Brain of Neopia: Part Eight
The room fell silent. The competition was starting.
“We’ll start with the defending champion,” said Hugo. “Kochi, you have three questions. Question one: name two of the items hidden in Eliv Thade’s castle.”
“The Sword of Skardsen and the Shield of Pion Troect,” said Kochi, without a moment's hesitation. “And the other two are the Grimoire of Thade and the Amulet of Thilg.”
“All correct,” said Hugo. “Very impressive, since most of those words are made up. Your second question: on the map of Neopia, which two fixtures remain in the same position, no matter where the map is rotated?”
“That must be Kreludor and the Virtupets Space Station,” said Kochi, although he didn’t sound very confident.
“Correct again. Your final question: What, in dubloons, is the current selling price of a Mirgle?”
This seemed to have stumped the champion. He frowned as he concentrated, deep in thought. He seemed to be adding numbers up in his head.
“Fifty?” he eventually asked.
“Sadly, that’s incorrect,” said Hugo, and a gasp rose from the crowd. “The selling price is, in fact, fifty-five dubloons. Congratulations, anyway. Kochi, you score two points!”
The audience applauded politely. But Kochi had got a question wrong. The same thought was running through all their heads; Could he be defeated this year? Correction: it ran through the heads of all but one of the audience members, who was thinking; Roan could easily beat that. No prizes are awarded for guessing their identity.
“Finneus, you are our next contestant.”
The old Lenny sat up in his chair, and folded his wings in front of him, providing an aura of intense concentration.
“Finneus, in which year did King Pyres of the Lost Desert invade Sakhmet?”
“That was 1192BN,” said Finneus, confidently.
“Correct. How many boards are there in Neopia?”
“Currently, twenty-three, according to my archives,” said Finneus.
“Twenty-three is the right answer.”
“Do you want me to name them all?”
“I really don’t. Your last question: it is traditional for inhabitants of Maraqua to leave annual gifts to whom?”
“Correct! Members of the audience, Finneus scores three out of three! Congratulations!”
The audience applauded, some cheering. Finneus blushed, and smiled faintly.
“Next, we have Sensaba, our hermit. Sensaba, your three questions start now.”
“I await them with the keen expectation of a Blumaroo skiing in the Month of Celebration.”
“Indeed. The Emerald Krawk Battle Set was owned by which famous Neopian general?”
“The general whose footsteps fall softly upon the clouds of Faerieland, surely as the Buzz, and silent as the Kougra. Some call him Intereg, leader of the rebels. Others name him the Mysterious One, him who dwells in the shadows of the eternal mind. He lives in them, and they live in him. His luck was that of a throw of a die, and his life was lived like a candle, flickering in the wind of the unheard silence.”
“Whatever.” Hugo looked slightly confused. “I think I heard the name Intereg in there somewhere, so you can have the point. The Cybunny Festival annually reveals the secrets of which mysterious object?”
“Surely, as the footsteps of the mind climb along the path to knowledge, so can the discovery of the sunlight of that which is gained by experience, shine upon those who look for it, the light in the dark...”
“Excuse me, do you actually know the answer?”
The Kyrii looked abashed.
“Well, yes,” she admitted. “But,” she continued, rallying, “what is to know? Is the knowledge contained in the pet, or does the pet channel the knowledge? Who can fathom...”
“Yeah, yeah. Can you just give me the answer?”
The Kyrii considered this.
“What, without all the embellishment?” she asked, finally.
“In that case, the Golden Carrot.”
“Correct. Which species is the most prolific in Happy Valley?”
“Veritably, for the unenlightened and dissenting, is a rallying point, where those who fear the future may embrace the past, for the past is a way to the future...”
“I’m actually enlightening the audience on the fundamental necessities of the general aura of the question, before elucidating...”
“You don’t know the answer, do you?”
“Not as such, no.”
“Care to venture a guess?”
“Incorrect. We were looking for Blumaroo. Sensaba, you score two points.”
More polite applause. But attention was now turning towards Roan. He gulped.
“And now, we come to our least experienced, least intelligent and least popular contestant?”
“Am I not the best at anything?” asked Roan.
“You’re the most lucky.”
“The most fortunate?”
“That’s the same thing.”
