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Chapter One
A Duet of Dungeons and Doughnuts

I woke up to the sound of my own grumbling stomach, a harsh reminder that I, Cassiopia Spellbound-Shadowcloak, had once again slept past noon. The sunlight filtering through my black lace curtains was a personal attack on my sensitive, pastel goth eyes. I groaned, rolling out of bed with all the grace of a newborn giraffe on roller skates.

Shuffling into the kitchen, I silently cursed my twin brother, Rook, and our Orc best friend, Orzala (aka Orza), for their ability to function like normal human beings in the morning. Well, normal might be a stretch, considering our family history and the fact that Orza once ate an entire wheel of cheese on a dare.

You see, our parents, Tia Spellbound and Darkheart Shadowcloak, had started their own kingdom, Eclipsia, after a series of misadventures that ended with them winning the land in a game of charades against two very confused (and slightly intoxicated) kings. I mean, who even plays charades for land ownership? My parents, apparently. It's like they always say, "When life gives you lemons, challenge the neighboring monarchs to a high-stakes game of charades and hope for the best."

And thus, Eclipsia was born, a place where Sparklemancers and Hexinators could live together in harmony (and occasional hilarity). Soon after, Rook and I came into the world, ready to live in the shadow of our parents' great deeds and questionable decision-making skills. Yay us.

Rook, with his carefree attitude, annoyingly colorful wardrobe, and ability to find joy in even the most mundane of tasks (like organizing his sock drawer by color and level of whimsy), embraced the chaos. Me? I preferred to wallow in my own brooding thoughts and carefully curated collection of existential dread, thank you very much.

As I entered the kitchen, my nose twitched, searching for the sweet scent of pastries. Nothing. Not even a measly doughnut or a slightly stale croissant. I was sure Orza had already eaten everything in sight, probably while sleepwalking. That Orc had a black hole for a stomach and a penchant for midnight snacking that would put even the most dedicated of hibernating bears to shame.

Speak of the devil (or in this case, the pastry-devouring Orc), Orza emerged from her room, her muscular frame barely fitting through the doorway. I swear, one of these days, she's going to get stuck and we'll have to call the royal carpenter to widen the frames. I shot her my best death glare, which probably looked about as threatening as a disgruntled kitten with a mild case of indigestion.

"I know you ate all the pastries, Orza," I grumbled, my voice still thick with sleep and the lingering resentment of a thousand stolen breakfast treats. "Not cool. I was really looking forward to drowning my sorrows in a sea of frosting and regret."

Orza just shrugged, a smirk playing on her lips. "Actually, I saved you something."

She reached into her pocket (which, I might add, was more of a small dimension than an actual pocket) and pulled out a slightly squished strawberry Pop-Tart. I eyed it suspiciously, debating whether to accept the peace offering or continue my morning grump fest. On one hand, it was a Pop-Tart, and I had a strict policy against turning down sugary breakfast foods. On the other hand, it had been in Orza's pocket, and who knows what else she kept in there. Probably a collection of small boulders or the occasional lost adventurer.

Just then, Rook bounded into the kitchen, his annoyingly cheerful grin already in place and his outfit so bright, it was like a personal assault on my retinas. "Good morning, dear sister!" he chirped, ruffling my black and pink streaked hair with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for motivational speakers and overly caffeinated kindergarten teachers. "Ready for another day of adventures, misadventures, and potential shenanigans?"

I swatted his hand away, scowling with the intensity of a thousand grumpy kittens. "Not before coffee," I muttered, reaching for the blessed caffeine machine, a.k.a. my one true love and the only thing standing between me and a full-scale rebellion against the tyranny of mornings.

As I sipped my life-giving coffee, trying to ignore Rook's incessant chatter (which seemed to revolve around the hidden symbolism of breakfast foods and their impact on the socio-economic landscape of Eclipsia), a loud knock echoed through our apartment. Orza, being the closest to the door (and the most likely to intimidate any unwanted visitors), answered it with a grunt that could have sent a pack of rabid dire wolves running for the hills.

To our surprise, a royal messenger stood outside, looking slightly terrified of Orza's imposing figure and the fact that she was casually bench-pressing a small sofa. "Urgent message from the King and Queen," he squeaked, holding out a scroll with trembling hands.

Orza snatched the scroll, and the messenger scurried away, probably rethinking his career choices and wishing he had listened to his mother's advice about becoming a professional mime instead. She unfurled the message, her eyes scanning the contents with the speed and precision of a seasoned warrior. "Your parents want you at the palace, like, now," she summarized, tossing the scroll to Rook with the kind of casual disregard usually reserved for junk mail and eviction notices.

I groaned, my head falling back in exasperation. "Can't they handle royal business without us for once? I mean, isn't that what they have advisors and court jesters for?"

