A magic mistletoe appears in Castle Graystone’s ballroom every X-Mess Eve. Those who kiss under this glimmering plant are destined to share a rich and beautiful life.

Noella, the young empress of the Anzerik Empire, desired the mistletoe for herself. She had not found love throughout her reign, and believed the bundle of leaves and berries would bring the man who would share her empire. With relations strained between Anzerik and the Broke Kingdom, the home of Castle Graystone, Noella couldn’t waltz in and demand the mistletoe. She resolved, therefore, to employ the one man who could break into the castle and steal the treasured item, the pirate, Captain Whiteboot.

Whiteboot was a master of the seas, quite the trickster, and reliable in a pinch. He had a knack for escaping the entanglements he got his crew all mixed up in. His reputation to succeed at all costs, even at a loss to his wallet and dignity, made him the man for this daring heist. With the order in his left hand, Whiteboot sailed his galleon ship from the seat of the empire, south around the peninsula, and reached the western shore of the Broke Kingdom.

The middle-aged captain stood on the upper deck next to three other pirates: his helmsman, the swabbie, and the ship’s head carpenter. Whiteboot overlooked the shoreline that slanted into the sea and said, “Aye, ‘tis a good night for an explosive adventure! This X-Mess will be an exciting one, right Samson?”

Samson, the captain’s right-hand man, trusted advisor, and helmsman, lifted a map against the horizon to be sure of their destination. “According to your map, the mistletoe is right here,” he said, pointing to the castle.

“Aye, that map has been useful in our journeys,” said Whiteboot. He took the map from Samson and then stuffed it into his pocket. “We needn’t use it tonight, though. Me knows this kingdom like the barnacles on me toes.”

This night of X-Mess Eve, a blue moon lit up the white sands, reflected against the grass, and illuminated the forest that bordered the kingdom. The shoreline was a piece of real estate that Mother Nature had neglected for quite some time. The crew of four left their ship and headed into the forest. At day, sunshine and bird songs filled the congregation of evergreens with light and music. When the darkness covered this side of the world, a blanket of danger cloaked the land with monsters and a foreboding evil that ticked away into the night.

The swabbie whispered, “A huntin’ we will go, a huntin’ we will go.”

“We’re not hunting,” Samson said. “We’re being hunted.”

The pirates crept through the forest with a tight grip on their swords. They looked back and forth as they inched along the path. There was a groan in the distance. William, the carpenter, stopped and asked, “What was that?”

The crew waited for a monster to climb out of the bushes or make a noise. Confident that the noise did not come from a monster, the pirates strolled to the end of the forest without another scare. As they were about to exit, they spotted a man lying in the middle of the road. His body appeared as a shadow beneath the moonlight. The man slowly stood and turned toward the pirates.

“Yer in our way,” said the captain, and the man did not respond. “I said, yer in our way.”

The man shuffled his feet toward the pirates, and with each step he dragged his left leg. An ooze of spit and blood foamed through his teeth, drooling onto the ground. He clearly wasn’t in the best state to mingle in the dark. He stretched out his arms and continued his approach.

“This be creepin’ me barnacles. Ignore this fool and make way to the castle,” said Whiteboot. The man groaned loud as the crew stepped to the side and made their way around him. “Argh, yerself,” the captain retorted.

The mangey man clawed at Sandoval’s collar, and the swabbie fell backward into the bushes. Samson hit the attacker with the hilt of his saber, knocking the man onto the ground. “Let’s get out of here,” Samson advised. “Before he starts clawing at our legs.”

 “Some locals can’t hold their swill,” Whiteboot said. “Makes me wonder how a man so filled to the brim could make it this far from town.”

“Maybe someone left him out here?” asked Sandoval.

“You’d have to be a rude person to leave someone in the middle of the road,” Samson said.

The crew trekked to the top of a hill and looked at the land before them. To the south was the abbey, which at night operated as a lighthouse. To the north were the Evil Woods, a wide mass of kindling ready to ignite at the flick of a match. Castle Graystone was east, and it would be just minutes before the crew arrived at this construct of masonry.

