Raistlin smiled coldly as he approached the rambling buildings of Theobold's school. As a child most of his life had been spent behind those walls, hidden away in a world of strange letters and myths. Dismounting, he noted the crumbling walls of what once had been the dormitory. Now nothing but a gutted out shell remained, singed as if by fire.

     "Are you expected?" The timid question came from a doorway further down. A woman emerged, wearing an apron. Not the old hag who had served as Theobold's cook and house keeper while he'd attended. This one was younger, with a face just beginning to soften with age. She eyed him with suspicion and not a little fear.

     "No." He answered, coming to stand in front of her. " I am here to see Master Theobold. Tell him that one of his students has returned for a visit." He pulled back his hood, allowing the woman to see that he was no demon under his robes.

     The woman nodded, hurrying into the compound with only a backwards glance. He looked around the courtyard, something that had not existed while he was in attendance. Buildings stood on four sides, long, low structures that contained the everyday world of the learning mage. The center was dominated by a garden divided into twenty smaller plots, each in a different state of care. Twenty students then, double the number of his class at the start.

     "Master?" He turned, looking into the anxious face of the woman. "Master Theobold has one of his spells on the door, and I don't risk knocking." She cradled her hand, as if this lesson had been hard in the learning. "Gives a nasty shock, it does."

     Raistlin nodded, "Then I'll go in myself."

     She nodded, before scurrying to what he assumed was the kitchens. Slowly, he approached the far right building, listening as the faint sounds of chanting came from the hall. Practice spells, then. He smiled as he listened to some of the students stumble over the more complex pronunciations, remembering his own trials, the need to make each syllable perfect to imbue the spell with magic.

     His musings were disturbed by a dull boom.

     The doors to the hall flew open, and students poured out, coughing and fanning their faces, some of where were lined with soot. Theobold came out last, his hand on the shoulder of a figure almost completely obscured by the black stuff.

     "If you do that again I'll put you on kitchen duty for the rest of your life!" He roared, age doing nothing to lesson his voice, "Now go see Sela about getting cleaned up."

     "Yes Master Theobold." The thin voice was tinted with laughter, and not a little disdain. The figure looked up when Raistlin approached, and he recognized the girl from Solace.

     Theobold followed her gaze, "Who are you? What do you want here?" He shoved the girl in the direction of the kitchens before hobbling forward.

     "Surely you have not forgotten a student, Theobold." Raistlin walked to the mage, stopping a few inches away. Age had not been kind to the old man, and he squinted before reaching into his robes to find a pair of spectacles.

     "Student were you?" Theobold grumbled, peering up at Raistlin. He scanned the other mans face, taking in the black robes, the white hair…"Raistlin Majere?"

     Raist nodded, "It has been long, Theobold, since we last spoke. I'd hoped to surprise you, but it seems your hands are all ready full."

     Theobold hissed, "Damn that girl to the Abyss and back anyhow." His eyes turned to his students, who were milling about, watching their exchange with barely contained interest. "Off with you now!" He roared, "I want those gardens clear by the time a return! Not a single weed, am I understood?"

     The sighs were audible as the children went to do their teachers bidding. "A large class," Raistlin noted, watching as they haphazardly tore through their plots, pulling up weeds and a good deal of soil in the process.

     Theobold sighed, "Too large, to my reckoning, and barely a one of them has more potential than a street magician." He gestured, "Come, I'll have Marta bring tea."

     "Surely they are not as bad as that." Raist said, holding the door open to another building. This one contained a large living quarter, and Theobold settled into a chair with a heavy groan.

     "Yes, they can." He laughed, almost to himself, "Magic has become a commodity that everyone wants these days, thanks to you. I've had men as old as forty asking if they could learn. Poor Nian." He shook his head, "Had to send him to the tower. Man had no discipline, certainly not enough to listen to an old man."

     "And these?"

     "Children who would do better with wands made out of horses dung! Except for that girl…" Theobold laughed again, the sound rumbling through him as he pulled a bell cord. "Now that one, she reminds me of you, all drive and ambition, and no small amount of talent either."

     "I take it she was responsible?"

     The old mage frowned, "Responsible? For everything, in my opinion. You've seen the old quarters? She did that, first night she slept here. Conjured a fireball out of thin air, then almost died in the flames." He shook his head again, this time his expression sad. "Thank goodness the Council brought her talent to heel, or she'd kill herself given half the chance."

     Raistlin quirked one eyebrow, "Through no fault of her own, I'm sure?"

     Theobold gave him a hard look, "No, though there are times I'm not sure. She has potential, that one, perhaps too much for a woman."

     Before Raistlin could answer the girl came in, carrying a large tray and significantly cleaner, though her hair, which had been blond, was more of a dark gray.

     "Put it down over there and finish getting cleaned up."

     Theobold began pouring the tea, " I'm sure you've heard the tales in the village by now if you stopped there."

     Raistlin nodded, "My brother seems to think I needed to know about her."

     An amused snort met his comment, "Everyone needs to know about her, at least to have time to get out of the way! Brings havoc wherever she goes, even with the binding the council placed on her. If I had my way, she'd be shipped off to Palanthas. Let the women deal with the brat."

     "Then why hasn't she gone?"

     Theobold sighed, looking into his tea, "They tried, once. Girl ran away the first chance she got, almost blinded one of the other students in the process when she snuck up on her." He stirred his tea, "No one wanted to deal with a student who was unruly, so she was packed back here. Not that she doesn't do all right."

     "So she can learn?"

     "Learn?" Theobold chuckled, " Soaks up knowledge like a sponge. She'd be ahead of her classmates if I let her. She doesn't go through what you did, Raistlin."

     The mage look up sharply, "What do you mean?"

     "The teasing, the picking on. They fear her too much for that, much like they did you after that incident with the nettles."

     Raistlin looked blank. Nettles?

     Theobold was puzzled, "You don't remember, do you? Switched bags with Jorin when you were supposed to show me plants you collected, gave him one full of nettles. Had a hell of a time getting him to stop howling."

     Suddenly, he was there, could remember the scream as Jorin's hand came in contact with the Burning Nettles, the glares from his classmates, and the grudging fear they developed that day. "I'd almost forgotten."

     The two drank their tea in silence, watching a fire as it danced on the hearth. Finally, Theobold spoke. "I'm getting much too old for this, you know." He looked out a window at his students, most of whom were doing more playing that gardening in their plots. "By rights I shouldn't even be allowed to anymore, but Solace has been one of our larger schools for years, though fewer mages travel through now."

     At that moment all the mans years seemed to settle on him, and Raistlin marveled at how old Theobold must be. Definitely beyond sixty by his count. "That is what I came to see you about."

     A dry laugh burst from the old man, "Want to take my place, do you, Raistlin Majere?" he sobered, "I'd hoped that someone would come, but can you imagine how many would be pulled from the school if a black robe were to become head master?" He sighed again, "But I fear we have little choice in the matter."


     The old mage leaned forward, his gaze earnest. "Something is massing in the east. Something that has bothered the Council since the end of the war. No one knows what it is, but we can feel it when we cast, like a slithering beneath the skin. No one can be spared to look after the school, for all who can are busy elsewhere."

     Raistlin nodded, "Then it seems you've just received the help you desired."


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