The stone corridor was full of ominous shadows. Elan strode into it, whistling blithely, until Haley's hand on his shoulder dragged him back. "I'd better check for traps first," she reminded him. She always had to remind them about checking for traps, even after the unfortunate incident with the statue and the giant rolling rock. And the box of brown mold that Durkon had insisted was truffles until it froze his fingers.
Roy nodded. "Good idea, Haley. You and V go ahead, we'll wait until you give us the all-clear."
Vaarsuvius looked annoyed. "Me? Why should I accompany Miss Starshine? I am no disarmer of traps, unless perchance I should trip over one."
"No, but you can detect magic, and you've got that super-elf-spidey-sense-secret-door-finding thing," Roy pointed out.
Vaarsuvius sighed. "Very well. I will employ my skills for the good of the party, in the hopes of getting us through this collection of logistically-unsound rooms the more swiftly.
Haley and V began making their way down the corridor, while the rest of the group stayed back. The sound of Elan and Belkar arguing over the rules to Go Fish gradually faded into the distance. Haley worked the hall the way her trainers at the Thieves' Guild had taught her - eyes scanning the floor, the ceiling, the walls, looking for any cracks or holes or giant razor-sharp pendulum-sized gaps, taking it step by careful step in case anything shifted suddenly under her feet. Vaarsuvius followed, looking around now and then, but not seeming too concerned about the possible death-trap they were walking into.
"Doesn't this worry you, just a little bit?" Haley asked, testing a suspicious dark spot on the floor with the tip of her finger. It turned out to be mildew.
"No," Vaarsuvius replied dryly. "Because this is obviously a thoroughfare, and only the most idiotic dungeon-designer would put traps in a commonly-used passageway. Or if one was foolish enough to do so against any sensible architect's warnings, they would have long since been triggered by others who have passed this way before us."
Haley shrugged. "Dungeon hallways are always the worst for traps, because people aren't expecting them."
"Yes, I suppose workers rarely expect the floor of a hallway at their place of employment to just drop away suddenly, revealing a large spiked pit."
"Depends where you work," Haley said. "Retail can be brutal."
Vaarsuvius paused, ears perking as if at a high-pitched sound. "There is a secret door, just over there."
Haley looked in the direction the elf pointed, but saw nothing special to distinguish the section of wall from the rest of the corridor. "How do you know?"
"Detecting secret doors is an innate ability of the elven race, a holdover from the distant evolutionary past when my people were little more than apes - albeit sophisticated, well-groomed, mostly-hairless, highly intelligent apes - who were primarily preyed upon by the Dire Trapdoor Spider. Those proto-elves who did not become expert in sensing the subtle shifts in currents of air that portend a concealed opening soon acquired form-fitting silk shrouds that tended to impede reproduction. This is what Sir Greenhilt was alluding to with his off-hand remark about 'spidey-senses.'"
Haley arched an eyebrow. "Is that true?"
"No," V replied with a weary sigh. "Just take my word for it, Miss Starshine, there is a door in that general vicinity."
Haley approached the purported door with caution, looking for any concealed grooves, hinges, or triggers that might give its mechanism away. No convenient candelabra on the walls, no nearby bookshelf with a volume helpfully titled "The Doors of Perception by Paul Thisone," no statues with moving arms or fireplaces with fake backs. This was going to require advanced skill. Haley took a few steps back down the corridor, then strolled casually back. "Jeepers," she said brightly, "he just disappeared through here!"
Vaarsuvius looked puzzled. "Who did?"
"Shh. Where could he have gone?" she chirped still more loudly. Haley let her feet trip on the edge of a slightly-raised flagstone, gave a well-timed little shriek as she fell, caught herself against the wall, and felt it give way underneath her hand. She stood, dusting herself off, and permitted herself a satisfied "Yesss!"
"What was the purpose of that pantomime performance?" V asked.
"Just a little trick I picked up from one of the greats. 'Accidental' discovery. It works best for redheads," Haley said cheerfully as she peeked into the concealed room.
It was... not what she expected, to say the least. It reminded her of her bedroom when she was twelve, not that she'd ever have admitted it - the room was thoroughly pink and frilly, with a stuffed unicorn and a well-loved beholder puppet on the bed, copies of Rakshasa Beat magazine under the bed, and a bunch of costume jewellery on the nightstand (her love for shiny things had started young…) All that was missing were some posters for the lame bands she'd liked back then - the Backstab Boys, Squirez II Knightz, Garl & the Glittergolds... Instead it had newer celebrities - Alchemical Romance, Arcade Fireball, 50 Coppers… It was all very innocent, and consequently very creepy and suspicious.
