Tucker couldn't believe what he was seeing. A few moments ago his entire world had been surrounded by darkness but now that he was back in the light his world had been turned upside down. His best friend Jessica Snape who normally towered above everyone with her eight foot tall body was now having to look up at him as he now stood a foot taller than she did.
At first Tucker thought that he might have grown but as he looked at Jessica her body seemed to be different as well. Normally she would have a very small amount of muscle and her frame would look relatively long. This Jessica just looked frail and he thought that a gust of wind would be enough to knock her down. He could also see that Jessica's dress was too big for her. It looked to fit a woman who was at least half a foot taller than her as she now measured no more than five feet tall.
Jessica was panicking as she continued to look at herself. Her entire world had changed as well, she had always wanted to be normal but now that it had seemingly happened she was more in despair rather than relief. Everything had happened so quickly that she didn't know how to react properly.
"Tucker what's happened to me?" asked Jessica as she continued to look at herself over and over again.
"Y-you've shrunk," replied Tucker. These were all the words that he could mutter as he continued to look in disbelief.
"How did this happen?" She was nothing short of panicking at this moment in time. She had no idea what was happening to her or if the change was a permanent or temporary one. If it was permanent she didn't know whether to be elated with joy or begin to wallow in absolute pity.
"Wait maybe it's not all bad. Try growing and see what happens." It was the only idea that he could come up with.
"Ok I'll try." Jessica began to concentrate in the hopes that she would begin to grow at any moment. Unfortunately she didn't grow at all and this only brought about more panic. In her desperation she actually removed her dress as she thought that it would cause her to grow to her normal size of around a hundred and twenty five feet. Tucker flinched at both the expectation of her impending growth and the fact that she was naked at this point save for the shoes that she was wearing. "No, this can't be happening."
Tucker looked away so that he didn't offend Jessica with seeing her naked. He had done it with her permission but he felt that this time was different. For the moment that he had looked at her naked body he saw just how frail she looked. She looked like she barely ate and her once respectable breasts were now nothing more two small lumps on her chest. He also knew that she had not started growing which meant that she was stuck in this form and he didn't know whether to be happy or sad for her.
"Ok Jessica put your clothes back on," said Tucker before he looked towards her again. She gave him the signal that she had indeed put her dress back on. When she did he finally looked at her once again. "I think I might have an idea." Quickly Tucker took the map from his satchel and looked upon it. Much to his surprise the paper was completely blank. There was nothing on there at all and he showed it to Jessica who also looked at it with some amount of disbelief.
"What does this mean?" asked Jessica.
"I think I might know. It isn't too improbable to think that somehow outside magic is nullified. Just like the fact that our magic map to Three Man's Treasure is now nothing more than a simple piece of paper."
"So if that's the case why am I so small?" She had been so used to towering over everyone that being short was actually scaring her somewhat. She always had the comfort of knowing that practically no one could harm her. Now she felt small and defenceless and in a way she was.
"I don't know, maybe if you had never received that potion when you were a baby this is as tall as you would have gotten." He was somewhat enjoying the fact that he was taller than her but he could see the distress that she was in so he didn't do anything to antagonise her. "It's not so bad, you always said that you wanted to see what it was like to be a normal girl. Now you have it."
"Not like this and I would have preferred that it was through choice." She placed her hand on her head as if she was trying to measure herself. "And I would have thought that I was going to be taller than this."
"Look on the bright side, at least you're not as short as Pete Evans." Pete Evans was a man who lived in Morgan alongside Tucker and Jessica. He suffered from dwarfism which left him at a height of only three and a half feet. If it had not been for Jessica's extreme size Pete would have been closely scrutinised rather than her.
"I guess so."
"Anyway we're wasting time here. The sooner we get out of here the sooner you can be back to being the great big girl that you like to be."
"I didn't say I liked being big, it's just the only life I've known." She did give a small sigh as she had to come to a decision. "If you wouldn't mind I think I might head back, I'm not any good to you down here and I don't want you to worry about me. When I reach the surface I should be back to normal."
"If you really want to leave that's fine." He didn't feel like he was being betrayed or that she was leaving him. He understood where she was coming from and in her current form she would be more of a hindrance while they were down there rather than a help. "When I get to the other side I'll signal you somehow."
The pair said their temporary goodbyes and then Jessica went to walk back to the surface. In her confusion over everything that had just happened she had forgotten that she had slid down a steep bank to get down to this tunnel. It looked to be steeper than she remembered but nonetheless she tried to make her way up the bank. Unfortunately she didn't get far before slipping down. Tucker stood there and watched as numerous times Jessica tried to make her way up the bank but each time it was the same.
