The archon went silent. Then its eyes suddenly rolled back in its head and a woman's voice, pleasant and lilting, issued from its beak:
"I come in all types,
From the great to the small,
But if you are wise,
You'll not heed me at all.
My words can be black,
But are most often white,
And naked I am,
When the truth comes to light."
The voice echoed away into the courtyard, where it seemed to be swallowed up in the dread silence of that place.
"It's a riddle," Ward said.
"A riddle within a riddle, to be precise," the archon said. Its voice was once more that of a man. Then its eyes stopped moving. It seemed to Ward that it had gone away somewhere.
He set his mind to the riddle, but to his annoyance found that he had already forgotten most of it. Carmen and Slops had despairing looks on their faces – clearly they had the same problem. Mildew however, was mumbling fast under her breath, and Nick was gazing into the sky, his eyes shining.
It was he who eventually spoke.
"I think the answer is a liar."
Mildew broke into a broad smile. "Of course!" she said. "I come in all types, from the great to the small – yeh, cos anyone can be a liar. But if you are wise you'll not heed me at all – that fits. Then there's the bit about the words coming in black or white – well the black lies are the bad ones and the white lies are the littlies. And what was the last bit again?"
"And naked I am, when the truth comes to light," Nick recited.
"You're a genius!" Mildew said.
"Thank you," he said.
Mildew rapped smartly on the door.
"PASSWORD," came the oddly mechanical voice from the archon's mouth.
"A liar," Mildew said.
"INCORRECT. TWO ATTEMPTS REMAINING BEFORE SYSTEM LOCKDOWN."
Ward's heart sank.
"Well I botched that," Nick said.
Ward hardly heard him. He was thinking hard. What had the archon said? A riddle within a riddle. How was that a riddle within a riddle?
"What was the old password?"
"Didn't you hear what the ar...?"
"Ozenkadnook," Carmen said.
"Oh," Ward said.
"What is it?" Mildew said.
"Nothing. I mean, well I'm not very good at this – but maybe Nick was right after all?"
There was a silence.
"You're gonna have to eggsplain better than that," Mildew said.
"Well, what if the answer is a clue? A riddle within a riddle?"
Now Nick was looking at him curiously.
"Can I try?" Ward said.
Nick nodded slightly. Ward turned and knocked on the door.
Ward took a deep breath and said: "Ozen – kozen – crap!"
"INCORRECT. ONE ATTEMPT REMAINING BEFORE SYSTEM -"
"Ozenkadnook!" Carmen cried.
There was a breathy hiss and the door swung inwards.
They were already moving down the corridor when a voice roared from behind them. "NICOLAS FAUST!"
"Oh," Nick said, turning, "I forgot." He returned to the doorway, fished in his pocket, removed something silver, and shoved it into the archon's mouth. "Surprise," he said. Then he turned on his heels and slipped back inside.
As they hurried down the corridor Ward could hear the archon abusing them, though he could make out no specific words - after all, it is difficult to speak clearly when you have a coin wedged in your mouth.
He never stopped to wonder how the archon had known Nick's name.
Everything will be eggsplained in due course.
YOU ARE READING
The Seven Sleepers | The Cave of Wonders: Book 1Adventure
HIGHEST RANK #1 in Adventure. Ward has no idea why the Brotherhood want him dead. Knowing he will soon join the tarred corpses by the riverside, he falls in with the only person who can protect him: master criminal Saint Nick. Nick's empire of subwa...