TDL BK I, CH 9: Thunderfist Melqart

Chapter Nine: Thunderfist Melqart

‘Of fucking course!’ Dunstan cursed mentally as a shirtless Melqart opened the door.  

“What do you want?” asked with a scowl.

“Can I come in first?” he asked. “Please!”

Perhaps sensing something in his tone, or maybe a rare good mood, Melqart let him in without argument. Dunstan called him Giga Chad –never to his face of course– for good reason. Melqart was built. They both were but where Dunstan had the sleek but muscular build of a short-distance runner, Melqart looked like he had a steady diet of dumbbells and raw meat. Blue hair, grey-eyed, chiselled and rugged, Melqart fit the nickname better than he would ever know. He was shorter but that was only compared to two-metre-plus giants like Dunstan. It didn’t help that he was very handsome or that he knew it. The only thing that held him back was his attitude. Too often he crossed the line between a bad boy and a proper arsehole. Even then, some of the female disciples seemed to like it.

The other youth was not exactly someone Dunstan would call a friend but it was a sad fact that he was the closest thing he had to one and vice versa. While they had their differences, Melqart was perhaps the one person besides the Preceptor that Dunstan felt he could truly trust. Growing up together tended to do that.  

“Wow!” he exclaimed as he walked in. “It’s changed.”

Changed was a euphemism. Melqart was a borderline slob and his home was a far cry from what Dunstan remembered. Technically, this home was meant for a sect elder. However, when Melqart’s father died, no one had the heart to tell him to move, not when there were so many full graves and empty lots. Elder Marduk had been a neat freak and he would surely despair if he saw the state of his hall. However, that was not what he came here for so Dunstan kept mute.

Removing a discarded kettlebell so he could sit in the armchair, Dunstan tentatively broached the subject.

“Seventh Uncle tried to kill me a few days ago”, he announced. 

Melqart who was pouring drinks at the time –at least he hadn’t forgotten how to treat guests–, paused mid-pour. 

“You sure?” he asked, his breathing suddenly too calm.

“I was forced to kill him!” Dunstan revealed. 

“Why?” the bluehead asked with a strained voice. “Why would he…?”

Slowly, Dunstan revealed to him what had happened, what he had learned from the Preceptor and his own interpretation of the events and the factions involved.

“Elder Anthony is dead so we cannot question him but I am certain that he was not working alone”, Dunstan concluded. “The Preceptor says not to trust anyone but…”

“You came to me!” Melqart cut in, leaning back in his chair. “Nice to see you think so highly of me.”

“Yeah”, Dunstan stated his voice low. “So you knew nothing of this?”

“I’m not a fucking traitor, Dunny!” Melqart snarled, his fingers gouging furrows in his armrest.” 

Dunstan knew that whatever goodwill he had was draining away so he quickly placated him. “I never thought you were. I just had to ask.”

That much was true. Half of that was because Melqart was cut off from most of the sect. He came and went as he pleased. He did not even live in the inner sect, choosing instead his childhood home. If not for mandatory events, you would never see his face. Even so…

“You’re sure. And you haven’t seen or heard anything? No one’s said something to you?”

Melqart crossed his legs and his scowl deepened. “Maybe?” he realised. “I get idiots coming to me all the time but…”

His brow furrowed.

“What is it?” 

“Reinhold”, Melqart said, neglecting to use the junior elder’s title. “He came up to me a few weeks ago. It was weird. He mentioned something about the sect holding me back.”

“When was this? What did he say?” Dunstan interrogated. 

“This was maybe the week or so after Uncle Frill’s wake”, Melqart revealed. “No, I’m certain it was.”

Dunstan’s blood went cold. ‘Uncle’ Frill Fletcher was his master, the former Sect Master. The bastards didn’t even wait until his corpse was in the ground.  

“It was pill distribution day. I was leaving the place when he came up to me and apologised”, Melqart was saying but Dunstan could barely hear him over the sound of his own angry pulse. “He said he was sorry about my situation and asked if I wanted to break through and be exultant.”

Dunstan sneered, “What would an eighth-stage initiate know about being an Exultant?”

“I thought so too and so I ignored him at first but then he said, ‘It’s a shame that that’s all we can offer. If you had better, maybe even an ascension pill, you would have already broken through.’ Then he sighed and said, Sometimes I want to curse this place. Don’t you sometimes feel that this place is holding you back?

“Yeah, he was sounding you out!” Dunstan surmised. “What did you say?”

“I told him to fuck off and mind his own business!”

Yeah, that sounded like his childhood friend. Melqart’s cultivation was a sore point. 

All their lives, he and Melqart had been neck and neck in terms of cultivation. Even when one of them took the lead, he couldn’t hold it for long. That was until nearly three years ago when Melqart’s father died. From then on, his cultivation seemed almost paused. Eventually, Dunstan broke through the ninth stage and became an Exultant and he didn’t. Seeming stuck at the ninth stage, Melqart’s already acerbic personality took a turn for the worse out of frustration. He became even more withdrawn as a result. He would not have appreciated his ‘failing’ thrown in his face. 

“If Elder Anthony was in on it then someone like Reinhold can’t be more than an errand boy. Who knows who else is in their circle?”

They sat there in silence for a minute as if realising just how big the task ahead of them was. Eventually, Melqart broke the silence.

“What do we do?”

“I am not sure” Dunstan replied.

The incredulous expression on Melqart’s face showed he did not believe that. “Come on Dunny. You’ve always got a plan in that head of yours.

“Fine. I have something in mind”, Dunstan confessed. “Not a proper plan yet but we can make it work.”

“What do we need?” To his credit, Melqart did not even hesitate. The trust he showed was rather touching. Dunstan hadn’t even needed to ask if he wanted to work with him or not. 

Seeing he had made the right choice, Dunstan told him, “Well, you need to get in touch with Reinhold, try and find who else he’s in contact with. The more we can figure out about who is working against us, the easier it would be to deal with them.” 

Melqart nodded in agreement.

“I will work from the opposite end, trying to find elders and disciples willing to do the work necessary to save the sect.” 

“How are you going to do that?” asked the blue-haired youth.

Dunstan shrugged. “Talk to people I guess?”

“We also need a way to pump life back into the sect”, he added. 

“And you have an idea.” 

It was more of a stated than a question but Dunstan answered anyway. “Yes!” 

“A good plan?”

Thinking of the many ways he could leverage his dungeon-making system, Dunstan managed a non-commital, “We’ll see.”

All his plans hinged on one — no two major things. To succeed, he would need the help of the Preceptor. That meant cluing the old man in on his new abilities. He was not looking forward to that conversation.

Realising he had never touched his drink, Dunstan picked it up and took a sip to be polite.

‘Holy shit!’ he thought, giving the mug another look. It was quite frankly incredible. He didn’t know Melqart could make something like this. He took a long sniff. It smelled like herbal soup.

“This isn’t going to do some weird stuff to my muscles, is it?” he asked Melqart.

The muscle-bound youth merely smirked. Seeing that familiar punch-worthy expression had Dunstan leaning back in his armchair with the mug still clutched in his hands. 

The two continued to talk and draw up plans well into the night.

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