It was impossible for anyone to be able to climb their way up the slope and it had been purposely designed so that whoever went down didn't go back up. Jessica kept trying but after the tenth attempt she had no choice but to admit defeat. It was very depressing for her but she did take some comfort in knowing that it meant that she didn't have to separate from him.
"I can't do it," said Jessica. She was surprised to feel how out of breath she was. She didn't think that her attempts would have been that exhausting but she still found herself out of breath.
"Don't beat yourself up over it," replied Tucker as he placed his hand on her shoulder. "I don't think anyone would be able to get up there."
"I guess this means I'm going to have to go through the test with you. Hopefully I won't be too much of a distraction."
"Don't worry Jessica you won't be. Besides for all the times you've protected me I think that it's about time I protected you."
For Jessica it actually made a pretty nice change. She had sometimes wanted to be the small one who needed protection rather than the opposite way around. It made her feel that much more normal and she began to see Tucker in a new light. She began to see him as a protector rather than someone who needed to be protected. She held onto his arm and looked up at him and gave him a smile.
"Ok my big strong hero, lead the way," said Jessica. She did want to enjoy this for as long as she could and she knew that Tucker would enjoy playing the hero. It was a role that he had been more or less born to play.
"As you wish my fair maiden," replied Tucker with an equally large smile. Underneath this he was somewhat worried. In the past he knew that if he got himself into serious trouble that he had Jessica to protect him. Now that safety net was gone, much like when they were in July but at least he still had Jessica by his side.
The pair began to walk down the tunnel and each step was taken with great care. They still had the fear of activating some kind of trap. One thing that Jessica did find particularly difficult was keeping up with Tucker. Her legs were close to being two feet shorter than they had been before so she was struggling to keep up. Her dress was also slightly too large for her so she had to pick up as she walked. This was something that she never had to do before since the dress had always fitted her no matter what size she was.
Jessica did stay close to Tucker and in some expectation he held onto Juggernaut and his shield. He remembered how he fought against the living armour in the last test and he expected to face some kind of supernatural opponent. He was cautious of anything that could suddenly jump out at him and right now he was in the mood of slashing first and asking questions later.
The tunnel seemed to be endless but there were several torches on either side that kept it well lit. This did give the pair an additional form of safety and they just continued to walk along the tunnel. A couple of times Tucker stopped since he thought that he heard something but each time it turned out to be a false alarm.
Eventually they came up to a metallic gate, although it had probably been there for many, many years it looked like it had only been built yesterday. Even the paint on it looked to be newly dried but its problem was that it was blocking their way. In the past Jessica would have likely had the strength to pick it up so that they could simply get through. Unfortunately now that wasn't an option and they had to find some way of getting through. The gaps in the gate were too small for either of them to squeeze through.
"Maybe there's some kind of trick behind this," said Tucker as he began to examine the gate more closely. At first glance there was nothing that seemed to be out of the ordinary and for all intents and purposes it looked like a normal gate.
"Or maybe there's some kind of command," replied Jessica although this was more out of hope than being a genuine theory. "Gate open!" Nothing happened and this was to be expected. The pair would have been surprised if it had actually worked. "Ok that didn't work."
"We could try forcing it up. Sometimes trickery isn't needed when brute force gets the job done." He then grabbed onto the gate and he tried to push it up but it was far too heavy for him or any man to lift. "This thing must weigh a ton." It was times like this that Jessica would offer her assistance but she had to stop herself since she knew that while in this state she could barely lift anything. He did look over to her and he did notice that she was looking a little pale, for now he said nothing since he thought that it was nothing that was particularly bad. "Got any other ideas?"
"Well remember when we first entered how there was that switched that made all the torches light up? Well maybe there's some kind of switch on the wall around here that'll open it up."
"That's a little unlikely but definitely worth a try. You go that side and I'll take a look on this side."
For the next several minutes the pair scoured the walls on either side trying to find a switch. One major problem that Jessica had that was in her smaller state that her reach had greatly diminished. There was only so high that she could reach and she feared that the switch that she was looking for was just beyond that. It seemed alien to her that she couldn't reach something, her size had always allowed her to reach basically whatever she wanted but now that she was this size she saw this as a handicap. One thing that she did take comfort in was that at this size she didn't have to worry about her head hitting the top of a doorframe or the ceiling itself.
With every minute that past Tucker felt the chances of them finding the switch were greatly diminishing. One thing that he noticed in the corner near the gate itself was the skeleton of someone who had come before them. This unfortunate individual had not been able to get through the gate and also not been able to go back the way that he came. In the end the person must have died of either starvation or thirst. It was a fate that Tucker didn't want to befall himself or Jessica.
