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CHAPTER 9

With so many Moroi tracing their roots back to Eastern Europe, Orthodox Christianity was the dominant religion on campus. Other religions were represented too, and I'd say all in all, only about half of the student body attended any sort of services regularly. Lissa was one such student. She went to church every Sunday because she believed. Christian also attended. He did it because she went and because it made him look good and seem less likely to become Strigoi. Since Strigoi couldn't enter holy ground, regular church service provided a small front of respectability for him.

When I wasn't sleeping in, I showed up at church for the social aspect. Lissa and my friends usually hung out and did something fun afterward, so church made for a good meeting spot. If God minded me using his chapel as a way to further my social life, He hadn't let me know. Either that, or He was biding his time before punishing me.

When the service ended that Sunday, however, I had to stick around the chapel, because that was where my community service was going to happen. When the place had cleared out, I was surprised to see one other person had lingered with me: Dimitri.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Thought you might need some help. I hear the priest wants to do a lot of housecleaning."

"Yeah, but you're not the one being punished here. And this is your day off too. Wewell, everyone elsespent the whole week battling it out, but you guys were the ones picking the fights the whole time." In fact, I noticed now that Dimitri had a couple bruises toothough not nearly as many as Stan had. It had been a long week for everyone, and it was only the first of six.

"What else would I do today?"

"I could think of a hundred other things," I noted dryly. "There's probably a John Wayne movie on somewhere that you haven't seen."

He shook his head. "No, there isn't. I've seen them all. Lookthe priest is waiting for us."

I turned around. Sure enough. Father Andrew stood at the front, watching us expectantly. He'd taken off the rich robes he'd worn during service and now stood in simple slacks and a button down shirt. He looked like he was ready to work too, and I wondered whatever happened to Sunday being a day of rest.

As Dimitri and I approached to get our assignments, I pondered what could have actually made Dimitri stay here in the first place. Surely he hadn't really wanted to work on his day off. I wasn't used to puzzles with him. His intentions were usually straightforward, and I had to assume there was a simple explanation now. It just wasn't clear yet.

"Thank you both for volunteering to help me." Father Andrew smiled at us. I tried not to scoff at the volunteering reference. He was a Moroi in his late forties, with thinning gray hair. Even without much faith in religion, I still liked and respected him. "We aren't doing anything particularly complex today," he continued. "It's a bit boring, really. We'll have to do the regular cleaning, of course, and then I'd like to sort the boxes of old supplies I have sitting up in the attic."

"We're happy to do whatever you need," Dimitri said solemnly. I repressed a sigh and tried not to think of all the other things I could be doing.

We set to it.

I was put on mop duty, and Dimitri took over dusting and polishing the wooden pews. He appeared thoughtful and intent as he cleaned, looking like he actually took pride in his work. I was still trying to figure out why he was here at all. Don't get me wrong; I was happy to have him. His presence made me feel better, and of course I always loved watching him.

I thought maybe he was there to get more information out of me about what had happened that day with Stan, Christian, and Brandon. Or maybe he wanted to chastise me about the other day with Stan, where I'd been accused of jumping into battle for selfish reasons. These seemed like likely explanations, yet he never said a word. Even when the priest stepped out of the sanctuary to go to his office, Dimitri continued working quietly. I would have figured if he'd had anything to say, he would have done it then.

When we finished the cleaning, Father Andrew had us haul box after box of stuff down from the attic and into a storeroom at the back of the chapel. Lissa and Christian frequently used that attic as a secret getaway, and I wondered if having it cleaner would be a pro or a con for their romantic interludes. Maybe they would abandon it, and I could start getting some sleep.

With all of the stuff downstairs, the three of us settled on the floor and began sorting it all out. Father Andrew gave us instructions on what to save and what to throw out, and it was a relief to be off my feet for a change this week. He made small talk as we worked, asking me about classes and other things. It wasn't so bad.

And as we worked, a thought came to me. I'd done a good job convincing myself that Mason had been a delusion brought on by lack of sleep, but getting assurance from an authority figure that ghosts weren't real would go a long way toward making me feel better.

"Hey," I said to Father Andrew. "Do you believe in ghosts? I mean, is there any mention of them in" I gestured around us. " in this stuff?"