"Does this wizard guy have a teenage daughter, by any chance?"
Vaarsuvius frowned. "I am not aware of any such personage, no."
"Well, maybe he just really, really likes pink," Haley said with a shrug. "Nothing wrong with that... really..." She poked her head a little further into the room, eyeing the sparkly necklaces draped over the lamp. Maybe they weren't costume jewellery... it wouldn't hurt to just check, would it? She took a step forward, and then another, only to freeze as a strange shiver passed over her. She tried to head back to the door, but found she couldn't pass through it. "V!" she yelled, startled, as she bounced off some sort of invisible barrier.
"What is it?" The wizard hurried forward before Haley could shout a warning to stay back, and then they were both stuck in the pink, ruffled nightmare.
Haley looked around warily. "There's something going on here. Something weird."
Vaarsuvius nodded. "I shall attempt to detect magic and ascertain the true nature of this chamber. Apart from 'ghastly.'" Haley tried to be patient while V analyzed the spell's results. Finally the elf spoke again. "This entire room is under the effect of an illusion, as well as an enchantment spell... I cannot seem to pinpoint its precise nature, and it does not seem to be extremely powerful, but nevertheless I recommend extreme caution."
"Gee, d'you think?"
"Yes, despite winding up in this situation, I do think. I challenge you to try and think half as intently as I do."
Haley scoffed as she settled into a cross-legged position on the bed. "Oh, look at me, I'm Vaarsuvius, and I'm soooo smart, no one else could possibly be as clever as me, I solve the riddles of the cosmos before breakfast! Oh my gods, I'm sorry V, I didn't mean to be nearly that snotty, it just... came out all of a sudden, like I couldn't help but try and do what you said."
Vaarsuvius's brow furrowed. "Odd. I too felt compelled to answer your earlier question truthfully (if sarcastically.) Perhaps that has something to do with the enchantment we are under... Could it be a Zone of Truth spell?"
A look of horror spread over Haley's face. "Oh gods, no."
"What is it, Miss Starshine?"
"Look around you, V, don't you understand? A teenage girl's room, as a trap in the middle of a dungeon? It's not a Zone of Truth. It's a Zone of Truth or Dare."
"I am not familiar with that spell," V began warily.
"Come on, didn't you ever have sleepovers when you were a kid?"
V sniffed. "Elven children do not engage in such frivolity. Instead, they spend all their spare time formulating logic puzzles to challenge one another."
"Is that true?"
V looked mildly ashamed. "…No. But elves do not sleep, in any case."
"Tranceovers, then, whatever. You must have had fun sometime! Truth: what's the best prank you ever pulled?"
"Well... there was one time when my fellow apprentices and I substituted powdered iron for Master Aarindarius's powdered silver." V snorted in a surprisingly undignified way. "I'm sure you can imagine the results!"
"Uh… you had some powdered silver to sell?"
"It was not for profit! It was for the comedic value of seeing our master attempt to demonstrate a Protection from Evil spell, only to cast a Reduce Person instead. I can assure you that it was hilarious."
"I guess you had to be there," Haley said. "So, apparently that's how the spell does its thing. Now how do we get out of this?"
"The obvious course of action would be for us to call for assistance from our companions. I am certain that Master Thundershield would be able to dispel this effect..."
"No!" Haley looked alarmed. "That's a terrible idea!"
"Why, pray tell?"
"Imagine if they came down to rescue us and they stumbled into the room too! It could happen, you know how they operate. Then we'd be stuck listening to Elan's honest thoughts about anything we asked, and performing whatever disgusting dares Belkar could come up with!" Haley and Vaarsuvius both shuddered at the thought.
"No, you are right. We shall have to find our own way out of this dilemma." V perched on the edge of the bed, pondering the matter. "The spell is but of minor power, and may only have been triggered when we entered the chamber. Perhaps we can simply wait out its duration without further… truthiness or dareyness."
"Are those even real words?"
"No," said Vaarsuvius, sounding frustrated. "This spell is more devious than I previously assumed. It seems to not only force one to follow through on the questions and challenges posed, but also enhances one's inclination to pose them in the first place. While your own rate of inane questions has not substantially increased, for instance, I find myself driven to ask you something, Miss Starshine."
"What is it?" Haley looked wary.
"Which of our companions do you find most annoying?"
"Belkar," she replied without hesitation. "I mean, just knowing he's walking around at eye-level with my ass is kind of skeevy. Especially after he said he was sure I didn't wear underwear. Ugh. My turn!" Haley said with an artificial cheerfulness. "I dare you to sing I'm a Little Potion, complete with actions."
