he said, as he took the coconut from the princess' hands.

"You fell," she said simply. "But not before knocking all the coconuts out of that tree. I tried to catch you, but I wasn't fast enough. And then you've just been lying there unconscious for a while. I was starting to get scared you'd never wake up."

"What time is it?" It was hard to tell in the dense jungle, with the strange red glow cast by the plants.

"I don't know. I think night's coming soon. The light has been changing."

"And no sign of any other living things?"

"Besides bugs? Not really. Well, unless you count the smoke that was rising over the hill over there, but I figure with everything around here about to burst into flames, I shouldn't get too excited about a little fire."

Ace nodded. She might be right about that, but it was their only lead. If there was someone living over that hill over there, someone they could actually talk to, maybe they could figure out how to survive here, and better yet, get off the island. He looked down at his hands, which were feeling better already. He brushed the moss off his palms. They were red and blistered, but as he flexed his fingers, the pain was bearable. He did the same with his feet, which hadn't been as badly burnt.

"I think I can walk," he said. "Let's try to go over to where you saw the smoke."

"Are you sure? You just woke up."

"Yeah, but I think the sooner we can get off this island, the better. Are you okay to walk?"

The princess nodded and jumped up, kindly reaching over to help Ace stand, but he stood on his own. It was painful, but he didn't want the princess babying him. He was, after all, the adventurous one in their little expedition. He could handle a few burns.

It was rough going, though, and he did have to let Princess Juliana walk in front to push branches out of the way and point out hazards that might trip him up on his tender feet. He was just about to admit he needed to stop for a rest when Ace saw a promising sign.

"Is that where you saw the fire?" he asked, excitement mounting in his voice as he pointed to the mouth of a cave a short distance away.

"I'm not sure," she said. "Maybe."

"There's a sign," Ace said. "Right in front of the opening! Can you see that? Someone must be there!"

"Or was there at some point," the princess muttered, but Ace had already picked up his pace and was hurrying toward the cave.

When he reached the cave, his heart swelled. "Look!" he said, pointing triumphantly. A crude wooden sign was posted over the entrance to the cave. It said:

Seeking food, water, transportation?

Inquire within

"That's us!" he said. "We're seeking food, water, and transportation. Come on!"

"But what if it's some sort of trap?" Princess Juliana said.

But Ace had already grabbed her hand and pulled her inside the cave. They barely had time to appreciate the cool relief of the shady cave before the stone beneath their feet gave way and they were both falling through the air, tumbling a great distance down a long chute, until they landed with a tremendous whomp on a soft pile of leaves.

Ace winced. The landing had been soft, but his previous injuries were still fresh. Also, the princess had landed on top of him.

"Welcome," said a voice, and the princess scurried off of Ace in an attempt to find somewhere to run. But there was nowhere to go. They were trapped in a small, dark cave, and as their eyes adjusted to the light, Ace could make out a figure propped up on cushions just a few feet away. "Hello," it said.

It was a monkey, a very, very old monkey. And very sick, from the looks of it. He looked barely alive, in fact. But aside from his terrible condition, he smiled broadly at Ace and the princess, as though thrilled and completely unsurprised by their sudden arrival.

"Who are you?" the princess demanded. "Why did you set that trap?"

"What trap?" the very old monkey said with another grin that stretched across his bony face. "I merely advertised my services. And here you are. I suppose you must be seeking food, water, or transportation? Of course you are. Everyone who comes here eventually finds me."

"So where's the food?" Ace asked, sitting up gingerly and blowing on his blistered palms, which had broken his fall. Looking around, the cave seemed mostly empty, and it was a long way up to the ground level. What was this monkey playing at?

But the old monkey just smiled and snapped his fingers. Suddenly, a small, steaming bowl of soup appeared in front of both Ace and the princess. Ace gasped and then dove for his bowl, but the princess knocked it from his hands with a shriek.

"Don't eat that!" she cried.

"Why not?"

"It could be poisoned! He did set a trap to get us down here after all!"

"Why would he trap us, just to poison us?" Ace asked, looking wistfully at the soup spilled all over the floor of the cave.

"Excellent points, both of you," the old monkey said. With another snap of his fingers, the mess disappeared and a new bowl of soup appeared in front of Ace. "Why don't you hear me out?" he said. "And then you can decide whether or not to eat."

Princess Juliana crossed her arms in front of her chest, but said nothing. Ace really wanted to dig into his new bowl of soup, but he did have a habit of jumping into things when sometimes - just sometimes - he should maybe get a little more information first. He sat patiently and nodded at the old monkey to go on.

"I assume you two have been somehow stranded here," he said. "Otherwise, you would have left as soon as you realized what the island was."

"A fire island," the princess interrupted.

"Indeed. A fire island. The eternal volcano. Call it what you will, but it's no place for mere mortals. I, however, am no mere mortal. I have skills, if you will. I can provide you what you need to get out of this place."

"But what do you want from us?" the princess said again.

"Patience, young lady. I'm getting to that. As you can see, my health is not at its best. I may be immortal, but my powers are not at their full strength unless I am allowed access to the fire that fuels me. The fire that is only available at the surface. And here I am, trapped down here, in this cold, dank cave. Oh, I can conjure up a bowl of soup or two, but can I heal the injuries I've suffered as I waste away without my fire fuel? No, I cannot. And can I get up to the surface, to reach my beloved fire? No, I certainly can not."

"How did you get down here?"

"Well ..." The monkey stopped and examined them carefully. "The truth is, I have an ongoing feud with a rival firelord who got the better of me several hundred years ago and trapped me down here."

"What about the sign? How'd that get up there?"

"His idea of a joke, I think. He never believed anyone would stay on Fire Island long enough to find this cave."

"And has anyone? Before us?"

"Yes, in fact. Twice before I have met expeditions like yours, seeking my services. To each team, I have given the same offer that I will give you."

"But you're still here."

"Yes. That is because the others were unable to complete the mission."

The princess looked at Ace with wide eyes. They didn't really have any other choice. And the fact was, they had both proven so far that they were willing to do almost anything to save the kingdom. "What do you want?" she said.

"That's the spirit." The old monkey beamed. "There is a particular leaf that will heal me. I need you to travel across the island and retrieve it for me. If you do that, I will instantly be able to leave this cave, provide you with a boat, and whatever else you might need to carry on with your journey."

"Is that all?" Ace asked, digging into the soup and ignoring Princess Juliana's look of disapproval. He was hungry, and he'd heard enough. He could retrieve a few leaves, if that's all it took. After all, he'd practically brought down an entire coconut tree just a few hours earlier.

"That is all."

"Where do we find these leaves?" Princess Juliana asked.

"It's simple enough," the old monkey said, leaning over and tracing a crude map in the dirt at his feet. "We are here. If you head directly west across the island, after two miles of rocky terrain, you'll find a small mountain."

"A mountain?" The princess' eyes narrowed. "Don't you mean a volcano?"

"Well, yes. But then everything on Fire Island is a volcano, dear. You'll need to climb this mountain - or volcano - and at the very peak, you'll find a single tree. A small handful of leaves from this tree should suffice."

"Let's do it!" Ace slurped the remains of his soup from the bowl and jumped up. "How do we get out of here?"

The monkey smiled beatifically and pointed to a rough ladder carved into the side of the long, stone chute down which they had fallen.

- End of Chapter Eight -