Abu's Exam: Part One
“Kat, please wash the dishes.”
“It’s not my night, Sabby,” the blue Xweetok lounging on the couch replied. She continued to shuffle the cards she was holding.
“It’s Abu’s turn, Sabby. Besides, Cela, Kat, Fen and I are playing Cheat,” Xenakanakari responded.
In the living room, all four Neopets nodded. Aycela – a tall blue Bori with a slightly insane expression and hair that looked as though she had been on the receiving end of a lightning strike – went first, placing two eights on the pile. The green Poogle, PrincessFennylin, put down a seven.
“Cheat!” Katie_Cool_Puppy shouted explosively.
“Dang it!” Fen exclaimed as she swept the pile into her hands.
“Fen! Watch your language, young lady!” Sabrina Kilikary yelled from the kitchen.
“Sorry, Sabby,” Fen said slightly apologetically.
“Has anyone seen Ky, Ki, Dai, or Abu?” Sabby asked.
“Dai and Ki are off – star-gazing or something, I think,” Kat supplied, as she deposited her three kings on the pile.
“Cheat,” Cela said, and, as Kat sulkily picked up the “kings”, she remarked, “I believe Ky’s off with his Puppyblew.”
“Thanks, girls,” Sabby said. It was a pretty normal state of events. Kyanry was the family loner, spending almost no time with other Neopians. He stayed reclusively in his room, often with his Puppyblew, Astari, one of the only people he liked. Abiugiakl was the only member of the family admitted to his room on a regular basis. David_of_Doncaster and Daubki were the closest possible of brothers, and Dai often spent time showing his younger sibling all around Neopia. No one messed with Daubki anymore. Word had gotten around that if you bullied the small energetic Shoyru, you would have an irate Ixi on your hands.
“So, where’s Abu?” the pets’ owner asked.
“Studying,” Kat replied with a trace of bitterness.
“In her room,” Xena added, the same hint of resentfulness in her tone.
Sabby sighed. “Oh yes,” she said. “Studying.”
Abiugiakl had been studying for days. It had gotten to the point that seeing her was almost rarer than seeing Ky! The green Xweetok had locked herself in her room, and poured over gargantuan volumes – history; astronomy; physics; math; English; Altadorian – the list was endless. She was preparing for the Imperial Exam. For Abu, being among Neopia’s top scholars was a life dream.
“Can anyone cover for her?” Sabby asked hopefully.
“No,” Kat replied shortly. “If she doesn’t want to be with us – if she wants to spend all her time cooped up in her room, studying for some stupid test – then she can’t expect our help.”
Sabby’s eyebrows flew up. Kat and Abu were the best of friends; her two oldest pets. Kat, admittedly, spent a lot of time with Xena, her partner in crime and mischief, nowadays, but the bond between her and Abu was strong. It surprised Sabby to hear Kat speak of Abu like that.
“All right, then,” Sabby said, trying to sound cheerful. “I’ll do them myself, shall I?”
The formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder is Pi * R^2 * H, Abu read. She read it again. And then a third time. It still made no sense.
Checking her alarm clock, she winced. It was past one a. m. She cradled her head in her hands. She wanted to sleep so badly. But there were only two more days, and she had to get to sleep early the night before the exam. That meant she only had a little less than two days left to study.
So she turned back to her book, with an enormous sigh, and copied down several practice problems. With a humongous effort, she managed to concentrate, scratching out the answers with her ancient quill. It was a bit old fashioned, but all of her pens had run out of ink, and her all of her pencils had snapped in half or been sharpened down to useless stubs.
Once she finished, she checked her answers. All correct. Even at one in the morning, her intellectual abilities were flawless. She remembered a time, way back in first grade...
“She’s a creep.”
“Of course. She’s such a nerd!”
Abu could identify the two voices, even though she couldn’t see them. Cathy and Caroline. The two stupidest ditzes in school. If brains were food, the Uni and Acara would have been famines in Neopet guises.
Abu ignored the teasing of the two older spiteful girls. Almost everyone picked on Abu. The young Xweetok had skipped a grade already (she was to skip two more before the present day), and her age and high intellect made her an easy target for bullies. One day, she thought, one day I’ll show them. One day, they’ll be sorry. And she meant it, too. Waiting for Mrs. Stoneson, a perpetually bad-tempered stern old Pteri with a soft spot for her best student, Abiugiakl, the shy green Xweetok slipped into her favorite daydream.
She was standing in a large room, confidence radiating from every fiber of her body. A self-assurance she had never felt before possessed her. There was a large crowd around her, and yet Abu held her head high – something she would never do, shy as she was around strangers. A tall shadow Mynci wearing the long yellow robes of a scholar stood on a raised dais above the queue, stroking his long white beard sagely. Excitement coursed through Abu’s veins. This was the famed Jari Moonbeam, possibly the greatest mind in all of Neopia – and the head of the Imperial Examinations Committee. Finally, the venerable Mynci cleared his throat. All the noise, the hubbub of a hundred excited conversations, died away instantly.
“This is the moment you have all been waiting for, since qualifying as top students in your various schools around Neopia. As you struggled through your studies, seeking knowledge – precious knowledge! – the daydream that you would be the one honored in this moment kept you going. Your precocious minds have only been concentrating partially on your studies, young scholars. Instead you have been focusing on this moment for long, long before we even knew you...” He spoke for a long time, using long, intelligent-sounding words – words that Abu knew, even if none of her classmates did.