William said, “Leaving someone behind like that wasn’t the smartest, or nicest, thing to do.”

“Then why did we leave him?” Sandoval asked. “Are we not the smartest?”

Whiteboot laughed. “We can’t be the nicest when we’re going to break into a castle.”

 

The village and marketplace of Castle Graystone were no defense against pirates, which presented Whiteboot and his men a prime chance to procure the mistletoe. It was mere moments within reach when they arrived at a fork just inside the town walls. The most direct path to the treasure was through the marketplace, which ended at the castle’s front door. However, the guards were sure to spot them.

“Should we just barge into the castle?” Whiteboot asked.

Samson shrugged. “It’s your call, captain. Might I advise you, though, that we don’t want to cause an international incident?”

“Oh, right. I forgot who our client was for a moment.”

The pirates decided the village was the best choice, and planned to enter through the back of the castle. At the end of the village was a wall that led to the castle’s northeast garden, and it was there that the pirates would sneak in through the back door.

Samson placed his arm out before the crew. “Wait, captain. Do you hear that?” There was the same shuffling of feet that came from the man in the forest.

“Aye, I guess everyone’s got their fill of the same ale tonight,” Whiteboot said, and he said this a little too loud. The village was silent for a moment, and then groans and the shuffling of feet moved in the direction of the pirates. Whiteboot leaned toward Samson and whispered, “Hop over that porch, then go down the alley. The wall to the garden is there. Let’s avoid these land lovers.”

With this command, the pirates tiptoed onto the porch of a cafe, to avoid walking through the village square. Just as they crossed the front doors, the absentminded villagers crowded the rails on all sides, preventing the pirates from leaving. Some of the creeping people clawed through the rails at their feet, groaning, “Argh! Argh! Blergh!” and another “Argh!”

“Something’s gone wrong with them. Get inside,” William said. “We can’t fend off this many people.”

“Right,” Samson agreed. “There might be a back door we can escape through.”

Whiteboot and his crew entered the building, using their backs against the cafe’s saloon style doors. They swung their sabers at the approaching villagers, pushing them back. The stalking citizens, who were clearly out past their bedtime, clawed at the windows in an attempt to get in.

“Put that table in front of the doors!” Whiteboot commanded. William and Samson pushed a table and secured it against the doors. The villagers grew angry, and pounded, and clawed, and scratched, and pushed against, the blocked entrance. One deranged villager started to climb over the crowd.

Whiteboot’s grip on his saber tightened, preparing for a fight that might go through the night. “Argh! They’re an unruly, infested bunch that are gonna break through!”

The pirates braced the entrance with chucked chairs and more tables. They looked around the cafe to see if there were more ways to block the mad people, but all the free wood had been used.

“I’ll look for a way out,” Samson said, looking at the upper floor.

Smash! The crowd of angry, drooling, citizens of the kingdom, shattered one of the windows. Smash! Another window was broken. They clawed into the building, their flesh ripping on the shards of glass. The window frames began to crack and bend under their assault.

Crash! Another glass shattered, this time from behind the crew. They turned their attention to the bar. A hand clasped the counter, a hand that belonged to the bartender, who appeared just as unruly as the villagers. His eyes were solid white, his teeth stained with the blood and spit drooling from his mouth. His flesh was falling off.

Sandoval felt the need to point out that, “This bartender couldn’t resist drinking from his own supply.”

The pile of villagers at the front door grew stronger. They began to climb on top of one another and push their way onto the tables and chairs.

“Where’s that back door when you need it?” William asked.

The bartender crawled over the counter and fell face first onto the ground. He stood and slowly made his way toward Whiteboot. “Arrrrrrgh!” the bartender groaned. The captain kicked the bartender in the head. This accelerated the deranged speakeasy server’s advance, and he swiped at the captain’s pearly boots.