“Is it? You should know.”
“What’s that even supposed to mean?”
Hugo paused for a second.
“Roan, you have three questions. You need to get at least two of them right in order to have a chance of progressing. Three would guarantee you a place in the next round, but,” Hugo snorted, “that’s not going to happen. Question one: which sailor on the Cyodrake’s Gaze pushed Hoban overboard?”
I know this! Roan thought excitedly, mentally celebrating at understanding an answer. I had a guess myself. I blamed King Skarl. In hindsight, possibly not the most informed choice, but I had to accuse somebody. And I thought the hat was pretty awful.
Aloud, he said: “That was Bonju.”
“Did you say banjo?”
“No! Why would I say that?”
“It was a vague hope. Correct. Which pet said ‘I shall cower before no evil, and defend the virtue of my people against all enemies’?”
Roan was stunned. I know this one too. It’s my family motto. Well, almost. Mine’s actually ‘I shall cower before all evil, as there lies the best chance of survival’. But I know who said it. “King Coltzan!”
“Ah, but which one?”
“Was that right?”
“Technically, yes. You are now, miraculously, joint with the defending champion, and the irritating hermit. If you get the next question right, it will be Sensaba who will go home. If not, you will go home.”
“The official answer is because your total point score over the previous two rounds is less than the others. The unofficial answer is because I don’t want you to win – I’d prefer to laugh at you forever.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“Neither are you. Now,” Hugo chucked, “Oh, you’ll never know this. How many rooms are there in the Fleapit Hotel?”
“Brilliant! The only way you’d know that is if you went there on holiday. And you’d never do that.”
“Last summer, unfortunately.”
“I went last summer. Stayed in the last room they had spare. Right at the top, right at the back. Their biggest number, the hotel staff said.”
“No...” Hugo seemed to deflate. “Surely you didn’t remember the number.”
“No!” shouted Hugo.
“That’s wrong?” said Roan, incredulously.
”No. That’s right! How did you do that?” asked Hugo, looking thunderstruck. “You’re in the final three? No, you can’t be!”
“Thank you,” said Roan. “Thank you for the kind words.”
The audience began to applaud, a loud, full, hearty applaud, as much as the noise of several pairs of limbs being repeatedly shoved together can have personality.
Hugo silenced the crowd quickly.
“That means,” he said, struggling to get the words out, “that the person who will be leaving us first is Sensaba. Any... last words?”
“Alas, for I have toiled many an hour to stockpile this knowledge. Yet, as the passing of the sun gives birth to the dawn of the night, so does my parting show the way for others to follow.”
“Excellent. I’m sure there’s some idiot somewhere who felt touched by that. Anyway, Sensaba, you have been eliminated.”
Roan didn’t hear the Kyrii leave. That was a very touching speech, he was thinking.
“And now, there are three of you left. The next round is a buzzer round. I will ask five questions. There is a point available for getting the answer right, but a point will be lost for each incorrect answer. Question number one: Remnok the Nomad owns which shop?”
Roan had no idea. Even if he did, he would not have been able to beat Kochi to the buzzer.
“Battle Supplies in Sakhmet!” the champion blurted, almost before his buzzer had finished sounding.
“Correct!” said Hugo. “The three members of the Ghoul Catchers are Professor Vinsjin, Doctor Boolin and who else?”
“Brave Bren!” said Kochi, eagerly.
“Correct again!” said Hugo, with clear delight. “What is the name of Princess Sankara’s father?”
Roan decided to push his buzzer, despite not knowing the answer. He knew it wouldn’t make a difference – Kochi had got in a light year before him.
“Right again! You’re racking up the points here. What is the maximum interest rate in the National Neopian Bank?”
Again, Roan pushed his buzzer. So did Kochi. But, to Roan’s surprise, it was Finneus who had pushed his buzzer first.
“Twelve percent!” said Finneus, confidently.
“No!” said Hugo. He looked stunned. “No, you can’t get that wrong. You were tying! Roan would have gone!”
“It’s not twelve?” asked Finneus. “That’s what mine’s at.”
“It’s twelve and a half percent!” said Hugo, agitatedly. “For an Ultimate Riches account!”
“Really?” said Finneus. “I’ll need to get one of them. Oh well. Not to worry.”
