The lushly carpeted corridor on the third floor of Wing East was softly lit at intervals by a rosy glow. Deep in thought, Sharshua Dragonsong saw nothing of this, nor appreciated the luxury of her surroundings as she silently made her way to the Flare Dormitory at the end. To her right were windows that looked out towards Cherryball Flats, the nearest settlement to Miss Plazenby's, several miles down the mountain trails. To her left was the deep alcove that led to the Sensation Dormitory. If she had been paying attention she would have noticed the light still on, visible from underneath the door, but she was more engrossed in her own thoughts, thoughts possibly relating to the papers she clutched tightly to herself as she sought her own dormitory.
"Oh," she said, confronted by a folded paper stuck to the door. "That was not there when I went out. I wonder who put it there?" and she peeled it off, noticed it was superscribed to all the girls of Flare so politely did not hazard a glimpse first.
Quietly entering, knowing it was late, Sharshua found at least two bedside lamps on in the room and the melodious snoring from where the Massking twins from Nordeyer Winkel lay in slumbers closer to the entrance way. One of the lamps belonged to Princess Rapture, whose distinctive bed with its hanging draperies was near the balcony window. Thus with equal quietness, Sharshua tiptoed unnecessarily over to where the princess lay, apparently reading notes from the day's lessons.
"Exalted One," she whispered, making a cross between a curtsey and a bow as she stood by the bed. The princess looked up and smiled.
"Please, call me Rappy. I prefer it among us girls here in Flare. I may be the heiress of the crystal throne five thousand miles across the world, but here I am but a friendly schoolgirl. What is it dear Sharshua?"
"I am sorry," the Octora girl said, blinking rapidly. "I have just returned from my walk. It was a very long one and I was away some time. However when I returned, this was stuck to our door, addressed to all of us." She showed the folded sheet. "I have not looked at it, and do not know what it is."
"My sweet Sharshua," the princess said pleasantly. "If it is addressed to all of us that includes you as well. It would be perfectly reasonable to at least have glanced at it."
Before Rappy could open it a hand shot out and snatched it from her. The owner of the other bedside lamp had been listening in the shadows, and the familiar jovial voice of Bubbles Bannatyne sounded next to Sharshua's ear, making the nervous girl flinch.
"What's this!" she said, pressing the sheet near to the princess's lamp to better see. She devoured the writing scribbled in a florid hand she could easily guess was that of Lyra Bellicosa. Enough shared lessons with Sensation and other first years in separate wings of the school had familiarised her with many of the new girls of course. "Why it's from the mob next door. Some meandering tale of ghostly visitations which we are likely to be terrified by apparently. That Bellicosa girl has a vivid imagination. Eats too many peaches for her own good."
"A ghost story?" Sharshua said. "It is unwise to toy with things unknown and unknowable," she whispered, backing away from the light. "I do not need to hear anymore of this so I apologise for the disturbance. Please sleep safely and well." With that she crossed the room, realised she was already on her own side of the dormitory so crossed back again and prepared to go to bed.
"She's a shy one and no mistake," Bubbles sniggered when Sharshua had withdrawn. She and Princess Rapture were the best of friends already, though having first met and become dorm mates only a few months ago. The local Frangea girl admired the coolness and cultured manners of the Xenia heiress and the latter was naturally attracted to the boisterous frank way of her auburn-haired dorm mate, who seemed like a force of nature, impulsive and spontaneous, so at odds with the formal upbringing of King Zolid's only child. Thus Bubbles sat upon her friend's bed and made herself comfortable there.
"She is far from home and perhaps a little lonely among us loud and forthright girls," the princess suggested. "May I see this note from our lively neighbours?"
"Of course," and Bubbles handed the scribbled sheet over to her royal friend. There was a silent pause as Princess Rapture read the note's contents and absorbed its meaning more thoroughly.
"Why, this is a challenge," she said, her voice rising above a whisper in surprise. Bubbles snatched the sheet back without apology for her rudeness, for it sounded like fighting talk to her.
"Ah, it's not a tale to try and frighten us after all. That pink-haired creature from Perfecta says she saw something in the ruins at Cloven Skull and lived to tell the tale. Now, she says, can anyone in Flare say they have done the same? The cheek!"
With that she jumped up and started rummaging in the tall locker by her bed.
"What are you about now?" the princess said, noticing Bubbles was sorting out warm clothing.
"Think a ghost can frighten us do they?" the girl replied with an indignant huff. "I'm going out to Cloven Skull right now and bring back the sheet wearing prankster for all to see." This was typical of Bubbles Bannatyne and Rappy smiled as she rose from her own bed.
"I think it is a little too late for that," she said reasonably, slowing the Frangea girl's preparations somewhat. "If the Sensation girls do indeed intend to lay a trap to test our mettle within the ruins I think they would set it up tomorrow for it was only Sharshua's late return that enabled us now to have learnt of the challenge and their ghost would have a long night of it shivering by herself among the ferns and broken stones till sunrise."
"You're right, as always," Bubbles said, hugging her friend. "Let's sleep on it and after lessons tomorrow we'll all plan a strategy to bring their challenge down around their ears."