Haldi nodded to the new baker girl as she put out a lovely selection of bread, pastries, and delightful desserts into her display case.
She smiled back and Haldi felt a little flutter of happiness. Someone who didn’t look like they would rather be anywhere else when they saw him. He was sure that would soon change if the poor lass stuck around in Durence.
He heaved the box in his arms a tiny bit higher as he headed for his home.
Haldi didn’t honestly mean to make people so at odds with him. Mila was able to put up with him, as did Pic but that was because they had grown old with him. Seen his... quirks develop into the state he was in now.
Quiss walked around the corner and paused mid-step. Haldi pretended he hadn’t noticed the young lad, letting the Peacekeeper retreat with a look of relief on his face. Haldi hid a sigh as he nudged his door open
When had it gotten this bad?
He had always been a blabbermouth but only in the last few years had it progressed into the full-blown destruction of his social life.
“I can list of the dozen of cheese recipes lost to the world that can kill a dragon or cure diseases but I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut long enough to make a friend anymore. Oh, Durence, what would you say to me now?” he looked down as if his old friend would kick his door down any moment and laugh life’s problems away before getting them both into trouble.
“Hal! Come on, being a Elementalist is boring... here, I paid half my years salary for this ancient scroll of magic, it is said to allow you to control a most powerful force!”
Durence was the fool of the group and the heart. The hole which Durence’s death had left made Haldi look at the growing town with a sense of growing pride and a hint of regret.
“Most powerful force indeed,” Haldi set the box down he had excavated from where it had been buried near the town centre.
Various odours leaked out and Haldi inhaled.
Some of the contents were ready, others still needed time...
Cheese. The word had changed Haldi’s life.
It started with a scroll on controlling cheese. Durence spent all his money on buying it from some scam artist at the time. ‘Powerful magics’ were still a popular sell to the unwary and Haldi knew that more than enough oddball classes had been forged due to the clink of some coins.
Durence had spent so much money he had not...he had not been able to afford better armour for himself.
Haldi shook and closed the box. He flicked his hand and the cheese candles around the room caught fire. The smell of rather plain cheese filled the space and Haldi moved to the back of the room to pull bottles out of cupboards and off shelves.
Durence, the town, had become rather lively recently due to that new dungeon nearby. Then the Mana rose to the standard mana level of 1. It had surprised Haldi, he had avoided the council meetings and the town meetings as people stared at him with dread whenever he was about to speak, so he had missed out on a lot of the news.
Durence had been Mana Empty for a long time, barely alive with what was offered.
Still, the Mana made him think faster, speak faster! Haldi wondered if he would be actually talking faster than moss growing on a stone. Magic was a problem like that. Many mages, wizards, sorcerers, and other in-between magical folk chose their magic with care as opening themselves to a particular magic began to change them in return.
Cheese, for example in Haldi’s mind, seemed to cause rather tough and ripe ideas to form but if the mana in the area went sparse or even empty, then the mage’s mind would become slow, filled with holes and had a habit of speaking like mouldy milk.
Unwanted and clumpy.
Mana was important for a mage, even the ambient mana, so then the dungeon did it again and the Mana became a rank 2!
Haldi had woken up and was washed, put on fresh clothes, and been outside before midday had even past. It was wonderful! Haldi could also feel the stirrings of magic filling those previously empty swiss holes in his mind.
Oh, the things he had forgotten... the pain he had slipped away from.
“Hal! Come on! I don’t think you’re a failure, you’re too cool to be anything less cause you’re my friend!”
The joy he let slip away. He thumped his hand down and a collection of items jumped and rattled.
“I made a promise!” he barked, furious with himself, and turned to get to work.
Haldi pushed the iron pot over the stove and began to pour things into the vat.
“Pinch of Elf Ear Brie, the aged stench of Worm Ringed Rind. The herbal essence of Dryad Milk, a wedge of Lancre Blue...” Haldi moved his hand over the boiling pot as the ingredients bubbled furiously.
His left hand glowed with a dark yellow aura. Mana converted through his soul.
One could not simply be a Geomancer and then become a Caseomancer in a short time. Another potential risk of magic and dedication.
Haldi’s body, his mind, his being had become attuned with the very notion of cheese. He had trained, devoured, slept on, stolen, mutilated, sacrificed so much cheese that he himself had become a little cheese-like inside.
Mana flowing through him, be it of air, fire or other, became cheese inflicted. The perfect Mana to work his magic. No other Mana would get quite the same results as Cheesy Mana did.
Haldi had done great....terrible... things with cheese. Some things he did out of curiosity, some he did out of anger... all of them he did for the sake of the promise to Durence. He had brought arrogant lords to their knees, sent dark queens to retirement, stinking of cheese to the end of their time.
