The Imperial Exam
“A-n-t. Ant,” a green Blumaroo said proudly as she spelled out the word. Sitting behind the desk that stood in front of the Blumaroo was a tiny but harsh blue Kacheek, who checked off her name. He waved his hand towards the door, and the Blumaroo let out a high-pitched squeal as she dashed in. Nearly every neopet in line seemed to relax, including a spotted Elephante that had been sweating nonstop for fifteen minutes straight. The Grarrl that guarded the building looked inside at the classroom. Every seat is packed, he thought uncomfortably. There must be many talents here today, for it to only take less than eight minutes for the room to fill up.
“Sire,” he leaned down and whispered into the Kacheek's ear. “That one could hardly spell 'koi' the last time she attempted to take the exam. Shouldn't we use more... difficult words?” A drop of sweat trickled down his blue skin. The Kacheek looked up at him, an exasperated expression on his face.
“Do you expect me to send every last one of these neopets back out?” he hissed, pointing his brush at the line. “No, they shall take the exam! But, keep in mind, the next round shall have more difficult words to spell!” The Grarrl sighed. Must he be so dramatic? But it was true; there were several geniuses among the many idiots that had come. One had spelled peninsula... the word, and the definition, boggled the guard beyond any neopet's belief. “The exam starts now!” the Kacheek hollered, walking into the building and slamming the doors loudly. And so they waited.
About thirty minutes later, the doors opened once more with a deafening BANG, and the neopets that had taken the test filed out. Last came the Kacheek, who stuck his nose up in the air, and muttered something about incompetent imbeciles. He sat back down at the table, picked up his brush, and cleared his throat. A chubby Chia stepped forward, biting her lip. Clearly she had overheard the conversation the two had had earlier, and was one of the few that were intimidated.
“Spell...” The Kacheek narrowed his eyes as he peered through his tiny glasses. “... linguine.” The Chia made a choking sound, but nodded.
“Linguine... L... I, N, G, U, I, N... E?” She squirmed uneasily. There was a long silence. The Kacheek looked down at the scroll on his desk, and nodded slowly. The Chia had been holding her breath, and instantly exhaled. She gasped, and walked into the examination classroom. Behind her, a striped Shoyru that had been whistling stepped up. His eyelids were heavy, and his tune was no longer the fast, joyful tune it started out as, but a low, tired tune that even made the guard tired.
“Lagoon,” the examiner announced, not even looking up from the parchment. The Shoyru glanced up at the sky, and stopping whistling. He scratched his head, and the guard mentally urged him to hurry up.
“L, U...” he began, but the Kacheek instantly shook his head, and swiped the brush at the boy as if it were a sword. There was a huge, black X on his face, and he gritted his teeth, at the same time trying to wipe it off. With his other hand, he shook a fist. “Whaddya mean, no??? I stayed up all night readin' the dictionary!”
The examiner Kacheek snorted. “Spell dictionary, if that's truly the case. You must have looked at the cover. Or did you read it upside down?” He leaned back in his chair, showing no sign of caring whether or not the Shoyru spelled the word or not.
“Aww, whatever!” the Shoyru spat, stomping away. “It's a waste of my time anyway.” The second he stepped out of line, the Bruce behind him practically jumped in front of the Kacheek. The Grarrl snorted. The overeager ones always spelled the easiest ones wrong. They usually didn't pass it until they had given up, and their families had forced them to go. Then, they would have not the faintest idea of what the answers to the real test were, and they failed that, too.
“Spell omelette,” the Kacheek barked, pointing the end of the brush at the Bruce. The Bruce looked taken aback, but stood up straight and cleared her throat.
“Omelette!” the Bruce almost hollered. “O-M-E-L-E-T!” She folded her arms, and smirked. “I'm going to slide through this exam like olive oil.” But the examiner shook his head, his expression showing pure disgust. He pointed his brush at the houses in the far distance (was it becoming his finger?), and the Bruce burst into tears, running in that direction and flailing her arms. Now a skinny Wocky stepped up. Her hair was messy and thin, and her limbs shook as she moved towards the desk.
