The coach wasn’t running because of the war, so Thaia walked to Savolinna. It took her three days, as she got lost, and she arrived at the school late in the afternoon, the day before classes started. The meadow surrounding Savolinna was green and flowering, and seeing it brought back memories of playing there as a child, of sitting under a tree with friends as a teenager, of walking through the gardens with Ial during her first year teaching… She pushed that thought away. The grounds were empty at the moment, and this gave the school the illusion of calm and serenity. The next day, several hundred students would arrive, ranging in age from five to eighteen. The younger students could accidentally cause storms or fires; the older ones could purposefully do even more destructive things with their magic. This unusual silence would quickly dissipate and Savolinna’s grounds would return to their normal, happily chaotic state.
Thaia walked towards the school, almost surprised at how happy she was to be home. She eagerly made her way up the stairs, excited to see friends she hadn’t seen all summer. Things would be different, of course. Ial and Ferra had been conscripted, and there would be others gone as well, but most of her friends and colleagues would still be there.
Thaia pushed open the doors and entered the school. To her surprise, rather than the bustle of people she'd expected, the foyer was empty. Thaia looked around in confusion—it was of course the right place, and the day before students were to arrive—where was everyone?
She went inside and walked down the hallway, peeking in the various rooms to see if anyone was there. She turned down a corner, and finally was met by evidence that the school was not entirely deserted.
"Oh good, Althaia, you're finally here." Vivia Rone looked at Thaia sharply. "That's all of us left, then. Go put your things down; we'll all meet in my office in half an hour to discuss things."
"What's going on? Where is everyone?"
"Most of the teachers have been conscripted."
"But surely they can't have taken everyone," said Thaia, confused. She knew that the army was drafting mages, but surely some teachers had to be left to run the school. Savolinna had hundreds of students... someone had to teach them all.
"A few of us are still here. We'll discuss it." It was clearly a dismissal; Thaia continued down the corridor and up a flight of stairs, flung her bag over one shoulder and rummaged through it for her keys, and unlocked the door to her room.
She felt better immediately upon entering. It was a small room, but it was hers, permeated by her magic and her identity. The walls were light green; her bed, pushed against the back left corner, was neatly made and covered with a pink quilt. Over a sturdy oak table that doubled as a desk was a large window overlooking the forest; a bookcase stood next to it, on top of which was a porcelain tea-set and a multitude of canisters full of tea. Everything in the room glowed with the comforting, welcoming energy of Thaia's magic—this was a home, her home.
Thaia set her bag on her chair, then made her way up to Vivia's office. Pares and Ki were already there. Thaia sat down in the seat farthest from Pares, and Radren levitated himself into the room and into the seat next to Thaia.
"Now that everyone's here,” Vivia began, “We have to discuss how to manage with only the five of us."
Thaia thought for a moment that she must be mistaken—except that it was Vivia—or perhaps that by 'everyone' she meant something other than every one of the teachers at Savolinna. "Um, why are there only the five of us?" Thaia asked, hoping that she had misunderstood somehow.
"The army needs mages to fight their war. Everyone else has been conscripted. Anyone who might be hired has been conscripted. It's just us."
Thaia looked around at the assembled group, wondering why each of them had not been drafted. She was obvious—hearth magic was useless for fighting. Radren's missing leg was an equally clear explanation, though his mastery of energy magic would have been of great use in battle.
"Clearly, we will all be taking on far more than usual," said Vivia. "Radren, I need you to take charge of the students who have not yet passed their control test and gone into a specialty. That's 154 elementary students this year. You’ll have to be responsible for teaching them reading, history, and arithmetic as well as how to control their magic, but you always do teach both anyway."
"Right," said Radren. "So my usual class of uncontrollable brats, only with six times as many." Despite his words, he did not seem particularly disgruntled.
"Exactly," said Vivia. “Then we'll divide up the teaching of the magical disciplines between the rest of us as usual, and… Althaia, you have healing magic, correct?”
"Well, yes, a little..." Thaia admitted. "But barely. I've always supplemented it with herb-lore, and even then it's not good for much more than the basics."
"Well, that's more than any of us have. You’re teaching healing as well as hearth magic. You can see if any of your older students can assist you. Ki, you have nature magic, correct? Then you can teach that too. Is this satisfactory to everyone?"
No one answered; they were all a little stunned, but Vivia was content to take this as acceptance. "Good. Does anyone have any questions?"
"Yes," said Pares. "I, for one, am wondering why all of you are still here. Though my inhabitance by one of the thousand gods makes it improper for me to go to war, surely the rest of you ought to be doing your duty to your country."
Thaia's shoulders slumped, Ki glared at Pares, and Radren gave a loud cough that sounded suspiciously like the word "hypocrite."
"In my case," said Vivia, "I can only assume that the army has the wisdom not to put a 63-year-old woman on the battlefield. Radren has already sacrificed his leg for his country. Ki has his reasons, which are none of your concern."
"And I'm so useless that they don't even want me," added Thaia.
"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Vivia. "Althaia, please stay after the meeting to talk to me. Now, does anyone have any legitimate questions?"
No one did. "I'll make up a schedule of classes and give it to you all tonight," said Vivia, and everyone began to file out of the room. Thaia stayed behind, feeling acutely as though she were being held after class.
"Althaia, you're not only going to be teaching multiple subjects, but will also be responsible for the well being of hundreds of students. Do you honestly consider that useless?"
Thaia looked down at her feet and said quietly, "No… though it remains to be seen if I can actually do all that."
"I wouldn't have given you the job if I didn't believe you could do it."
"Thank you," said Thaia, sincerely.
Vivia looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Ah," she finally said. "Someone told you that you were useless. Who?"
Thaia winced. Vivia’s particular form of magic was that she was unnaturally perceptive, and as always, she was right.