The question clearly surprised him, but he didn't appear to take offense at me calling his vocation and life's work "this stuff." Or at the fact that I was obviously ignorant about it all, despite seventeen years of sitting through services. A bemused expression crossed his face, and he paused in his work.

"Well it depends on how you define 'ghost, I suppose."

I tapped a theology book with my finger. "The whole point of this is that when you die, you go to heaven or hell. That makes ghosts just stories, right? They're not in the Bible or anything."

"Again," he said, "it depends on your definition. Our faith has always held that after death, the spirit separates from the body and may indeed linger in this world."

"What?" A dusty bowl I was holding dropped out of my hand. Fortunately, it was wood and didn't break. I quickly retrieved it. That was not the answer I'd been expecting. "For how long? Forever?"

"No, no, of course not. That flies in the face of the resurrection and salvation, which form the cornerstone of our beliefs. But it's believed the soul can stay on earth for three to forty days after death. It eventually receives a 'temporary' judgment that sends it on from this world to heaven or hellalthough no one will truly experience either until the actual Judgment Day, when the soul and body are reunited to live out eternity as one."

The salvation stuff was lost on me. The "three to forty days" was what caught my attention. I completely forgot about my sorting. "Yeah, but is it true or not? Are spirits really walking the earth for forty days after death?"

"Ah, Rose. Those who have to ask if faith is true are opening up a discussion they may not be ready for."

I had a feeling he was right. I sighed and turned back to the box in front of me.

"But," he said kindly, "if it helps you, some of these ideas parallel folk beliefs from Eastern Europe about ghosts that existed before the spread of Christianity. Those traditions have long upheld the idea of spirits staying around for a short time after deathparticularly if the person in question died young or violently."

I froze. Whatever progress I'd made in convincing myself Mason had been brought on by stress instantly vanished. Young or violently.

"Why?" I asked in a small voice. "Why would they stay? Is it is it for revenge?"

"I'm sure there are some who believe that, just as some believe it's because the soul has trouble finding peace after something so unsettling."

"What do you believe?" I asked.

He smiled. "I believe the soul separates from the body, just as our fathers teach us, but I doubt the soul's time on earth is anything the living can perceive. It's not like in the movies, with ghosts haunting buildings or coming to visit those they knew. I envision these spirits as more of an energy existing around us, something beyond our perception as they wait to move on and find peace. Ultimately, what matters is what happens beyond this earth when we attain the eternal life our savior bought for us with his great sacrifice. That's what's important."

I wondered if Father Andrew would be so quick to say that if he'd seen what I'd seen. Young or violently. Both had applied to Mason, and he had died less than forty days ago. That sad, sad face came back to me, and I wondered what it had meant. Revenge? Or could he truly not find peace?

And how did Father Andrew's theology about heaven and hell fit with someone like me, who had died and come back to life? Victor Dashkov had said I'd gone to the world of the dead and returned when Lissa had healed me. What world of the dead? Was that heaven or hell? Or was it another way of referring to this in-between state on earth that Father Andrew was talking about?

I didn't say anything after that, because the idea of a revenge-seeking Mason was so startling. Father Andrew sensed the change in me, but he obviously didn't know what had brought it about. He tried to coax me out.

"I just got some new books in from a friend in another parish. Interesting stories about St. Vladimir." He tilted his head. "Are you still interested in him? And Anna?"

Theoretically, I was. Until we'd met Adrian, we'd only known of two other spirit users. One was our former teacher, Ms. Karp, who'd gone completely nuts from spirit and become a Strigoi to stop the madness. The other person was St. Vladimir, the school's namesake. He'd lived centuries ago and had brought his guardian, Anna, back from the dead, just as Lissa had me. It had made Anna shadow-kissed and created a bond between them too.

Normally, Lissa and I tried to get our hands on everything we could about Anna and Vlad, in order to learn more about ourselves. But, as incredible as it was for me to admit, I had bigger problems right now than the ever-present and ever-puzzling psychic link between Lissa and me. It had just been trumped by a ghost who could possibly be pissed off over my role in his untimely death.

"Yeah," I said evasively, not making eye contact. "I'm interestedbut I don't think I can get to it anytime soon. I'm kind of busy with all thisyou know, field experience stuff."

I fell silent again. He took the hint and let me work on without further interruption. Dimitri never said a word throughout any of this. When we finally finished sorting, Father Andrew told us we had one more task before our work was done. He pointed to some boxes that we'd organized and repacked.