“Eudaemonic,” the Kacheek said loudly, scribbling on the parchment. All was silent. Eudaemonic? The Grarrl thought, shaking his head. He knew the examiner well, the two had been friends for ages. As a matter of fact, the two had met during the Imperial Exam, decades ago. Back then, the examiner gave a math problem, rather than a word to spell. It was much simpler back then; had the system remained the same, only a pure idiot would be able to fail the test. So, only two neopets failed, and those neopets ended up mopping up the lunar temple.
It was only a few years ago that the duo had been given the honor of holding the imperial exams. While the Kacheek failed the purely incompetent ones in the quiz before the exam, and watched over the neopets during the true exam, the Grarrl guarded the door, so as to prevent anyone from dashing in and taking the exam without spelling out a word. He liked to believe he did his job quite well—but there was a rule. Yes, he could only allow in those that the examiner passed. If the wrong person was failed or passed, then he had hardly a say in it. “The examiner is always right”, as the phrase goes.
Also, there was another system invented by the Kacheek, but not to his knowledge. The words he gave out depended solely on his mood. For example, if he was infuriated, either by his daily life or one of the more... incorrigible students... then he would give out a complicated word, such as “Chiaroscurist”. But, if he was in an excellent mood, he'd give a word as simple as... “I”. He truly had done it once before; however, the citizen he had given the word to assumed he said “aye”, and to the examiner's, and nearly everyone's dismay, misspelled it. It was actually funny, in the guard's opinion. The next one in line was faced with “onomatopoeia”... simply embarrassing.
Would the tiny, innocent Wocky in front of them answer it correctly? The Grarrl peered at the Wocky, and looked closely at her features. There were circles under her eyes—it was clear that she had done practically the same thing the Shoyru earlier had claimed to do. But, of course, she didn't read the entire dictionary. Only the fastest reader in Neopia could, and Fyora knew there was no speed reader anywhere in Shenkuu. She had most likely memorized the list of spelling words for the spelling bees in the past three years. But the guard knew that “eudaemonic” had never been one of the spelling bee words, much less a winning word. It was so easy to mess up the “eu” part, not to mention the “dae”... The guard recalled one other time when the Kacheek gave out that word. It was when he had spilled his Azzle Tea on his favorite robes. As expected, the neopet spelled the word wrong, and stomped off in rage. Though, this Wocky did not look like she would stomp off, she actually looked more like she would faint, or cry.
The guard suddenly felt bad for her, as she opened her mouth to spell the word.
“Eudaemonic.” She took a deep breath. “E, U, D, A, E...” The Grarrl let out the breath he'd been holding in since she started spelling. Perhaps there was a true talent here, at the exam. “... M, O, N, I, C. Eudaemonic.” The little Wocky bit her lip. The Kacheek glanced down at the scroll, then rolled his eyes.
The Wocky let out a faint gasp. “But, but, I...”
“Just go, will you? You're slowing down the line.”
The Wocky turned around, and slowly, she walked towards the town. She let out a hiccup, and once she was out of sight, the Grarrl heard crying in the distance, no doubt her. He leaned over, and whispered into the examiner's ear: “Sire, you just chased away a talent! It was clear she spelled the word correctly; why in Neopia did you turn her away?” The Kacheek gave him a hard look, then returned to his scrolls. “Sire!” He snarled. The Kacheek finally looked up, and sighed.
“Perhaps I made a mistake. Perhaps I 'chased away a talent', as you say. But she does not look like she'd be capable of passing the true exam. She is too tired, and that word was most likely spelled with luck. It's for her own good.”
“For her own good? You've chased away her dreams!” the Grarrl said, a little too loudly. “You do this every exam. Why can't you stop being your harsh self, and let in the many talents you've thrown away?” At this, the Kacheek's expression changed from offended to shocked. “Every day, you accept dozens of idiots, and reject several geniuses! Unless you change, you cannot expect me to continue this job!” The examiner seemed tinier than he usually did. He was quite small, even for a Kacheek—twenty-five centimeters, to be exact. With the one-hundred centimeter tall Grarrl looming over him... it was frightening.