After several minutes both of them seemed to come up empty. Tucker in particular was frustrated but he was more concerned about his and Jessica's safety rather than the fact their quest might come to an end. He was not just worried about the fact that they might be stuck but with how Jessica might be responding to her current size. He knew how she had gone through practically her entire life being bigger than everyone else and now that she was petite he thought that she might be taking hard. For now she had not shown any real emotion breakdown but he thought that she might be keeping it all locked inside and was merely putting on a brave face.
"Found anything?" asked Tucker as he continued to feel up the wall. He was several metres away from the gate and with each inch he had to move further away the less chance he felt of finding the switch.
"No nothing yet," replied Jessica. She coughed a little but she felt that this was nothing to be concerned about. "It has to be around here somewhere Tucker, we just need to keep looking. I'm sure we'll find it."
"I think that we're already too far away for it to be anywhere around here." He took a step away from the wall and looked over to Jessica. "I think we could search these walls until the cows come home and not find a thing."
"I suppose you're right. But if we don't find a way through we'll end up just like that poor man by the gate."
"Believe me I don't intend to have that happen to us." He took another glance at her and he swore that she was looking paler than she had done before. It did cause him a small amount of concern but for the time being he didn't think that it was serious enough for him to mention.
The pair made their way back to the gate and it didn't take them long to actually reach it. It seemed as daunting as it had before and they knew simply staring at it wouldn't make it open. Both of them began to closely look over every square inch of the gate in an attempt to find some kind of clue. It seemed that there was marking on the gate itself. Rather than there being any words they were flowers, roses to be specific. Tucker tried to decide whether this was some kind of clue or just a fancy design.
Now more than ever it seemed like Jessica was missing her old size. She would try the same technique that she used on the door in the first test. Although her efforts then had been futile she felt that it could have worked in this situation. She was also beginning to feel weaker but she put this down as simple fatigue.
"There's nothing here," said Tucker with some frustration. "We're not going to find our way through this fucking gate."
"Calm down Tucker," replied Jessica who felt that she needed to be the voice of reason. "You're not going to make any progress if you just get yourself into a state. "Remember what Sir Thomas taught you, A distracted mind is easily fooled but a calm mind sees all around him."
"I-I guess you're right." He took a few deep breaths so that he could calm himself down. "What do you suggest we do then?"
"I don't know about you but I feel that the patterns on the gate is some kind of clue. First off what is the pattern?"
"It's a rose." He didn't really think before he spoke and he just blurted out the answer immediately.
"Well remember the message on the bottom of the map? The message was written with the opposite alphabet. Maybe muttering rose in opposite alphabet might open it. I know that you said that there can't be anything magical down here but when you pressed that switch for the torches they all suddenly came on. Magic from the outside might be nullified but any that was already down here might still work."
"Like I said before it sounds unlikely but at this point in time I'm willing to try anything. Let's see, what's R in the reverse alphabet?"
"I think it's an I."
"Ok that's a start."
It took them a few moments to work out the rest of the letters which were I, L, H and V. Unfortunately putting them together were made a nonsense word that was almost impossible to pronounce. They tried rearranging the letters to try and make a word but that too failed. It was somewhat disappointing for the pair but Jessica was still confident that they would find a way to open the gate. With a puzzle like this there had to be an answer. All they needed to do was take in everything around them.
"I think I might have an idea," said Tucker as he had kept thinking. "Maybe the answer to the puzzle is something so simple that we have simply not thought of it. Hear me out, I've known a couple of puzzles where people have thought of complicated solutions to them when really it was a solution so obvious that they had simply ignored it.
"So what's the obvious solution to his puzzle then?" replied Jessica who herself was now getting a little frustrated.
"Well we could just walk through the gate." He knew that it was a pretty stupid suggestion but it was all he could really come up with.
"I don't think that it'll work."
"But you have to admit that it's so obvious that you wouldn't think it." He was still trying to use his logic but if anything he was trying to make himself not look like a fool. "I say that it's worth a try."
"Ok we'll try but I still don't think it'll work."
Moments later the pair were standing in front of the gate. All of their previous ideas had failed and both of them felt that this one would fair no better. Tucker was the one who went first and as he stepped forward for a moment he pushed against the gate and much to both of their surprises the gate fell and it landed with a loud thud on the ground which echoed throughout the tunnel. Jessica was amazed to see that after everything that they had done simply pushing the gate had actually been the answer to their conundrum. She looked at the gate for a moment before looking up at Tucker who had a huge smile on his face. There was nothing more satisfying in his mind than being right.