“Aye don’t think so!” shouted the captain. He kicked the bartender once more, raised his saber, and then sliced off the man’s hands. Even without his hands, the bartender continued to reach out at the captain. “Won’t die so easily, will ye?” the captain asked. The bartender had managed to scoot his body along the ground, and he used his mouth to attempt to bite the captain’s boots. Whiteboot kicked the bartender away, again. The bartender groaned louder and managed to move his body faster on the ground. “Enough of this,” the captain said, and he sliced off the bartender’s head. “That’ll put an end to you!”

The villager at the top of the door fell through and rolled down the pile of tables and chairs. Samson and William backed up to get a clear cut against the invading pile of dead flesh.

“There’s something very wrong about these villagers,” Samson said.

The pile of wooden furniture blocking the door fell apart. The villagers fell over into the pile of broken kindling. “Argh, more of them. Let’s make this quick!” Whiteboot commanded his crew.

One after the other, the villagers crawled in and advanced toward the pirates. Samson sliced off the head of the first that attacked him, and did the next to the second. Sandoval ran back from the monsters, unable to reach their heads with his sword. William punched, kicked, and cut the heads off a few of the villagers. An out of control villager snagged William by the leg, and another snagged him by the arm. “Argh! Help!” Sandoval, who was hiding just behind a table, raced to aid William, and shoved one of the villagers off of his friend. William sliced off the head of the villager clamped onto his leg. “Thanks,” William said.

The villagers began to pile in more and more from the front door. “We’ve got to get out of here,” Whiteboot said. “Where’s that back door?”

“Here! This way!” Samson shouted. Whiteboot and his crew followed Samson up to the top floor, leaving the villagers to their madness below. “Hurry, out this door.” Samson opened a pair of swinging doors out to a balcony that overlooked the alley.

Sandoval looked down at the road below. “There’s more of them down there, captain.”

“Just go,” Whiteboot said, and pushed the cowardly Sandoval off the balcony. He was lucky that there was a huge pile of hay below. Samson leaped off the balcony without hesitation. When William tried to jump down, his leg gave, he bent forward and fell face first into the haystack.

“Har! Har!” Whiteboot laughed. The villagers in the cafe had marched up the stairs. “Oh, best be going now,” the captain said, before he joined his crew.

 

The alley was no clearer of these people than the village square. More of the stalking citizens lined the alley. Some stood with their backs or faces against the buildings, while others repeatedly bumped into the walls. One half aware person had fallen head first into a garbage barrel. “I think we may be in for a wee bit o’trouble here,” Whiteboot said. He rested his saber on his shoulder. “We got the fate of our wallets on our sea faring hands. If the empress believes she must have that muscle’s toe, then we will get it for her.”

“Mistletoe,” Sandoval said, correcting the captain.

“Aye. Cut yer way through. Sandoval, you best keep up.”

Sandoval tightened his bandana and hunched over, prepared to defend himself. Samson and Whiteboot took the lead, and William took the rear. They stepped through the darkness as quiet as they could, passed two people, then a third, and reached the one that fell into the garbage barrel. In the center of the alley were a couple, who, from the view of the pirates, stared lovingly into each other’s eyes. The man and woman turned, groaned, and lunged at the crew, with a loud growl and their jaws wide open, ready to bite their prey. Whiteboot slashed off the arm of the man, and Samson did the same to the woman. The loss of their arms did not halt the couple’s advance. The woman latched onto Samson’s shirt. Sandoval sliced off the woman’s other arm. Samson kicked the deranged attacker, knocking her over her man, causing them to fall down onto each other. The man and woman were too far gone in whatever ailment took them, that they couldn’t get up to continue their attack.

“We must get out of here,” Whiteboot said, as he pulled the woman’s amputated arm off of Samson’s shirt.

Samson led the way to the castle wall. “Here,” he said, holding his hand down for Sandoval to step on. The captain’s helper placed one foot onto the open palm, and with the help of Whiteboot, he was hoisted into the garden. Whiteboot and Samson gripped the top of the wall and pulled themselves over to join their shipmate. William struggled. He grabbed the wall, made his way to the top, but fell back down. Panicked, he jumped up, pulled himself over, and fell into the garden, knocking over Sandoval. The villagers in the alley clamored on the other side of the wall, clawing and biting, angry that their prey had escaped.

