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Chapter 21



Derrl woke up early enough to see the first signs of morning creeping in through the high windows. The guide was across his lap, where he had let it fall the night before. Kevesk had cleared a circular section of floor and was running through some exercises using his staff. He was stripped to the waist and glistening with sweat. He was remarkably well muscled for someone who was as old as Derrl thought he was. The tattoos stood out in vivid contrast to his skin. The lines of the runes rippled and twisted as his muscles flexed. He was definitely in good form.

"You do realize that I want you to teach me the runes, don't you?" he inquired a bit sheepishly. He felt sort of silly, talking to the mage this way. Kevesk stopped his exercises and paused for a moment, leaning with the butt end of his staff on the ground. He propped the staff against the chair and walked over to Derrl. He walked over to the pallet and squatted. His knees began to protest so he gave up and sat cross-legged on the dirt floor.

"Judging by what you did to me yesterday, I would say that you are more adept at using the runes than I am. The only thing holding you back now is knowledge of the various runes in the known world. Oh, there are a few hundred or so, but don't let that number frighten you. The number that should frighten you is the number of runes that we haven't even guessed at. That number is, at the very least, a thousand times greater than that of what we know. With each new mage, a new rune is discovered, call it a freebie if you will. It is knowledge that is gained with almost no mental effort. The brain's malleability as it is being reformed allows it to imprint the rune with the most influence near the newly born mageling." He reclined on the dirt floor and began to stretch out his rangy muscles. He was alarmingly agile for someone of his age. He was wearing little more than a pair of loose fitting pants and his tattoos, which rippled along with his muscles. "For most mages, it takes years of work on their own to learn of, let alone how to use other runes. And then there are the occasional few who are born to it, whose minds can adapt and modify existing runes to create new ones. Mages whose minds will take it upon themselves to seek out new runes that are around them." He was standing on one leg now, pulling the other up behind him, with it practically pressing the calf against his back. He could not possibly be as old as he looked. "Anything in particular that you would like to know? This conversation is for your benefit after all. It's only fitting that you have an interest in what part you learn." He released the leg and grunted with mild pain. He switched his weight from one leg to the other and began to stretch the one he had been standing on. As he lifted the leg, Derrl caught sight of a tattoo on the bottom of his foot. He was guessing that there was probably a similar one on the bottom of the other, as well as all the way up to his thighs. He was an oddly surprising man. He only nodded to himself. Then he thought better of it.

"I think I'd rather like to know the reason for the tattoos," he said quietly. The mage frowned at this, almost as if puzzled, at a loss for how to explain it. He opened his mouth slightly as if the say something, his grimace grew more puzzled still, and his mouth closed again, all without making a sound. He thought about it for a moment longer. He was ready to say something.

"Close your eyes and try to cast your senses in my general direction." Derrl closed his eyes as told and then opened them widely. He hadn't a clue what the mage meant by that. A clearly perplexed look crossed his face. Kevesk looked up and caught a glimpse of the youth's expression. "Don't worry, if you can do even a fraction of what I think that you can, you'll have no problems figuring out the art to casting your senses. Now, close your eyes again, and try to sense me." Derrl closed his eyes and obeyed as best he could, after a moment of pure black, he noticed a sudden change. There were suddenly a hundred or more points of light concentrated in a vaguely humanoid shape. The image grew closer, and the dots grew and bloomed into various runes. He was now almost in the center of the hollow figure of runes, staring from the inside out.

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