Chapter 3
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The following day did not go smoothly or quickly for some of the first year girls as the twins were hauled up before the maths mistress over a missing assignment and Sunshine's history paper had the middle of it cut out when the teacher came to mark it at lunchtime.

"She could see I had written it," wailed the desert maiden to her fellow dorm mates. "It started exactly as I said and the ending was there too."

"Alas the sandwich was devoid of its filling," Bubbles laughed.

"I am sorry," Sharshua said quietly, as if admitting blame for the incident. "As soon as I learned our assignments were to be passed to teachers in electronic form I made copies of mine on the school net, lest one might be accidentally deleted."

"How many copies?"

"Ten," the nervous girl blushed.

"It seems a sensible arrangement," Princess Rapture casually observed as everyone sauntered to their next lesson.

"We do things in duplicate," the twins observed at the same time. "That's enough for us."

"Well, it all seems a lot of work for nothing," Sunshine Allouette declared fiercely, throwing her hands in the air so that her clutch bag almost struck a passing senior.

"I think-" Sharshua began but the girl from the sandy wastes of Greetiyah was not listening, having rushed into the classroom to grab a window seat and enjoy some winter sun, the closest thing to home.

Sharshua bowed at the empty corridor, for she was as usual the last to enter, and then quietly took her own seat near the back of the class as the teacher waited for everyone to settle down.

With the final lessons over the Flare girls gathered gleefully in their room and discussed the challenge thrown down by their immediate third floor rivals.

"It sounds quite spooky," Fizzy Massking said.

"And frightening," Divvy Massking agreed.

"Count us in!" they then said in perfect unison.

"Any more takers?" Bubbles said, waving the offending sheet at the gathered girls.

"Count me out," Sunshine winced in distaste. "Too cold. Too dark. And I've a history paper to redo, like ten times," giving the Octora girl a brief glare as if it was indeed her fault.

"And I would love to go but am not sure what the Prime Mover and Barons in Council might say to their ruler's daughter wandering upon a dark hillside late at night seeking spectral apparitions, genuine or otherwise."

"That's the most pathetic excuse I've ever heard," Bubbles sniggered. "A little frightened perhaps?"

"Of catching cold," Rappy replied, a twinkle in her eye. The girls all laughed.

"Please forgive me," Sharshua Dragonsong then said as everyone caught their breath. "I have another matter to attend to this evening. It is important to me, and also I am not sure if it is right to tempt strange powers even in fun."

"I was hoping you would keep me company tonight," the princess said indulgently, "while the others gallivant across the hills."

"I am sorry," and the Octora girl looked a little tearful. Bubbles felt obliged to jump in.

"It's the twins and me then!" she declared. "The challenge for tonight is on," and both Fizzy and Divvy joined in a whoop of celebration.

The evening meal was a curious affair as it gave the girls a chance to speak on strained friendly terms with those who had set the challenge.

"Your hair is still pink, in spite of your fright," Bubbles observed over a generous helping of beef and peas she was devouring between smirks. The girl so addressed touched her bright locks a moment in thought.

"Grateful for small mercies," she replied tartly. "Us Perfecta girls control hair colour as well as we control our courage. What I have seen would crush the bravest spirit."

"Please to describe it," Sharshua surprisingly interjected. She had paused in spooning up a greenish soup and as she spoke she did not notice Fizzy dip her thick wedge of buttered bread in it out of curiosity.

"Like runner bean soup," she said.

"The ghost?" Bubbles glanced across at the blonde girl who had tucked her wayward pigtails into her bib so she would not accidentally eat her own hair.

"You children might scoff," Danique butted in with dangerous fork wavings, blunted only by a chunk of beef. "Yet my friend Pinky saw something seriously strange last night and we were all going to have a look at it tonight, only some assignment papers needed re-doing."

"Hah!" snorted Sunshine. "What an excuse. As if anyone's history paper would just mysteriously disappear like that." She bowed her head and ate her meal with furious rapidity.

"It was like a maiden all in white," Pinky forged on once these disturbances had dissipated. "A lost soul seeking some lost thing it had lost." She was not as accomplished in poetic imagery as her dorm mate Lyra. Still, it seemed enough to upset one girl at the first year table.

There was a clatter of cutlery as Sharshua Dragonsong's spoon tumbled into her now empty soup bowl and she dabbed her mouth hastily with a napkin.

"Please forgive. I must prepare my work for this evening in the library," she said and with the permission of the presiding mistress she departed the dining hall.

"Although Pinky lost her way with her description, the Flare Dormitory have lost a member so very soon. Have the others too lost their courage?"

It was Soo Toglak who spoke, her braided locks turning this way and that in search of challenges to her words. Bubbles threw down her own napkin like a gauntlet.

"No fear this end, Mangoria Girl," she scoffed. "I live around here and in all that time I've never heard of any ghostly maiden wandering like a lost thing in search of some other lost thing among the ruins of Cloven Skull. It's going to be half moon for several nights and some of us Flare girls fancy a bit of a walk as the weather is so mild. If you were from Frangea like me, you'd know that. Ghosts? Stuff and nonsense."

"And it doesn't matter if we die either," Divvy said, brandishing her butter knife as if it were a warrior's scimitar.

"Well," Princess Rapture summed up pleasantly, "I doubt if it will go that far, but enlightenment of the mysteries around us is very much a Plazenby principle I believe. Please pass the mint sauce."