"You look like you've seen a ghost. By heavens, you're as white as a sheet," Lyra Bellicosa, the lyrical inmate of Sensation Dormitory, said laughingly when Pinky Ponsonby wandered in late that evening with a glazed look upon her face. "Nay, rather, you're as white as a field of fresh snow beneath the full refulgence of Pearl." This was the name she knew the great moon of Winkel World by in her home land of Meditia, a Winkel to the north east dominated by a large central lake sprinkled with islands. Floating some seasons of the year above the great lake it seemed like a giant opalescent pearl in the sky to those who lived upon the shoreline.
"I saw something, certainly." Pinky replied blinking, twirling a strand of her distinctive pink hair as she sat upon her bed, still in her coat.
"Do tell!" came a chorus of voices from elsewhere in the dorm. There were five Sensation girls in the room and an empty bed still for one expected attendee of Miss Plazenby's Extremely Exclusive Seminary on the slopes of Mount Syzywyg was absent. She had failed to turn up in time to beat the storm barrier closure that isolated the various Winkels across the land for months at a time in the winter.
"Are you going to bed in your coat?" the dreamy voice of Petal Mara asked quite reasonably for by this time Pinky had flopped down upon the floral bedspread after several attempts to kick off her shoes.
"There was something," the girl murmured in a daze still. Lyra got up, wrapped her bright dressing gown tighter around herself and approached Pinky's bed to peer at her confused chum with a look of concern on her tanned face.
"Something?" she said. "Something that has seeped within your brain and plucked out coherent thought with tapered fingers of evil intent."
"She is dying, slowly, before our very eyes," Petal mused, picking up on the dramatic import of Lyra's picturesque description.
"Shall I slap her?" This from Danique Ferale, a somewhat unforgiving member of Sensation. She had coal black hair that floated like thunderclouds around her pale face. Already tucked up in bed, she was reading a magazine with a shadowy sinister looking cover of eyes peering out at the room in luminous green. The scary image made Petal shudder when she glanced that way.
"Best not," Lyra said. Her hair was as black as Danique's but wavy, cut short enough to fluff up in a way that made her seem a jolly character. Her dancing dark eyes conveyed mischief and her ever ready tongue painted pictures of lyrical intensity that befuddled the Literature mistress when first encountering her at the start of winter term, a new school year with a new intake of eleven year old first timers. The girls were all new to the school of course as only two months had passed as yet. Though deep in winter by this time the climate of Frangea Winkel with its mountains and pine forests and ocean coast line was quite mild. It never snowed in Frangea.
Pinky sat up and unbuttoned her tweed coat with a frown.
"Let me help you with that, and while I proffer aid like a good squire to a knightly warrior, perhaps you might enlighten a gasping audience as to your something ghostly of this evening?" Lyra smirked as she helped the pink-haired girl out of the soft coat and placed it upon a hook by the door.
"Well, it was like this you see," Pinky finally began, her eyes brightening and dazed expression clearing. "Such a fine night, with half a moon to walk by, I thought I would explore that sweet little valley to the south of the playing fields."
"Cloven Skull?" Lyra asked and Danique put her magazine down, propped herself up on her elbows and showed a clear interest on mention of the dark and forbidding valley some miles from the school. It was a place she wanted to explore too.
"Whatever possessed you to go all the way out there?" Petal softly asked in alarm. "There are so many amble walks on the flanks of Mount Syzywyg you could have chosen on half moon nights. You could even," and she scrunched herself up furtively, "have wandered near to Chancefleet, you know, where the boys are."
"Ugh, boys. No thank you. I would rather take my chances with the shadowy domain of Cloven Skull, however it got its unsavoury name," Pinky retorted.
"Early settlers named it thus for the hills either side looked as if a great skull had been divided in two by the violent blow of some giant hatchet," Danique Ferale said gleefully. "Read it in the school brochure. There are ruins there, cursed and haunted, so it is said."
"And so it may be," Pinky replied with a shudder, remembering what she had seen. "I was enjoying a saunter beneath the stars along a narrow causeway with those dark forests watching me from either side until I came across those ruins you mentioned. We've got nothing like that in Perfecta let me tell you. Strange columns rose up in splendid isolation," a glance at Lyra who smiled at the image, "and solitary walls that divided empty spaces without ceiling or roof surrounded me where I stood. Night creatures rustled here and there, startled by my presence no doubt, but curiosity was my guide and I forged on to explore. Then I saw it." Here she clutched herself.
"What! What!" Petal shrieked, clutching herself too.
"Something glowing and moving between pillars. Tall and upright, like a person, but moving silently, drifting along. There is a pool in the centre of the ruins and when it passed the light from its glowing body was reflected in the pool. That was when I knew it was real."
"What did you do?" Danique asked from her bed, genuinely interested.
"I ran for it."
Danique sighed in disappointment.
"If it had been me," she said firmly. "I would have confronted the thing and asked why it was here, wandering about the ruins. Perhaps it was looking for buried treasure from long ago."
"Or a lost loved one," dreamy Petal romanced.
"Or it was seeking a victim," came another voice up till then silent during all this talk. The four girls looked across the room to a shaded corner where the fifth occupant of Dorm Sensation was snuggled up in bed with an eye mask pushed up onto her forehead. She had been trying to sleep but all the chatter had disturbed her.
"Soo Toglak, what are you saying?" Pinky asked, eyes widening, for she had been less than ten yards from the thing. The girl so addressed flipped the bed covers off and stood in the centre of the room in silk pyjamas patterned with wispy clouds. Her long bronze and gold hair was tied with various ribbons in a series of curious braids and knots that gave her head a regal poise the others admired. She was from Mangoria Winkel, a land of great grassy plains for the most part, dominated by herds of wild and untameable horses. A harsh and vivid environment that forged hardy souls and Soo Toglak was no exception. Upon the wall above her bed hung a brassy shield chased in gold, the only piece of weaponry not confiscated when she enrolled at the beginning of term last year. The scimitar she had brought Miss Plazenby insisted was to be locked up with three daggers and a short throwing spear.
"If this apparition was real or merely a trick of the light, for a figure with a lamp might have been what the Perfecta girl saw," Soo continued, commanding the room by her presence, "there might be an interesting outcome in our knowing of it, and others too." Here she smiled wickedly, a smile mirrored by Danique.
"I see where you are going with this," she said, sitting up again. "Why risk ourselves trying to confirm Pinky's experience when there are those who could do it for us?"
"That snooty princess next door for instance?" Pinky suggested, warming to the idea.
"Princess Rapture? Why yes," Soo said. "There would be a worthy victim for the ghost of Cloven Skull to sink its teeth into," and everyone laughed for there was no love lost between Dormitory Sensation and Dormitory Flare next door.
"And I know just how to arrange it in such a way the Flare girls cannot ignore," Lyra Bellicosa said with a smirk.