“I... er... ” the examiner stuttered. He turned in the direction of where the Wocky ran off. “Come back!” he hollered. “You passed! It was my poor judgment!” There was no reply. She was too far off to hear a word—her crying had become faint not thirty seconds ago. Finally, he dropped his brush, and jumped off of the chair. He ran, occasionally tripping over his robes. He panted and gasped; he was hardly one to exercise. He received hand exercise from checking off names, possibly, but nothing more. His size caused him to easily tire. He lifted up his robes, trying his hardest to run.
A minute later, he stopped. His face was damp from all the sweat, and his clothes were so dirty, even ten washes would not be enough to clean them. He looked up, his gaze blurred. He could make out a blue sky, and the mountains... among the light gray of the peaks, there was a tiny black blob. As his gaze sharpened, he realized that blob was the Wocky. He picked up his robes, and began to run towards the Wocky. At first, she began to run, and the Kacheek was prepared to give up—the day was over by now; he couldn't judge the students in the state he was in, and he had hardly the energy to run back. Then, she stopped, and began to walk towards the exhausted Kacheek.
“It's you,” she said coldly, once she was close enough to him. “What do you want?” The examiner wiped a drop of sweat off his face, and sighed.
“To say sorry,” he replied flatly.
“Too late for that,” the Wocky snarled. “How could you let in that Blumaroo earlier, giving her an easy word, but not let me in? I know I got that word right, my mother kept on reminding me how to spell it. I didn't know why until today.”
“Want me to prove I'm 'worthy' of taking the exam? L-A-B-O-R-A-T-O-R-Y. Laboratory! P-R-E-S-T-I-D-I-G-I-T-A-T-I-O-N. Prestidigitation!” She stomped on the ground at the last syllable, emphasizing every word she spelled. The examiner had to admit—she was impressive. He couldn't spell prestidigitation, no matter how much he studied.
“Impressive,” the Kacheek murmured.
“I-M-P-R—wha?” The Wocky frowned. “You're impressed?”
“Yes. I must have made a mistake when I rejected you.” The Wocky folded her arms, and stuck her nose up in the air.
“You must have.” She sniffed.
“The real reason I rejected you was because I thought you wouldn't be able to take the real exam,” the examiner confessed. “You were exhausted—I assumed you would have done the spelling all for naught. Not only that, but most excellent spellers are unprepared for the real test. They think they must do nothing but spell to pass the Imperial Exam...” He shook his head. The brown Wocky sighed, and looked away.
“I was tired because I studied all my old textbooks from school,” she said quietly. “My mom was telling me to do the spelling, which I hated. I would have gotten some sleep, if she hadn't made me study all the winning words.”
At least I had been right about one thing, the examiner thought with a relief.
“I wanted to become famous, by being smart enough, and traveling with the crew of the Cyodrake's Gaze,” she said dreamily. “I love Kou-Jong, and I admire almost every person on that ship. I want to be a navigator, too, like Hoban.”
The Kacheek looked at her and smiled. “You can take the exam, now. Most of the neopets in line have left by now,” he said. The Wocky hiccupped, and he was afraid she would cry, despite it being through joy.
“Really?” she squealed, jumping in the air. The Kacheek nodded slowly. “Let's go, then!” She grabbed the Kacheek by the collar of his robes, and ran.
It was interesting. He hadn't learned her name—even in the test, she hadn't bothered to write her name. But it was easy to know it was her test, seeing as she was the only one in the room, and he could recognize her handwriting. There were plenty, plenty of times where he could have asked her for a name, such as when she left the room for a drink of water, or right before she left the classroom. He could have even asked while they were running. But he never did; it always slipped his mind.
He was surprised when he met her twenty years later, during a teacher's conference in Faerieland. At that time, he was just about to go into retirement, while the Wocky had begun her teaching career only a few years ago. It took quite some time for their memories of each other to return--twenty years was quite a long time--but he soon recognized her. Mrs. Green was famous, after all, for her amazing spelling skills.
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