Vaarsuvius looked pained. "Must I? This is beneath my dignity... Blast, I suppose I must." Rising, the elf began to sing tunefully, striking all the appropriate poses along the way.
"I'm a little potion
Black as ink
Brewed inside of
A wizard's sink
If you get all beat up,
On death's brink,
Pull my cork and
Take a drink."
V bowed, then settled back on the bed with great dignity, ignoring Haley's giggles. "It would seem to be my turn now. Truth: is that your genuine hair color?"
Haley laughed more loudly still. "Seriously? The elf with the purple hair is asking me if I have a dye job? Yes, it's natural. If you don't believe me, I could prove it."
"Yes," said V, while mentally screaming NOOOO DAMN THIS SPELL. "I dare you to prove it."
Haley grinned wickedly, and seemed to take an inordinate amount of glee in unlacing her leather trousers just far enough to show off a few copper curls before lacing them up again. "See? PS, Belkar was right."
"Alas, yes. Human body hair seems so... unnecessary."
"It's decorative," Haley suggested. "Like men's nipples." A thought suddenly occurred to her - she could ask right now if Vaarsuvius was male or female, and presumably get an honest answer. It was tempting... almost unbearably tempting. But it would mean admitting she didn't already know - didn't really care, to be perfectly honest, cute was cute - and maybe the elf would be offended, and... she bit her lip with the effort to keep from asking the question, fumbling around to come up with something else to ask instead. "Truth: have you ever been in love?" she blurted.
Vaarsuvius, for once, smiled. "Yes, Miss Starshine. I am fortunate to love and be loved in return by a most wonderful mate."
"Oh." Haley smiled back to hide her disappointment. "That's great, V, I'm very happy for you both."
V's mouth opened momentarily, then shut again, then opened a second time, as though the question was a prisoner trying to break free, being ruthlessly recaptured by its jailors, and finally bursting out despite all attempts to prevent its escape. "Truth - do you mean that?"
"...Not really, no," said Haley, looking down at her hands to hide her blush. "I sort of hoped you were single, to be honest."
"Oh." Vaarsuvius was evidently taken aback by that particular revelation. "Miss Starshine, for a human, you are… not repulsive. But you must be aware that I would never voluntarily do anything to betray my spouse."
"Sure, of course. I wouldn't ask you to." But I could, right now, she thought, and felt disgusted with herself for imagining what it would be like. "Truth," she said instead. "Am I your best friend?"
"Yes, I believe you must be." The words made Haley thrill with quiet happiness - despite her disappointment, she still had that much, at least. V continued speaking, not seeming to notice her downcast smile. "With that understanding, I dare you to kiss me."
Haley looked up, startled. "But you just said..."
"I said 'voluntarily.' We are currently under the effects of a mind-controlling spell, and thus not fully responsible for our actions. As such, any minor indiscretions would be... eminently forgivable."
Haley nodded slowly, and crept across the bed to where Vaarsuvius sat stiffly, hands folded. She took the elf's delicate chin in her hand, tipping it up to look him... her... gods, it didn't matter... in the face, so pale and fine-boned and beautiful. V's eyes were closed, lips primly pursed. Haley kissed them softly at first, but couldn't help letting a little tongue slip through, and also couldn't help noticing that V's lips parted for her before she pulled away. "Truth: did you like that?" she asked slyly.
Vaarsuvius let out a long, drawn-out sigh. "I did, yes, Miss Starshine. Now could you please stop asking questions that I will be forced to answer uncomfortably truthfully?"
"No," said Haley regretfully, "sorry, but I don't think I can. Not until we find our way out of this spell, anyway."
V seemed to consider this for a long moment. "The spell must require a minimum of two individuals to function, or else... Aha!" The elf spoke a series of carefully-chosen words. "Miss Starshine, I dare you to stop playing Truth or Dare."
"I accept," said Haley immediately, catching on.
They both felt the spell collapse, popping like a soap bubble to set them free. At the same time the room's illusions faded away, leaving it looking dingy, cobwebby, and grim. Whatever teenager had once inhabited this place, if there had ever even been one, was long gone. V smiled smugly and stood, smoothing slightly rumpled robes. "I told you we spent our free time as children solving logic puzzles. It was merely a question of working within the rules of the game in order to defeat it. As when one attempts to wish for more wishes, the laws of magic took hold and prevented the spell from functioning. Now that this awkward business is complete, let us return to the task at hand."
Haley pocketed the now-dusty shinies on the table - not everyone would be able to tell they were fakes - and followed Vaarsuvius out of the room with only the barest hint of a wistful sigh and a smile on her lips.