He had brought life to this world with nought but his will and cheese. Haldi had been so foolish and wrathful. In fulfilling that promise, he had forsaken another. Mila and Pic had stayed as they needed to, Haldi had not.
He set out on a journey.
The cheese below in the pot bubbled and a claw reached out of the primordial cheese. Haldi flicked it and it collapsed back into the cheese sauce. He had taken a journey that went through every guild, every royal lord, every arrogant royal guard... until he stood before the king himself.
Haldi remembered the fear in that room when he had the king, sword broke and crown askew, on his knees.
He still remembered the fear... and the questions.
“Why are you doing this?” the younger king had asked Haldi. Haldi could only remember feeling so tired as he responded, only grief and rage keeping him standing before the powerful yet defeated king.
“Because he had hope you would come and you did not. I saw that hope die and I am here to make sure you will never forget that mistake.”
The cheese thickened and Haldi opened a window for the steam to escape. His mould pots didn’t need overfeeding.
He lifted the pot and placed it on the table and began to spoon a fair amount into a tiny circle.
“Buttermilk rise, Brine fall, let my words be heard. I make thee into my will, give shape to a bird!” he commanded and the cheese bubbled and bulged together. The small sparrow was rather plain, its beak looked a little droopy as the cheese hadn't solidified quite right.
“Hmm... needs more whey but it will do for now. Springy Sparrow, deliver this message. No detours, no milk thievery, and no gluttonous feasting of bread...” Haldi smoothed down his weathered face as his skin seemed to lose the papery texture it gained after channelling.
He was never going to be young again but Haldi was just beginning to remember exactly how much the cheesy Mana made his skin look less human. It was never quite the same result and one time he had rather puffy cheese scales for a while.
The bird lifted off and wandered near Haldi’s mouth as if to hear some secret. Haldi smiled at the obedient magic.
“To Guild Leader Orthor, I hope this bird finds you well. I find myself in need of your services. You will come to me, you know where I am. Bring it all. As always, the man who could have let you die - Haldi.”
Not Haldi’s best of threats but for Orthor it would do. The bird perked up and Haldi focused, imprinting the image of Orthor, a slight...echo of the man’s Mana. It would be enough to get the bird started.
“Don’t fly too high, lest you melt to pride,” Haldi murmured as the bird flew out the window.
He looked out and saw the lost baker girl trying to find somewhere.
Durence’s ghost grinned at him from a long past memory.
“Don’t be shy, Hal. People love you if you just talk about anything other than cheese for two minutes, just ask her...”
The voice faded and Haldi closed his eyes.
His hands tremble and he blinked away a flash of tears.
“Dure, I hope you’re watching,” He said and strode out the door. Long past was his youthful passionates, all he had was a helpful ear to lend and his cheese.
“Ahoy! You look lost,” he called and he managed to speak without too much time passing. The Baker girl spun and smiled.
“Mr Haldi! Yes, I was looking for somewhere to keep my earnings, the safe is getting full, and I’m not sure where to go!” she laughed nervously and Haldi held out an arm.
“My lady, I would be honoured to show you to the bank. Mr Von is a clever snake, let me make sure you get the best service possible,” he smiled and the girl giggled, slipping her own arm through his.
Harmless, she saw him as a polite old man.
Haldi was sure she had not yet made the connection between Old Mr Haldi and Haldi The-Mage-most-foul, outlawed and wanted dead or alive, preferably dead, in most of Verluan.
Haldi let that innocence last a little longer.
He felt himself rise back to full.
Mana flowed in from the dungeon and a lot of it flowed right back out into the ground where it served its purpose.
He, Milla, Pic, and, of course, Durence, kept the land rich with Mana for so long.
It was nice to have help from that Dungeon. Haldi wondered if Mila had warned it of what it might find?
He would do it soon if only because he knew what Durence would think of Mila’s nature, Pic’s logical illogical reasoning, and Haldi’s... insanity. Haldi owed this ‘Delta’ some of Durence’s kindness. Not this bustling town but the hero of the land. A title Haldi had carved into the most important places so no one would ever ignore or forget him.
Durence the Saint, Durence the Great, Durence... Haldi’s best friend.
Gods, Haldi missed him.
The girl offered him a sandwich. It had cheese on it.
Haldi chuckled and he told a rather good joke on cheese, he cut himself once he saw he devolved into a factoid ramble.
The girl looked relieved and began to perk up again, chatting to him about how calm and peaceful Durence was. Haldi let a smile show as she didn’t run away.
“Knew you could do it! My buddies are always winners!”
They both walked past the centrepiece of the town in which the town all grew out from. A large round rock that had a single name carved into it and different style of cuts below it.
Idiot and hero. I’m so sorry.
You did good. Rest now.
I will never forget you.