“Not to worry?” shrieked Hugo. “Not to worry!? You’re about to get eliminated!”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Finneus. “The best person will win, in the end.”
“Yes, but there’s a danger that the winner’s going to be Roan, and he clearly isn’t the best person. Anyway, the last question is a riddle.
“I am a word, with letters four
But with uses many more
I can imply an object lent
Or in sport, sharing with a friend
When presented with a question
I can be said, to show confusion.
I can mean overtake, to travel by
I have many meanings. What am I?”
Kochi buzzed in. Roan, having got into the habit, pushed his buzzer as well.
Hugo turned to him.
“Roan. Do you have an answer?”
“What?” spluttered Roan. “But Kochi buzzed first!”
“But I’m asking you!” said Hugo. “Remember – you can’t afford to get this wrong.”
“Er...” Roan’s brain was working overtime, although, knowing Roan, he had no intention of paying it extra as a result. What on Neopia is he on about? A four letter word... I get that bit. I don’t know many words longer than four letters. Sharing... to show confusion... what?
“I need an answer, Roan!” said Hugo. “Don’t disappoint me!”
“Er...” said Roan again, in the hope that ‘er’ would turn out to be correct.
“Time’s marching on!” said Hugo. “Do you have an answer, or do I need to deduct a point!”
Roan had no idea.
“I have no idea,” he said, speaking his mind. “Pass.”
There was a deadly silence in the room. But only for a moment.
“Oh, come on!” said Hugo. “How are you doing this?”
“Pass?” Suddenly, the realisation struck him. “Oh, pass. Yes, pass. Of course. I worked that out.”
“So, you get yet another lucky point,” said Hugo. “This is almost becoming predictable.”
“Strange how it always seems to surprise you,” said Roan.
“True,” said Hugo. “I should raise my expectations. Anyway, I was being indignant.” Hugo raised his voice. “You got it right! That means that you, along with Kochi, are a finalist. And we have to say goodbye to our favourite archivist, Finneus!”
“Never mind,” said Finneus. “There’s always next year.”
“That may be so,” said Hugo, “but we’ll still mock you for this for the rest of time.”
Finneus, ruffling his feathers in a dignified manner, left the arena to the applause of the spectators. Now, there were just two contestants left. Roan, and the defending champion.
“And now, we move into the final,” said Hugo. “The last section of the quiz. This section is known as Sudden Death. I will ask a question to each of you in turn. If you get the question right, I will ask a question to your opponent. This will keep going until one of you gets a question wrong. I will then pose the same question to the other one of you. If you get that one right, you will be crowned Brain of Neopia, Year 10. If you don’t, we’ll probably laugh at you. Contestants, are you ready?”
“Yes!” said Kochi, confidently.
“Yes!” said Roan, considerably less confidently.
“Very well. We shall begin with you, Roan, since you’re the worst one here. Roan, Meridell contains approximately what percentage of Neopia’s population?”
Roan scoured his memory. He found a number.
“1.4%!” he said.
“Correct,” said Hugo. “Kochi, what is the suggested value of the Rainbow Swirly Thing?”
“4.7 million neopoints,” said Kochi.
“Correct. Roan, what species was Aabaroo, the famous explorer?”
“Blumaroo,” said Roan, without hesitation.
“Correct, again. Kochi, how many miles east of Neopia Central is Roo Island?”
“Thirty!” said Kochi, confidently.
“Yes. Roan, what was announced ‘Neopian Times Scam of the Year’?”
“The Altadorian Desk Lamp,” said Roan. “Although I don’t personally see the problem with it. It seems to work fine, as long as...”
“Yes, yes, you’ve made your point,” said Hugo. “Kochi, according to the Altadorian Board of Tourism, what is the most popular tourist destination in Altador?”
“That must be the Hall of Heroes,” said Kochi.
“Correc... sorry, did you say the Hall of Heroes?”
“That’s... that’s wrong,” said Hugo.
“What?” said Kochi, incredulous. “It’s not the Hall of Heroes?”
“No!” said Hugo. “That is the second most popular. The question passes over to Roan.”