“And, so,” he said, finishing his speech, “we begin our Awards Ceremony. The top scholar in this year’s class is –”
“Abiugiakl Kilikary!” Both the Mynci and Mrs. Stoneson spoke at once. Her teacher’s voice cut through Abu’s daydream.
“Yes, Mrs. Stoneson?” Abu replied automatically.
“Please drop down from the realms of the clouds, and join us in our class!” The Pteri’s voice was stern, strict, and reproving.
“Sorry, Mrs. Stoneson,” Abu said meekly. A hot flush of embarrassment was spreading all over her body, and her cheeks glowed crimson. It was a rare event for Abu to get scolded – and, indeed, as she heard the titters from the back of the classroom, she knew this was not the end of this affair, and that a certain Pink Uni and Faerie Acara would be reminding her of this event for a long, long time.
Mrs. Stoneson was slightly mollified. She couldn’t stay angry at her best pupil for long. “Well, then. I suppose you can tell us the answer to the equation on the board?”
Abu looked for a moment, and then nearly laughed. She was already learning calculus, that year, while the other first graders were still struggling with simple one digit addition!
She stepped towards the board, and wrote the answer down with white chalk in her neat, rounded handwriting...
Seventeen. She stared at the answer on her stained, ink-blotched piece of paper, as if wondering how it got there. Turning to the end of her book, she checked the answers there against her answers to the practice problems. The strong bright light of her bedside lamp lit up the room.
Stretching, Abu stood up, walked across her bedroom, and checked the alarm clock again. It was something to do. The flickering green lights blinked at her: one thirty-seven a. m. Ouch.
She walked back to her desk, and sat back down. Turning to a new page in her book, she ferociously studied the paper, memorizing the instructions on how to calculate the volume of a three-sided pyramid. The daydream and memory had invigorated her; reminded her why she studied.
After reading all the way through the textbook – roughly a hundred more pages, which took her about an hour – Abu continued her studies. She decided to brush up on her Altadorian.
At around three in the morning, Abu fell asleep, her head resting on a partially conjugated list of verbs. Her inkwell had been overturned, and now it dripped steadily onto her carpet. Drip, drip, drip...
And, at last, today was the day! She stood at the back of a long line, waiting to get into one of the examination halls. It was a hot and muggy day; she wished she had purchased a Smoothie to slurp on as she anxiously waited her turn.
All around her, students her own age waited. Most wore officious, scholarly, important-looking robes. Looking down at the plain green t-shirt, khaki pants, and battered running sneakers she wore, Abu winced. Perhaps she should have listened to Sabby when her owner had suggested that she wear different clothes... Oh, well, she told herself firmly. Too late now.
Standing in line, she rehearsed the word she would spell to prove she was qualified to the blue Kacheek who was guarding the gate. To gain access to the Exam hall, she would have to spell a word aloud to him. And not just any word. As she was taking the advanced examinations, it had to be an advanced word – a word that would be complicated and tough to spell. “S-e-d-i-m-e-n-t-a-r-y. Sedimentary.”
Ahead of her, she heard the Kacheek speak. “No, sorry, not you,” he told a tall black Elephante who had just spelled “volcanic” with a “k”. The Elephante stormed away, muttering under his breath.
“L-u-m-i-n-e-s-c-e-n-c-e,” a female voice proclaimed.
“Please leave,” the Kacheek said.
A red Shoyru marched past Abu, her face even redder with anger.
“Sire, you just chased away a talent!” the Grarrl guard who was guarding the door with a large, scary, sharp spear remarked reprovingly.
“I did?” the Kacheek asked, flustered. A bead of sweat trickled down from his forehead. “Er. Oops.” He turned to the next student.
Abu gulped. She had never, for a moment, thought that the Neopet in charge of admittance could make a mistake. What if she was turned away by accident? What if he made a mistake when it was her turn?
She noticed a pointed silence all around her, and suddenly she realized it was her turn. The Kacheek looked at her expectantly. Her mouth went completely dry, and her knees knocked. “S-e-d-i-m-e-n-t-a-r-y,” she managed to croak.
“Jolly good,” he said approvingly.
She heaved an internal sigh of relief as she stepped through the double doors. The room behind them looked just like a classroom – albeit a huge classroom. Nearly every desk in the hall was full.
She walked over to one of the empty desks, and sat. A large packet sat in front of her, along with a pencil and eraser. She swallowed once.
A few minutes later, the room was full. Possibly sixty students were seated inside it. At least three, she was sure, were not qualified scholars. Their mischievous guilty expressions told her that much.
A large Elephante walked up front, and stood behind a teacher’s desk. A supervisor, she guessed. Someone to make sure they did their work, and that no one cheated. He opened his mouth, and began to talk. He droned on and on and on. It was possibly the longest and most boring speech Abu had ever heard. In a long-winded way, he explained that the Faeries had cast spells to catch cheaters, and several other such rules. Finally, he ended. “You may begin!” he announced, turning over an hourglass on his desk.
Abu flipped over her paper, and glanced at the first question. But something was wrong! She could make out a familiar word here and there, but everything else was incomprehensible!
And then she realized why. The exams had been written in the ancient language of Shenkuu. It was very similar to Altadorian, which was why she had recognized a few words. But the rest of the test was gibberish to her.
A heavy weight set on her heart. She felt like she was going to cry. She had failed. She would never pass a test she couldn’t understand. Around her, she could hear the sounds of dozens of pencils being used. Everyone else, she thought, could understand the test. Except for her. She had failed. A single fat tear rolled down her cheek and fell onto her test, blurring the crisp, clear, printed words...
To be continued...