Rook, however, was practically vibrating with excitement, his eyes sparkling like a kid on a sugar rush at a balloon animal convention. "Ooh, I wonder what it could be! Maybe a secret mission or a treasure hunt! Or maybe they need our help negotiating a peace treaty with the Glitter Goblins of the Sparkly Swamp!"


"Or maybe they just want to torture us with another boring court event," I muttered, dragging myself back to my room to change out of my "I Hate Mornings" pajamas and into something more suitable for a royal summons. Like my "I Hate Royal Summons" dress.

* * *

Thirty minutes later, Rook and I arrived at the palace, dressed in our finest attire. Rook's rainbow suit was so bright, it practically screamed, "Look at me, I'm a walking pride parade! And also, a fire hazard!" My eyes hurt just looking at him. I, on the other hand, had opted for a black gothic dress with a high collar and a skirt that trailed behind me like the embodiment of my lingering resentment for all things cheerful and non-caffeinated.

As we entered the throne room, our mother, Queen Tia, rushed towards us, her face a mix of excitement, panic, and the kind of manic energy usually associated with a squirrel on espresso. "Thank goodness you're here!" she exclaimed, her words tumbling out in a breathless rush, like a verbal avalanche of motherly concern and royal duty. "The visiting dignitaries from Terrarok, the kingdom of Earth magic, have arrived for a surprise visit! And I think they brought their famous rock cakes, which, let me tell you, are not nearly as delicious as they sound."

I rolled my eyes, my voice dripping with sarcasm and the bitterness of a thousand disappointing baked goods. "Yay, just what I always wanted. A bunch of dirt-loving diplomats to entertain, and a potential trip to the royal dentist."

Rook, on the other hand, was practically bouncing on his toes, his enthusiasm threatening to break free from his body and take on a life of its own. "That's so cool! I've always wanted to learn more about Earth magic! Do you think they can teach me how to communicate with rocks? I've always suspected that pebbles have a lot to say, if only someone would listen."

Dad, King Darkheart, appeared beside Mom, his expression a mix of amusement, exasperation, and the kind of long-suffering patience that comes from being married to a woman who once challenged a group of sentient cacti to a dance-off. "Tia, my love, perhaps we should let the children catch their breath before throwing them to the diplomatic wolves. And the rock cakes."

Mom waved him off, her attention already back on us, like a magpie spotting a shiny object in a sea of dull responsibilities. "Nonsense, they're ready! Now, remember, the dignitaries from Terrarok are known for their love of plants, dirt, and all things green and vaguely mossy. So, try to be enthusiastic about their magical gardens, enchanted compost, and whatnot. And if they offer you any rock cakes, just smile and pretend to chew. Trust me, it's better that way."

I snorted, crossing my arms and channeling the energy of a petulant toddler who had just been told they couldn't have ice cream for breakfast. "Oh, I'll be enthusiastic, all right. 'Wow, look at that magical shrub! It's so... leafy. And green. Truly a marvel of nature and magic. Please, tell me more about the fascinating world of enchanted topsoil.'"

Rook elbowed me in the ribs, his grin never faltering, even in the face of my withering sarcasm. "Don't mind Cassie, she's just not a morning person. Or an afternoon person. Or a 'being nice to people' person, really."

I glared at him, but before I could retort with a scathing comeback about his overly sunny disposition and the dangers of excessive optimism, the doors to the throne room swung open, revealing a group of dignitaries dressed in various shades of green, brown, and "Is that moss growing on your robes, or are you just happy to see me?"

As they approached the throne, I plastered on my best fake smile, the one I reserved for diplomatic events, family reunions, and the occasional run-in with a sentient cactus. It was going to be a long and tedious day filled with magical plants, awkward small talk, and a disturbing number of leafy puns. Oh, the joys of being a royal twin in a magical kingdom.

As the dignitaries approached, I noticed that one of them was carrying a potted plant that seemed to be... moving? And, wait, was it waving at me? Upon closer inspection, I realized that the plant was actually a small, sentient tree, its branches swaying in a way that could only be described as "overly friendly and slightly unsettling, like a stranger who insists on hugging you after a brief conversation about the weather."

The leader of the group, a tall, willowy woman with moss-green hair and a smile that was equal parts serene and unnerving, bowed deeply before my parents. "Your Majesties," she said, her voice soft and melodic, like the rustling of leaves in the wind or the whisper of a thousand secrets hidden beneath the roots of an ancient oak. "Thank you for welcoming us to your beautiful kingdom. I am Arbora, High Priestess of Terrarok, and this is my companion, Twiggy."

The sentient tree, Twiggy, waved its branches enthusiastically, like a small child who had just spotted their favorite ice cream flavor in a sea of vanilla.