 

Castles were constructed to protect treasures and people. These bastions of honor in times of peace, and glory in times of war, shined with grace that long past their age stood as monuments to the architectural intelligence of their creators. Castle Graystone was none of these. When Princess Emmillia was young, she despised anything she didn’t consider beautiful. One day, she played in a field and found a creature so ugly that she threw rocks and insults at it. The creature spoke, to her shock, and cast a curse upon her, that could only be broken when she discovered true beauty. To this day, wherever she walked, all things around her would be ugly. All non-living artifacts, such as walls, paintings, tapestries, food, and clothing, would turn to a state that repulsed those who were not used to having lackluster possessions. This night, the princess was on the east end of the castle. The garden, normally a beautiful location in the northeast, was dried out. Two lamps in the center were crooked, and their candles were burned out. An iron bench had been bent and twisted, with flakes of black paint scattered beneath it. The dilapidated state of the garden didn’t bother the pirates, for they were used to a life in salty conditions.

The captain asked, “What’ve they been drinking?” referring to the people who attacked them.

“I don’t think they’ve been drinking anything, captain,” Samson said. He picked up his saber and wiped the dry grass off his shirt. “I don’t think they’re aware of what they’re doing.”

“Captain,” William whispered. “We should keep it down so we don’t alert the guards.”

“Oh, yes. Speaking of which,” Whiteboot said. He unfurled the map and studied it. “Ah, yes, we go through that door, the hall this way, then around that corner, and the ballroom is there. The mucus bone should be in there somewhere.”

“Mistletoe,” Samson said.

The castle’s west half glistened with a polished marble floor, well sewn tapestries, and candles that flickered with a bright luminance. The guards marched along the marbled floor in heavy, iron armor. A lone guard patrolled the hall before the ballroom. His plated armor protected him from attacks, and the battleax he carried with both hands provided him the means to chop down intruders. Each step he took was perfect; his boots landing in the exact same spots as he slowly marched from one end to the other.

“Even the empire’s elite guards aren’t this focused,” Samson whispered.

“The misty crow is more precious than me thoughts.”

“Mistletoe.”

The intruding pirates tiptoed through the hall when the guard’s back was turned. With each inch they stepped their hearts beat faster, fearing the guard would put that oversized tree cutting tool to use. They avoided the guard’s attention and entered the ballroom.

The hall made for dancing was well decorated. The moon shined through the stained-glass windows, casting the masterpieces of art onto the floor. Fine tables, shined suits of armor, rare plants, and portraits of dignitaries past and present, surrounded the walls. In the center of the room was a silver chandelier, covered in gems and diamonds. Attached to the chandelier was the mistletoe, easily noticed for its berries glowed in the moonlight.

“Aye, she is a beauty, no doubt,” the captain said. “I think for our troubles the empress will part with a bit more than we bargained for. Don’t you agree?”

Sandoval clasped his hands and looked up at the dangling plant. “Captain, we’re standing under the mistletoe. Does that mean we—”

“No. The question is, how do we get it down from here?”

Samson and William already had a plan. “I don’t see a ladder,” Samson said. “If we push a table under the chandelier, you could reach that mistletoe, captain.”

The crew pushed a table from the wall, and though William struggled to help, they managed to position it beneath the mistletoe. Whiteboot hopped onto the table, and when the captain snagged the hanging plant, he found it was attached to a wire. He used a serrated knife from his belt and cut the mistletoe free. Just as he went to study the plant, the guard stepped into the room.