"I need you to carry these over to the elementary campus," he said. "Leave them off at the Moroi dorm there. Ms. Davis has been teaching Sunday school for some of the kindergartners and might be able to use those."

It would take at least two trips between Dimitri and me, and the elementary campus was a fair distance away. Still, that put me one step closer to freedom.

"Why are you interested in ghosts?" Dimitri asked me on our first trip.

"Just making conversation," I said.

"I can't see your face right now, but I have a feeling you're lying again."

"Jeez, everyone thinks the worst of me lately. Stan accused me of glory-seeking."

"I heard about that," said Dimitri, as we rounded a corner. The buildings of the elementary campus loomed up in front of us. "That might have been a little unfair of him."

"A little, huh?" Hearing him admit that thrilled me, but it didn't change my anger against Stan. That dark, grouchy feeling that had plagued me lately sprang to life. "Well, thanks, but I'm starting to lose faith in this field experience. Sometimes in the whole Academy."

"You don't mean that."

"I don't know. The school just seems so caught up in rules and policies that don't have anything to do with real life. I saw what was out there, comrade. I went right to the monster's lair. In some ways I don't know if this really prepares us."

I expected him to argue, but to my surprise he said, "Sometimes I agree."

I nearly stumbled as we stepped inside one of the two Moroi dorms on the elementary campus. The lobby looked a lot like the ones on the secondary campus. "Really?" I asked.

"Really," he said, a small smile on his face. "I mean, I don't agree that novices should be put out in the world when they're ten or anything, but sometimes I've thought the field experience should actually be in the field. I probably learned more in my first year as a guardian than I did in all my years of training. Well maybe not all. But it's a different situation, absolutely."

We exchanged looks, pleased over our agreement. Something warm fluttered up in me, putting the lid on my earlier anger. Dimitri understood my frustration with the system, but then, Dimitri understood me. He glanced around, but there was no one at the desk. A few students in their early teens were working or talking in the lobby.

"Oh," I said, shifting the weight of the box I held. "We're in the middle school dorm. The younger kids are next door."

"Yes, but Ms. Davis lives in this building. Let me try to find her and see where she wants these." He set his box down carefully. "I'll be right back."

I watched him go and set my own box down. Leaning against a wall, I glanced around and nearly jumped when I saw a Moroi girl only a couple feet away. She'd been standing so perfectly still, I hadn't noticed her. She looked like she could be mid-teensthirteen or fourteenbut she was tall, much taller than me. The slimness of her Moroi build made her look even taller. Her hair was a cloud of brown curls, and she had frecklesrare among the normally pale Moroiacross her face. Her eyes widened when she saw me looking at her.

"Oh. My. God. You're Rose Hathaway, aren't you?"

"Yeah," I said with surprise. "Do you know me?"

"Everyone knows you. I mean, everyone heard about you. You're the one who ran away. And then you came back and killed those Strigoi. That is so cool. Did you get molnija marks?" Her words came out in one long string. She hardly took a breath.

"Yeah. I have two." Thinking about the tiny tattoos on the back of my neck made my skin itch.

Her pale green eyesif possiblegrew wider. "Oh my God. Wow."

I usually grew irate when people made a big deal about the molnija marks. After all, the circumstances had not been cool. But this girl was young, and there was something appealing about her.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"JillianJill. I mean, just Jill. Not both. Jillian's my full name. Jill's what everyone calls me."

"Right," I said, hiding a smile. "I figured it out."

"I heard Moroi used magic on that trip to fight. Is that true? I would love to do that. I wish someone would teach me. I use air. Do you think I could fight Strigoi with that? Everyone says I'm crazy." For centuries, Moroi using magic to fight had been viewed as a sin. Everyone believed it should be used peacefully. Recently, some had started to question that, particularly after Christian had proved useful in the Spokane escape.

"I don't know," I said. "You should talk to Christian Ozera."

She gaped. "Would he talk to me?"

"If you bring up fighting the establishment, yeah, he'll talk to you."

"Okay, cool. Was that Guardian Belikov?" she asked, switching subjects abruptly.

"Yeah."

I swore I thought she might faint then and there. "Really? He's even cuter than I heard. He's your teacher, right? Like, your own personal teacher?"

"Yeah." I wondered where he was. Talking to Jill was exhausting.