Roan was taken aback. Here’s my chance, he thought. But what’s the answer? Desperately, he looked around the room. Kochi was looking nervously at him; Hugo was looking at him, terrified that he would give the right answer. His eyes turned to the audience, and he saw the Producer staring back at him, the light gleaming in his eyes.
He remembered Altador. He remembered his chair. He remembered watching the people flowing, following the patterns. And he remembered the knowledge, the discoveries that books cannot teach. The knowledge of experience.
He remembered... the answer.
“The Altador Souvenir Shop.”
Roan stared into Hugo’s eyes. They gave nothing away. Then, out of Hugo’s mouth, came the single word.
There was silence for a moment. A stunned silence. A silence born from people not sure what to do. What had happened?
Then, the Producer stood up, and started to clap.
The claps were hollow at first, echoing around the room, swallowed by the walls. Then, somebody else joined him. Then another. Then, the floodgates opened, and noise poured in. Every member of the audience burst into a frenzied, ecstatic burst of applause.
Roan looked around the room, at the cheering fans, and smiled. He had won. He had won!
Looking in the audience, his eye was suddenly caught by a Shoyru in the front row. With a jolt, Roan realised that it was the same one who had put up his tent for him on the first day. But why was he so happy?
Hugo followed Roan’s gaze, and he looked at the Shoyru. He gasped.
The Shoyru stepped into the arena, beaming.
“Yes, Hugo! Remember me?”
“Remember... remember you?” stammered Hugo. “Of course I do! You were the competition’s worst ever contestant! You entered six times in a row, and never scored a single point! You have an honorary mention at the start!”
“I know!” said Shy Roo, smiling widely. “It’s been awful! Every year, I’ve had to sit and listen to you drone on and on, humiliating those. Revenge has been building!”
“Yes, revenge! Who do you think has been writing the questions this year?”
Hugo suddenly went very white.
“Yes. Who has been spying on Roan, watching him revise, seeing what he learns, and incorporating it into every one of his questions? Who has been desperately trying to ensure that Roan wins this tournament, so your constant berating of him goes down in history as the most ill-advised piece of insulting ever!”
“But he’s an idiot!”
“Of course he’s an idiot!” said Shy Roo. “Even with all the questions being on subjects he knew, he only just scraped through. Still, the deed is done. Roan has won the competition.”
“But...” Hugo was stuttering now. “How... why... how... Roan?”
“Good, wasn’t it!” said Shy Roo. “Now you know how all your contestants feel!”
“I’m confused!” announced Roan, to nobody in particular.
“But...” said Hugo. “But...”
“No ‘buts’!” said Shy Roo. “You’ve lost! You’re a laughing stock. Roan is officially the Brain of Neopia! The reputation of the competition is tarnished beyond repair. The competition has finally been driven into the ground.”
The audience had silenced themselves, and were listening intently to the two argue. They had reached a stalemate. Nobody was speaking. Nobody wanted to break the silence...
“When do I get my money?” asked Roan.
* * *
“Congratulations,” said the Producer.
“Thank you,” said Roan. “Of course, I always knew I was going to do it.”
Safe in the comfort of his chair, Roan reclined comfortably, and picked up a volume of the Neopedia, opening it at a random page. He glanced lazily up, picked out a Kougra from the crowd, and mentally marked him down as Natural History Museum material.
“Me too,” said the Producer. He’s not lying, though, thought Roan. “So,” the Producer continued, “now that you know what it’s like to constantly be humiliated, are you going to start being nicer to the contestants?”
“Nicer?” echoed Roan. “Are you crazy? Why would I be nicer? I’ve spent the last week being ritually humiliated, exposed to ridiculous, complicated plots, and read more Neopedia articles than I ever want to read again!”
“Why did you keep all your copies, then?”
“I’ve sort of got into the habit of reading them. You learn some interesting ideas. But, no. Nicer is not a concept I’m familiar with.”
Roan looked back down on Altador, just in time to catch the Kougra opening the door to the museum. He smiled. He liked it here.
“And, you know what the best bit is?” said the Producer.
“What?” asked Roan, lying farther back in his chair and closing his eyes, the book open on his chest.
“Now that you’re the Brain of Neopia champion, you get automatic entry into next year’s competition!”
The eyes opened. The book was slammed shut.