II. The ExaminationMonochromatic
Though Ambris knew how to use a computer, and in fact had been the one to insist the Canterlot library did all its filing and paperwork digitally, she couldn’t deny she preferred to do her first drafts with pen and paper. A computer felt impersonal, devoid of the author’s personality, while calligraphy had the author literally written all over it.
“Cinder blinked, her heart racing at the sight of the ruins. They were…” Ambris’ murmurings drifted off, and she glanced at the list of teenage vernacular she’d heard that week and wrote the rest of her sentence.
“I’m almost done,” Daring said, sitting on the opposite side of the front desk and working on a practice test sheet for an upcoming exam. “A processual archaeologist would likely be attracted to all of the following except…” She licked her lips, pausing for a moment, and then filled in a circle. “C, none of the above… And… done!” She capped off her pen and then turned her wheelchair towards Ambris, expectant. “Are you done?”
“No, but this will have to do.” Ambris capped her fountain pen and sighed, pushing up her glasses. “All right. Shall we?”
As they had many times before, they traded their papers before grabbing red pens from the nearby pencil-holder. A dozen minutes of relative silence passed, and eventually they both put down their pens nearly at the same time before engaging in a familiar stand-off.
“Who goes first?” Daring asked, and just as as Ambris opened her mouth, Daring interrupted. “Wait! I’ll go first.”
“Is it mostly good feedback?” Ambris asked, trying not to sound nervous.
“…Yeaaaah,” Daring said, slowly. Very slowly. “Sort of. Maybe. Okay, well—”
“I see. I’ll go first, in that case.”
“Wait!” Daring blurted out. “How badly did I do?”
Ambris cleared her throat and said nothing else.
“Shit,” Daring whispered, and at Ambris’ raised eyebrow, quickly corrected herself. “I mean, shoot! Er, shoot. Really? But I studied! Fu- Fudgesicles.”
“I didn’t say it was bad, child,” Ambris pointed out before taking a breath. “You go first.”
Daring looked over the pages again for a minute and then cleared her throat.
“Okay, so, I really liked the descriptions of the ruins. Really evocative, I could totally see them, but you’re really good at that, so no surprise. Uhh… What else… Oh! I liked the Professor character. It was great when he saw the ruins and realized Cinder hadn’t been making them up.”
“Oh. Thank you,” Ambris said, lighting up. “Thank you, I like Professor Brazened as well. He was based off an old teacher of mine when I studied abroad.”
“In Great Brinneigh? Or is it when you did that weird gap-year in Saddle Arabia?”
“It was an internship, and it was in Great Brinneigh, yes,” Ambris corrected and then, despite herself, added, “and now I hope you’ll tell me the negative feedback.”
“Oh, right. That. Ok.” Daring looked back at the pages and again cleared her throat. “Sooooo… first thing’s first. ‘Cinder blinked, her heart racing at the sight of the ruins. They were…” She failed to hide a snort. “‘They were legit’.” She turned to Ambris. “No.”
“No. Trust me.”
“…Well, so much for that wasted afternoon,” Ambris grumbled, grabbing her notes on young people vernacular and crumpling it up. She took a breath. “What else?”
“Uhm… What else… Oh! So, about Cinder… Hmmm…” She paused a moment and then said quite bluntly, “Yeah, okay, so her name has to go. You hafta change it.”
“What? Why?!” Ambris frowned. Cinder was a perfectly wonderful name, and especially for a character who grew up near a volcano. “What’s wrong with Cinder?”
For the ghost of a second, Daring seemed to be suppressing a laugh.
“So, Cinder is fine, technically, but you want people my age to read this, right? Well, do you know what a hook-up app is?”
Ambris pursed her brows “Yes, I think. That phone app young people use to… get intimately acquainted, shall we say. My niece was telling me about one the other day.” She tapped the pen against her chin. “What was it called? Oh, yes, Cind—” She cut herself short, and with a frown whispered, “Shoot.”
Daring laughed, loud enough Ambris had to shush her.
“Yeeeeeeah,” Daring said once she’d composed herself. “Anyway, that’s not the only thing. She’s also kinda bland? I mean, she’s a character, sure, but even when you showed me last chapter, when she was talking with her sister, I remember getting confused between the two because she’s so… eh.”
“I see,” Ambris said, more curtly than she intended. Catching herself, she took a deep breath and smiled to the younger woman. “Thank you. I’ll… do some revisions and see how I can make her character more interesting.”
“Okay, my turn.” Daring wheeled herself back and then gripped onto her chair’s arm rests for courage. “Go!”
“I got a thirty percent score! Sixty! Ninety? Twenty! It was a sixty. I can deal with a sixty. It’s fine. Sixty is fine, sixty—” When Ambris cleared her throat, Daring quickly did the same. “Sorry.”
Ambris reviewed the sheet one last time and then declared: “Eighty-two percent.”
“Eighty-two?! Are you sure?” Daring gasped, wheeling forward and grabbing the test sheet. “Really? How do you know? You didn’t even look at the answer sheet!”
“I know. A processual archaeologist would likely be attracted to all of the following except extensive descriptions of artifacts for description’s sake, not—”
“Hold on, hold on.” Daring grabbed the answer sheet and compared it with her test. After a minute, she sighed and pressed her head against the desk. “Damn it. I did get an eighty-two.”
“An eighty-two is very good, Daring.”
Daring didn’t lift her head. “Sure. Amazing. For some normal kid. But someone like me—” She thumped her fist against her wheelchair’s armrest. ”—has to prove way more than others. Ugh.” She sighed again, then lifted her head and reached for a book nearby. “Okay. The test isn’t until next week so I’ll just keep studying. I can do it.”
“While you do that, I’m going to try and think of a new name for Cinder… followed by an entire new personality.”
Ambris sighed. Really, non-fiction books didn’t sell as well as fiction, but that wasn’t entirely too bad, right? She didn’t need to branch out, right?
“You should call her Daring.”
Ambris looked up towards the real Daring.
“Daring?” she asked, amused. “Like you? Why?”
Daring grinned. “‘Cause Daring is a sick name for an explorer, duh! Just don’t give her my last name, or I’ll sue you if you don’t make her cool.”
Ambris looked back to her pages. “Daring… I suppose that could work. I’ll think about her last name later. Now I just need her personality.”
Daring grinned. “You can do it!”