"Wow. You know, you guys don't even act like teacher and student. You seem like friends. Do you hang out when you're not training?"

"Er, well, kind of. Sometimes." I remembered my earlier thoughts, about how I was one of the few people Dimitri was social with outside of his guardian duties.

"I knew it! I can't even imagine thatI'd be freaking out all the time around him. I'd never get anything done, but you're so cool about it all, kind of like, 'Yeah, I'm with this totally hot guy, but whatever, it doesn't matter. "

I laughed in spite of myself. "I think you're giving me more credit than I deserve."

"No way. And I don't believe any of those stories, you know."

"Um, stories?"

"Yeah, about you beating up Christian Ozera."

"Thanks," I said. Now rumors of my humiliation were trickling down to the lower campus. If I walked over to the elementary dorms, some six-year-old would probably tell me she'd heard that I killed Christian.

Jill's expression turned momentarily uncertain. "But I didn't know about the other story."

"What other story?"

"About how you and Adrian Ivashkov are"

"No," I interrupted, not wanting to hear the rest. "Whatever you heard, it's not true."

"But it was really romantic."

"Then it's definitely not true."

Her face fell, and then she perked back up a few seconds later. "Hey, can you teach me to punch someone?"

"Wai What? Why would you want to know that?"

"Well, I figure if I'm going to fight with magic someday, I should learn to fight the regular way too."

"I'm probably not the right person to ask," I told her. "Maybe you should, um, ask your P.E. teacher."

"I did!" Her face looked distraught. "And he said no."

I couldn't help but laugh. "I was joking about asking him."

"Come on, it could help me fight a Strigoi someday."

My laughter dried up. "No, it really wouldn't."

She bit her lip, still desperate to convince me. "Well, it would at least help against that psycho."

"What? What psycho?"

"People keep getting beat up around here. Last week it was Dane Zeklos, and just the other day it was Brett."

"Dane " I ran through my knowledge of Moroi genealogy. There were a gazillion Zeklos students around. "That's Jesse's younger brother, yeah?"

Jill nodded. "Yup. One of our teachers was so mad, too, but Dane wouldn't say a word. Neither would Brett."

"Brett who?"

"Ozera."

I did a double take. "Ozera?"

I had the impression she was really excited to tell me things I didn't know. "He's my friend Aimee's boyfriend. He was all bruised up yesterdayhad some weird things that looked like welts, too. Maybe burns? But he wasn't as bad as Dane. And when Mrs. Callahan asked him about it, Brett convinced her it was nothing, and she let it go, which was weird. He was also in a really good moodwhich was also weird, since you'd kind of think getting beat up would bring you down."

Somewhere in the back of my mind, her words tickled a memory. There was some connection I should be making, but I couldn't quite grasp it. Between Victor, ghosts, and the field experiences, it was honestly a wonder I could string words together anymore.

"So can you teach me so that I won't get beat up?" Jill asked, clearly hoping she'd convinced me. She balled her fist up. "I just do this, right? Thumb across the fingers and swing?"

"Uh, well, it's a little more complicated than that. You need to stand a certain way, or you'll hurt yourself more than the other person. There are a lot of things you need to do with your elbows and hips."

"Show me, please?" she begged. "I bet you're really good."

I was really good, but corrupting minors was one offense I didn't yet have on my record, and I preferred to keep it that way. Fortunately, Dimitri came back just then with Ms. Davis.

"Hey," I told him. "I have someone who wants to meet you. Dimitri, this is Jill. Jill, Dimitri."

He looked surprised, but he smiled and shook her hand. She turned bright red and became speechless for a change. As soon as he released her hand, she stammered out a goodbye and ran off. We finished up with Ms. Davis and headed back toward the chapel for our second load.

"Jill knew who I was," I told Dimitri as we walked. "She had kind of a hero-worship thing going on."

"Does that surprise you?" he asked. "That younger students would look up to you?"

"I don't know. I just never thought about it. I don't think I'm that good of a role model."

"I disagree. You're outgoing, dedicated, and excel at everything you do. You've earned more respect than you think."

I gave him a sidelong glance. "And yet not enough to go to Victor's trial, apparently."

"Not this again."

"Yes, this again! Why don't you get how major this is? Victor's a huge threat."

"I know he is."

"And if he gets loose, he'll just start in on his crazy plans again."