Mom and Dad returned the bow, their smiles warm and welcoming, even as they tried to subtly dodge Twiggy's overly enthusiastic branches. "It is our pleasure, High Priestess Arbora," Mom said, her voice ringing with sincerity and just a hint of "please keep your foliage to yourself." "We are honored to have you and your delegation here in Eclipsia. And we look forward to learning more about your fascinating culture and magical practices."

As the adults exchanged pleasantries and thinly veiled attempts to avoid being whacked by Twiggy's branches, Rook leaned closer to me, his voice low and conspiratorial, like a gossipy houseplant sharing the latest dirt (pun absolutely intended). "Psst, Cassie! I think Twiggy has taken a liking to you. Maybe it can sense your inner love for all things green and growing, hidden beneath layers of black lace and existential angst."

I glanced over at the potted plant, which was indeed waving its branches at me rather insistently, like a dog wagging its tail in the presence of a juicy steak. I sighed, resigning myself to my fate as a royal plant-sitter and part-time therapist for overly attached flora.

Stepping forward, I gave Twiggy a small curtsy, feeling utterly ridiculous and vaguely concerned about the state of my dignity. "Hello there, little one," I said, my voice dripping with false cheer and the unmistakable undertone of "I am going to die of embarrassment right here in this throne room, and they'll have to bury me with this stupid tree." "Aren't you just the cutest little sapling in all of Terrarok? And certainly the most...affectionate."

Twiggy seemed to preen at my words, its leaves rustling with delight, like a teenager who had just received a compliment from their crush. Rook, unable to contain his enthusiasm (or his love for all things green and leafy), bounded over to join me, his grin so wide, I feared his face might split in two. "Wow, a living, breathing, waving tree! That's so cool! Can you do any tricks, Twiggy? Like, can you grow apples or tell us the secrets of the universe? I bet you have some amazing stories to share, being a sentient plant and all."

I shot him a withering glare, silently praying that the ground would open up and swallow me whole, preferably before Rook could ask Twiggy to be his new best friend and confidant. But Twiggy seemed to take his question seriously, its branches creaking and groaning as it concentrated, like an old man trying to remember where he left his spectacles (or, in this case, his fruit).

Suddenly, a single, shiny apple appeared among Twiggy's leaves, dropping into Rook's outstretched hand with a soft thud. "Whoa!" he exclaimed, his eyes wide with wonder and barely contained glee. "Thanks, little buddy! You're the coolest tree in all the land. And I should know, I've talked to a lot of trees in my day."

As Rook munched on his magical apple, I turned my attention back to the adults, who were now engaged in a riveting discussion about the benefits of using enchanted compost in palace gardens, because apparently, even royalty can't escape the thrilling world of magical horticulture.


"...and that's why we always add a sprinkle of powdered unicorn horn to our mulch," Arbora was saying, her eyes glinting with the kind of passion usually reserved for artists, lovers, and people who have strong opinions about the proper way to prune a bonsai tree. "It really helps the snapdragons snap, if you know what I mean. And don't even get me started on the wonders it does for our singing sunflowers."

Mom and Dad nodded along, looking genuinely interested in the topic, or at least doing a very good job of pretending to be. I, on the other hand, was starting to feel my eyes glaze over, my brain slowly turning to mulch as I tried to feign enthusiasm for the fascinating world of magical gardening. There were only so many puns about plants and dirt that I could take before my mind started to wander to more exciting topics, like watching paint dry or counting the number of dust motes in a sunbeam.

Rook, sensing my growing boredom (and probably noticing the way my left eye had started to twitch), nudged me gently, his voice low and conspiratorial. "Hey, Cass, want to sneak off to the library? I heard Mom and Dad got a new shipment of books on ancient magical artifacts and forbidden spells. Maybe we can find something cool to try out, like a potion that turns you invisible or a charm that makes you irresistible to the opposite sex. Not that I need any help in that department, of course."

He waggled his eyebrows at me, and I had to resist the urge to smack him upside the head with one of Arbora's prized potion bottles. But the mention of ancient magical artifacts and forbidden spells had piqued my interest, and anything sounded better than listening to another hour of plant-based puns and enchanted compost chatter.


"Lead the way," I muttered, already edging towards the door, my skirts rustling with the kind of urgency usually associated with a person who has just realized they left the oven on or a cat who has spotted a particularly juicy mouse.

With a quick bow to the dignitaries and a mumbled excuse about "urgent twin business" (which could have meant anything from "We need to go save the kingdom from a horde of rampaging trolls" to "I have to pee"), Rook and I slipped out of the throne room, leaving our parents to handle the rest of the diplomatic niceties and pretend to enjoy the rock cakes.