The guard huffed and puffed, with the heat of his breath cooling into air, creating smoke from his mask. After he entered, the steel door shut behind him, and a row of iron bars shot up from the ground, blocking the exit. The guard slowly approached, and with each step, his iron boots echoed through the hall, and the impact crushed the floor. Whiteboot hopped off the table and joined his men, ready to defeat the juggernaut. The guard took off his helmet, revealing that his face was disfigured, with strips of flesh ripped away, the bones of his jaw exposed, and a foam of slobber and blood oozing from between his rotted teeth.

“Even the castle’s guards got something in their system,” Whiteboot said.

Samson held his sword with the blade in the other hand. He ran, dived toward the guard and sliced at his legs. His blade failed to penetrate the guard’s armor. The guard used the back of his iron fist and smacked the pirate to the side. Whiteboot snagged Sandoval’s collar and pushed his swabbie in front of him as a shield. After watching Samson get knocked clear across the room, Sandoval dropped his sword and hid behind the captain.

“You coward,” Whiteboot said to Sandoval.

Sandoval cried in a panic, “What do we do, captain!? What do we do!?”

“Calm yerself, ye X-Mess ham,” Whiteboot said. He pointed his saber right at the guard. “Simple. We chop off his diseased head and leave it as a memento to the castle of who was here.” Whiteboot swung his sword at the guard’s head, but the guard leaned back, and the blade crashed against his armor. “Blasted creature!”

“Argh! Do something, ye buffoon,” Whiteboot said to William.

William had fallen back onto the table, holding his leg. “Captain, I can’t move my leg. It hurts too much to move.”

“Stop yer whining and attack like a man!”

One hit from the guard’s ax after the other caused destruction to the ballroom. First, the guard’s ax went through the paintings and portraits, knocking them off the wall. Then, the suits of armor were chopped at and fell apart onto the floor. The guard tripped several times, crashing onto the tables and splitting them in half. Finally, the guard threw his ax at Samson, and when the pirate ducked and avoided the weapon, the ax flew through and shattered a glass window. Shards of colored glass were scattered across the dancefloor.

Samson said to Whiteboot, “Captain, hand me your knife.” Whiteboot handed his knife to Samson without question. The guard turned toward William. Samson ran, hopped onto the table, jumped, and climbed onto the chandelier. He reached the rope that hung the oversized candle holder, and when the monster was feet from the injured pirate, he cute the rope that held the chandelier. The rope snapped, the chandelier fell and crashed on top of the guard. William was caught under the weight of the guard’s armor. The guard now tried to chomp its way toward Williams scruffy face.

“Get him off me!” cried William.

Whiteboot ran to the rescue of his shipmate and pulled him out from under the monster. The chandelier shifted after William was free, and a sharp edge sliced the neck of the guard, cutting off his head. The guard’s skull rolled along the ground, with a trail of blood ending at Whiteboot’s feet. The iron bars blocking the door sunk into the floor, and the door opened up. The pirates wasted no more time in this wrecked and damaged room, and made for the exit. They turned left toward the castle’s main lobby, ready to escape through the garden.

“Scurvy soldiers!” Their exit was blocked by the other guards awoken by the commotion. Whiteboot commanded, “Make a run for the front door!”

“Captain, William can’t run like this.”

Whiteboot looked at the exit, and then looked at the incoming guards. “Pick him up!”

William put his arms over Samson’s shoulders, and Sandoval carried William’s legs. “This won’t be easy, that’s for sure,” the captain said. “Just do yer best to keep up.” Whiteboot led the charge out the front door. Though two guards attempted to block his escape, he plowed right through them by slicing away at their scrawny chests. He kicked the doors open, and the pirates escaped the castle. The guards pursued the criminals through the marketplace, and then into the hills. They quickly grew tired and lost sight of the ship sailing crew. Whiteboot knew the guards would follow them to the shore, though. With the fastest galleon on the seas, he bet the guards had no chance of catching up, but set sail immediately.

 

Whiteboot locked the mistletoe in a chest where he kept his valuables. The captain was not going to lose this treasure after the fight he and his crew had won.

Sandoval stood on a crate and recounted the events of the night, exaggerating as usual. “I’m telling you the truth. He was this big!” he said, attempting to explain how large the guard in the castle was.