"It's really unlikely he will get loose, you know. Most of those rumors about the queen letting him off are just that rumors. You of all people should know not to believe everything you hear."

I stared stonily ahead, refusing to acknowledge his point. "You should still let us go. Or" I took a deep breath"you should at least let Lissa go."

It was harder for me to say those words than it should have been, but it was something I'd been thinking about. I didn't think I was a glory seeker like Stan had said, but there was a part of me that always wanted to be the one in the middle of a fight. I wanted to rush forward, doing what was right and helping others. Likewise, I wanted to be there at Victor's trial. I wanted to look him in the eye and make sure he was punished.

But as time went on, it seemed less likely that that would happen. They really weren't going to let us go. Maybe, though, maybe they'd let one of us go, and if it should be anyone, it should be Lissa. She'd been the target of Victor's plan, and though her going alone stirred up that nervous idea about how maybe she didn't need me to guard her, I'd still rather take the chance and see him put away.

Dimitri, understanding my need to rush in and take action, seemed surprised by my unusual behavior. "You're right she should be there, but again, it's nothing I can do anything about. You keep thinking I can control this, but I can't."

"But did you do everything you could?" I thought back to Adrian's words in the dream, about how Dimitri could have done more. "You have a lot of influence. There must be something. Anything."

"Not as much influence as you think. I've got a high position here at the Academy, but in the rest of the guardian world, I'm still pretty young. And yes, I did actually speak up for you."

"Maybe you should have spoken up louder."

I could sense him shutting down. He'd discuss most things reasonably but wouldn't encourage me when I was just being a bitch. So, I tried to be more reasonable.

"Victor knows about us," I said. "He could say something."

"Victor has bigger things to worry about with this trial than us."

"Yeah, but you know him. He doesn't exactly act like a normal person would. If he feels like he's lost all hope of getting off, he might decide to bust us just for the sake of revenge."

I'd never been able to confess my relationship with Dimitri to Lissa, yet our worst enemy knew about it. It was weirder even than Adrian knowing. Victor had figured it out by watching us and gathering data. I guess when you're a scheming villain, you get good at that stuff. He'd never made the knowledge public, though. Instead, he'd used it against us with the lust charm he'd made from earth magic. A charm like that wouldn't work if there wasn't already attraction in place. The charm just cranked things up. Dimitri and I had been all over each other and had been only a heartbeat away from having sex. It had been a pretty smart way for Victor to distract us without using violence. If anyone had tried to attack us, we could have put up a good fight. But turn us loose on each other? We had trouble fighting that.

Dimitri was silent for several moments. I knew he knew I had a point. "Then we'll have to deal with that as best we can," he said at last. "But if Victor's going to tell, he's going to do it whether or not you testify."

I refused to say anything else until we got to the church. When we did, Father Andrew told us that after going over some more things, he'd decided he really only needed one more box brought over to Ms. Davis.

"I'll do it," I told Dimitri crisply, once the priest was out of earshot. "You don't have to come."

"Rose, please don't make a big deal about this."

"It is a big deal!" I hissed. "And you don't seem to get it."

"I do get it. Do you really think I want to see Victor loose? Do you think I want us all at risk again?" It was the first time in a long time I'd seen his control on the verge of snapping. "But I told you, I've done all I can do. I'm not like youI can't keep making a scene when things don't go my way."

"I do not."

"You're doing it right now."

He was right. Some part of me knew I'd crossed a line but just like with everything else recently, I couldn't stop talking.

"Why did you even help me today?" I demanded. "Why are you here?"

"Is that so strange?" he asked. He almost looked hurt.

"Yes. I mean, are you are you trying to spy on me? Figure out why I messed up? Make sure I don't get into any trouble?"

He studied me, brushing hair out of his eyes. "Why does there have to be some ulterior motive?"

I wanted to blurt out a hundred different things. Like, if there wasn't a motive, then that meant he just wanted to spend time with me. And that made no sense, because we both knew we were only supposed to have a teacher-student relationship. He of all people should know that. He was the one who'd told me.

"Because everyone has motives."

"Yes. But not always the motives you think." He pushed open the door. "I'll see you later."

I watched him go, my feelings a tangle of confusion and anger. If the situation hadn't been so strange, I would have almost said it was like we'd just gone on a date.


CHAPTER 8 | Shadow Kiss | CHAPTER 10