As we made our way to the library, I couldn't help but feel a sense of relief wash over me, like a cool breeze on a hot summer day or the first sip of coffee after a long night of tossing and turning. Don't get me wrong, I loved my family and my kingdom, but sometimes, a girl just needed a break from the constant chaos and craziness of royal life. And if that break happened to involve ancient magical artifacts and forbidden spells, well, that was just a bonus.

We arrived at the library, a massive, sprawling room filled with towering bookshelves, overstuffed armchairs, and the distinct scent of old parchment and forgotten knowledge. It was one of my favorite places in the palace, a sanctuary where I could escape the pressures of being a princess and lose myself in the pages of a good book or the intricate diagrams of an ancient spell.

Rook, of course, had a different approach to the library. He saw it as a treasure trove of potential adventures, each book holding the key to a new quest or a thrilling discovery. He was already darting between the shelves, his fingers skimming over the spines of the books, his eyes alight with excitement.

"Ooh, look at this one!" he exclaimed, pulling a heavy, leather-bound tome from the shelf. "'The Complete Compendium of Cursed Cutlery: A Guide to Enchanting Your Dinnerware for Maximum Mayhem.' This sounds like a hoot and a half! I wonder if there's a fork that can make Brussels sprouts taste like chocolate cake."

I sighed, plucking the book from his hands and reshelving it with a firm thud. "As much as I appreciate your enthusiasm for magical mealtime mischief, I don't think cursed cutlery is going to help us with any of our current problems. Like, you know, the fact that we're supposed to be hosting a bunch of dirt-loving dignitaries and pretending to care about enchanted compost."

Rook pouted, his bottom lip sticking out in a way that made him look like a sad puppy who had just been told he couldn't have any more treats. "But cursed cutlery sounds so much more fun than diplomacy and garden talk! Can you imagine the look on Dad's face if his soup spoon suddenly started singing opera or his salad fork turned into a tiny, angry elf?"

I had to admit, the idea was tempting. But I also knew that we had responsibilities, as much as I loathed to admit it. "Maybe another time," I said, trying to sound firm and not at all like I was considering the merits of an operatic soup spoon. "Right now, we need to focus on finding something that can help us with our diplomatic duties. Or at least make them more bearable."


Rook sighed, but nodded, his shoulders slumping in defeat. "Fine, fine. I suppose you're right. But mark my words, Cassie, one day, I will have my revenge on those Brussels sprouts, and it will be glorious."


I patted him on the shoulder, a small smile tugging at the corners of my lips. "I don't doubt it, dear brother. Now, let's see what we can find in here that might actually be useful."

We spent the next hour or so browsing the shelves, pulling out books and scrolls that looked promising. There were tomes on ancient history, guides to magical diplomacy, and even a few dusty old volumes on the art of magical flower arranging (which Rook insisted on keeping, just in case we needed to impress the dignitaries with our floral prowess).

But as we delved deeper into the stacks, I started to notice something strange. There was a section of the library that seemed to be shrouded in shadows, the books on the shelves looking older and more worn than the rest. And there was a faint, pulsing energy emanating from them, like a heartbeat that was just slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.

Rook noticed it too, his brows furrowing in confusion. "Hey, Cass, have you ever noticed this section before? It looks...different. Like it doesn't quite belong here."

I shook my head, a feeling of unease settling in the pit of my stomach. "No, I haven't. And I've spent a lot of time in this library. Something's not right here."

As if drawn by an invisible force, we both reached for one of the books, our fingers closing around the ancient, cracked leather binding. And as we pulled it from the shelf, a gust of cold wind swept through the library, extinguishing the candles and plunging us into darkness.

For a moment, there was nothing but silence and the sound of our own breathing. And then, a soft, eerie glow began to emanate from the book in our hands, casting long shadows on the walls and revealing the title etched into the cover in spidery, silver script:

"The Grimmoire of Forgotten Realms: A Collection of Cursed Recipes and Forbidden Spells for the Discerning Mage."

Rook and I exchanged a glance, our eyes wide with a mix of fear and excitement. This was no ordinary book, that much was clear. And whatever secrets it held, we knew that we were about to embark on an adventure far more dangerous and thrilling than anything we had ever faced before.

As the glow from the book pulsed and flickered, casting an otherworldly light on our faces, I felt a shiver run down my spine. We were standing on the precipice of something big, something that would change our lives forever. And despite the fear and uncertainty that gripped me, I couldn't help but feel a thrill of anticipation.

After all, what was life without a little danger and excitement? And if that danger and excitement happened to come in the form of a cursed cookbook with a penchant for mayhem and mischief, well, that was just par for the course in the life of a Spellbound-Shadowcloak twin.

So, with trembling hands and racing hearts, we opened the book, ready to face whatever challenges and adventures lay ahead. Little did we know, our lives were about to be turned upside down in ways we never could have imagined. But then again, what else was new in the magical, unpredictable kingdom of Eclipsia?

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