“He’s not far off,” Whiteboot said as he walked by. “Where be William? Shouldn’t you be taking care of his leg?” he asked Sandoval.

“Oh, yes, I’m right on it, captain.” The swabbie hurried into the hold, where William had decided to rest. The lights were out, so Sandoval snagged a lantern and crept into the stockpiled room. “Willie? Where are you? Captain said I need to take another look at your leg.” All Sandoval could hear was a groan from William. “Oh, come on, the injury wasn’t that bad. Besides, it will be cleared up in a few weeks.” He turned the corner in search of the pirate with a damaged leg, and found William curled up on the ground. “Now you’re just being a sissy.”

William turned over and snagged Sandoval’s leg. “Hey! Let go!” The swabbie kicked himself free of the sudden attack. “What’s gotten into you!?” He jumped back. “I’m just—” Before Sandoval could speak, William clawed his way up with the crates in the hold and pushed through them. He knocked over one crate after the other as he went straight for Sandoval. Not to become the main course of an enraged buccaneer, Sandoval hurried out of the hold.

“Captain! Captain!” Sandoval cried, and ran into Whiteboot.

“Aye, what’re you belly achin’ about this time?”

“William! He’s become just like – just like those things! Those villagers from the castle!”

Whiteboot withdrew his saber, and the other pirates on the deck did the same. “This will only take a moment,” the captain said. He stepped into the hold and the door closed behind him. Sandoval and the crew waited for the captain to return. There was silence on the deck. Not more than a minute later did Whiteboot emerge from the door, holding William’s head by his bandana. “This be what we ran into in that village.” He chucked the pirate’s head overboard. “Take a sheet,” Whiteboot commanded his crew, “Wrap his body in it, and then toss it over the rail.” He turned to Sandoval and said, “You’ve got a long night ahead of you mopping up the hold.”

 

Early the next morning, X-Mess Day, Whiteboot and his pirates arrived at the Anzerik Empire, hoping to land a big payment for their troubles. The sea captain secured the mistletoe in a small metal box, and brought it to Empress Noella. The empress responded to Whiteboot’s demand for more payment and said, “We had a deal, and you’ll stick with it or you won’t get anything.”

“Aye, miss, ye be forgettin’ who yer dealin’ with. I lost me a crew member for this pint-sized parasite. Double my payment and compensate for me the loss of one of me crewman.”

Empress Noella slammed her fist on her throne. “Double!?” She gripped the arm of her chair, her knuckles cracking. “Fine. Pay the miscreant, then kick him out of the palace. He’s stinking up the air with the stench of his scurvy.”

The empress hung the mistletoe from her chandelier, a glass and gold construct that was fancier and twice the size of the one in Castle Graystone. That night, she held a magnificent ball. There was much dancing, and throughout the party, the empress kissed five men under the mistletoe. She decreed that the first of these men to return to her the next day and ask for her hand would be her husband.

Noella twiddled her fingers on her throne, waiting all of the next day. She refused to leave, for she couldn’t miss the chance that one of these men would show up. None of these men returned. Not the first, not the second, the third, fourth, nor the fifth. The empress slammed her fist on her throne and demanded, “Bring these men to me!”

When the clock struck midnight, her four elite guards stepped out into the courtyard, ready to haul the suitors by their legs to the palace. The night was cold. A fog cloaked the imperial city, and snow drifted from the northern mountains. Before the guards left the courtyard, there was a groaning nearby. They looked around, but there was no sign of any persons. Then, hands shot out from the earth beneath them, and latched onto their legs. The guards drew their blades, chopping off the hands.

The five men that kissed the empress clawed their way out of the earth. Each man had rotted flesh, missing and yellow teeth, and their hair was falling out. The stench of death filled the air. Blood dripped from their mouths and eyeballs.

“The empress wants to marry one of these men!?”

“No! Something has gone wrong. Kill them!”