"After you my dear," said Tucker with the smile still on his face. To him it almost felt like he had just found Three Man's Treasure.
Jessica did step through and she still couldn't believe that it had actually worked. She could see how Tucker was right however, in some cases an overly complicated solution was not needed and something extremely basic was often times the best. It was times like this that she respected Tucker.
As the pair continued to walk down the tunnel they could see carvings on the walls of both sides. The figures in the carvings seemed to be royalty of some kind but neither of them really had the time to stand and look at them so they kept moving on. They didn't realise that the carvings themselves were of that of House Angle who had been the first royal family of Angleland back in the Age of Titans. They were the first family to rule over Angleland and kingdom itself was named after them. This family's line had long ended and since then there had been a few different families who had seized the throne either through conquest or by royal decree. The current royal family was House Kent who had been ruling Angleland for the last couple of centuries after the extinction of the previous royal family House McGregor. This had not been through conquest but the fact that the last McGregor King had died without any heirs.
Ignoring this chance for a history lesson and continued on in the hopes of finding the actually test and thus having their map updated so that they could carry on with their quest. Already Tucker imagined having the thousands of rumoured gold coins run through his hands and he would be the richest man in all of Angleland.
As they walked Jessica almost tripped over a stone on the ground and she had to do everything she could to keep her balance. She didn't know what was wrong with her but since she came down into this tunnel she had felt herself getting weaker. She didn't want to say anything to Tucker since she didn't want to worry him. She thought that she would be alright shortly and when she got this whole trial sorted they could leave. She hoped that when she left she would grow back up to her normal size.
Eventually they came to a fork in the tunnel with an opening that lead to the right and another that led to the left. As both Jessica and Tucker looked down both ways the tunnels were too long for them to see what was at the end of them. There also seemed to be no immediate dangers.
"So which way now?" asked Jessica. She did look up both tunnels and she was feeling a little nervous.
"I have a feeling that we should go right," replied Tucker. His suggestion had no real evidence behind it and was merely a guess. "Even if it does lead to a dead end we could just turn back and come the other way."
"Or we could split up."
"No I don't think that we should." He was thinking about how he was going to say what he wanted to Jessica. "No offence but since you've lost your gigantism you're not really that much up for defending myself."
"Hey I can still look after myself?" She thought that despite her lack in size that she was still more than capable of fighting off anything that came her way.
"Ok let me ask you one thing then. In all the times you've fought against someone else how many of them were bigger than you?" This caught Jessica out since she had always relied on her size more than technique to handle a fight. She remained silent and he thought of a better way to show her that at this point in time she couldn't fend for herself. "I make you a deal, I'll let you go off by yourself." He held Juggernaut towards her but he made sure the handle was closest to her. This indicated that he wanted her to hold onto it. "If you can hold onto Juggernaut for ten seconds I'll let you go wherever you want down here. Does that sound fair to you?"
"I guess so." She thought that it would be a relatively easy challenge since she had held Juggernaut in the past and not felt anything that she felt she couldn't handle. With some enthusiasm she took a hold of Juggernaut with both hands. Tucker then let go and immediately she almost dropped it but she did hold onto it as best as she could. It felt incredibly heavy and it was taking all of her strength just to lift it up. He could see the strain in her face and this only made him even more concerned. Juggernaut itself wasn't all that heavy of a weapon and he really thought that she would have been capable of holding it up by herself. He would have understood if it had been a two handed sword but this was a standard one handed sword. She did drop it when the effort became too great for her and she did begin to pant. She watched as Tucker picked it back up and she thought that she had actually completed the challenge. "How long was that?"
"Five seconds." He put Juggernaut back into its holder and he still was concerned for Jessica. "I have to admit I thought that you'd do better than that."
"I should have." She gave a grunt of frustration. "If I was my normal size I would have been able to swing that sword as if it were a stick."
"It's alright Jessica. You don't have to push yourself too far but I hope now that you realise why I don't want you walking around by yourself. "You're nowhere near as strong as you used to be and I'm only concerned about your safety."
"But you don't have to treat me like a child." She began to realise that this is what she had done to him on several occasions. She had felt that he was too weak to deal with a situation so she would step in and resolve it. She didn't like it now that the shoe was on the other foot. "I'm a grown woman."
"Believe me if I thought that you could handle yourself down here I'd let you go wherever your wanted but the fact of the matter is that you're nowhere near as strong as you were." He looked into Jessica's face and he did notice something very troubling. Her face looked even paler and her eyes were bloodshot.