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 interested...but I don't think I can get to it anytime soon. I'm kind of busy with all this...you 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-teens - thirteen or fourteen - but 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 freckles - rare among the normally pale Moroi - across 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.