With swift action, the guards chopped off the heads of the would-be suitors. Their bodies fell and their skulls rolled across the grass. The empress heard the commotion and raced out from her throne room, through the hall, and to the courtyard. When she recognized the beheaded men, she broke into tears and fell to her knees. Those tears turned to a rage. “Find that captain! Bring him to me! Drag him here by his boots if you must! He must know why this happened!”

The guards went into the bazaar, the likely place where a pirate crew would be celebrating a victory. They found the lively bunch of treasure hording sea masters at the local pub, the Draft and Drinker. They burst through the door, and one guard commanded, “Where is that hopeless sea drifting barnacle, Captain Whiteboot?”

The captain, who was sitting at the bar with Samson and Sandoval, turned on his stool and asked, “Aye, what do ye armored fools want with me now? Ye got what ye asked for!”

“The empress demands your presence at the palace, immediately,” said the guard at the front.

“And if I refuse?”

The pirates were too full of their drink that night to put up much of a fight. Whiteboot’s only resistance resulted in him being dragged along the road by his coat.

The empress waited in the courtyard. Her guards tossed Whiteboot at her feet. “Look at this mess!” Noella said. “What happened at Castle Graystone!?”

“Argh, I fulfilled me end of the bargain,” Whiteboot said. “It’s yer problem.”

“You brought a curse upon me,” the empress proclaimed. “This mistletoe,” she said, holding it in her hand, “This mistletoe is cursed. You must take it back!”

“I don’t want it,” the captain said. “If that is indeed a cursed item, then I say you find a way to take it back yerself.”

“How dare you speak to me in such a manner!” Noella threw the mistletoe at the defiant pirate. “Take it deep into the sea and get rid of it! Such an item should not be in the hands of mankind!”

“Aye, I’ll take yer little plant and toss it into the ocean.” Whiteboot picked up the cursed plant. He looked at Samson and said, “This explains why we were attacked in the village.”

 

Whiteboot and his crew set sail to the center of the sea, with the aim to rid the world of the cursed mistletoe. Though he contemplated returning it to Castle Graystone, he believed the best course of action was to follow Empress Noella’s demand, and toss it into the sea. At least, there, the mistletoe would never be seen again. However, when the pirates reached the center of the sea, a storm kicked up. Waves crashed onto the deck and rocked the ship. The captain resolved to finish the job, and approached the rail with the mistletoe in hand. “Har! Har! This be an excellent spot to get rid of a curse!”

Just as the captain went to toss the mistletoe to the depths forever, another obstacle arrived to block his mission. A whale the size of the ship hurled itself up against the hull. It hit again, and again, and a third time. Crash! Crash! Crash!

“As if our troubles weren’t bad enough!” Whiteboot shouted. He tossed the mistletoe into the sea and gave the order to set sail immediately; to get the crew and the ship out of this storm and away from the angry beast.

When the mistletoe sank into the sea, the whale thought it was a snack and swallowed it. The pirates turned their ship around to exit the storm. The whale, however, had other plans, as it chased the ship, and leaped into the air, prepared to crush it. The mistletoe had caused the whale’s body to decay rapidly. Its fins and blubber turned to a mix of dead flesh and bone. The whale’s eyes had turned a deep red. There was a foam that oozed from its mouth and blowhole.

“Shoot ‘er down!” the captain ordered. “Samson! Get the ship out o’ here!”

Samson focused on sailing the ship out of the storm. Sandoval, as usual, ran into the cabin to hide. The remaining pirates secured the sails and ropes to keep the ship from capsizing. The captain, left with nobody to fend off the whale, who was ramming the ship again, ran to the front of the ship. He took hold of a harpoon catapult and aimed it at the oversized sea monster. The next time the whale jumped over the ship, Whiteboot fired a harpoon right into its skull. The whale crashed into the waters, and sank beneath the sea. The captain ran to the edge of the deck and waited for signs of the enemy to return. When there were none, he concluded the monstrous creature had sunken to its death. Out of the storm and rid of the cursed mistletoe, the pirates sailed northward to return to their home in the empire.

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