The hammer-wielding human quickly proved to be an entertaining challenge for myself. Despite his older age and how bulky he looked, he moved with speed and swung his hammer around with ease. I quickly discovered that trying to block the blows of his hammer with my body was a horrible idea as, even if he didn’t cut my skin with his attacks, he still damaged my bones and my capability to fight back.
Who would have thought that blocking a giant hammer with your arms is a bad idea?
Yet, as dangerous as the fight was, it was fun. I found myself smiling throughout it and he smiled right back at me. Even though his allies were either dead or in the process of being killed, my opponent looked overjoyed to be having such a fight with me.
I was starting to think that it might actually be a shame to kill him.
But he invaded my dungeon with the intention of killing my monsters and myself. He would not be left alive.
Now, because I decided to defeat him on my own terms rather than by using the sword like I became used to fighting with, he gained the lead in our fight. I had become so used to fighting with the sword that I was not sure how I was supposed to win. Grappling onto the man or disarming him were clearly the two best options, but neither option was viable given his surprising speed. He was not only the strongest, but also the fastest human we had encountered yet.
If anything, I was the one on the defensive. Dodging the swings of his hammer was the most important thing that I could do other than killing him. Though, he also taught me that a hammer was good for more than swinging. I was only barely able to dodge one of these swings as his hammer traveled in an arc in front of my chest, and he brought the swing of his hammer to a sudden halt to stop it in front of my chest and thrust it forward. I never thought of a hammer being used as a thrusting weapon before. Yet, the thrust of his hammer slammed it into my chest and knocked me back after breaking some of my ribs. It felt as if a massive fist punched me.
“Is this all you’ve got, monster?” the man asked me as I clutched at my chest.
I wanted to give him a cocky response. After all, no matter how injured I was, Nakra would be there to heal me afterward.
Except that was wrong.
I found myself still fighting as if there was somebody there who could heal me once the battle was over. I found myself enjoying a battle with a man who was part of an effort that killed my Nakra.
Any enjoyment that could have been found in the battle was lost after reminding myself of Nakra.
This man did not deserve my enjoyment. He did not deserve my smile. He deserved nothing but death even if I found him amusing before.
“Realize that you’re going to lose, have you?” the man asked me.
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He was right. I did realize that I was going to lose… if I continued to fight him on my own.
None of us were strong enough to beat him in a one-on-one fight. I realized that.
That was why I said, “Ahti.”
And that was why Ahti flew past me with a readied fist immediately as I said her name.
Even if I was strong enough to defeat him on my own, it would not have been without great injury, and we did not have a healer to take care of such injuries anymore.
Ahti and I would fight as one to defeat him instead.
“Tch, and here I thought you might have been worthy of respect,” the man told me.
“I don’t care whether a human respects me or not. I care about surviving for my family,” I replied to him as I joined Ahti in her assault.
The course of the battle was changed the instant that Ahti joined. He may have been fast and agile enough even with a giant hammer to easily dodge one of us, but he could not dodge both of us. Any attempt at avoiding one of our attacks left him in a position where he could not dodge the other’s fists. Whether it was a punch from my fists or a kick from Ahti’s legs, he came under constant barrage.
But this is not to say that he did not get more attacks in of his own. Rather than dodge one of Ahti’s attacks, he met her leg with his hammer. Chips of stone broke off from her leg as cracks ran throughout its length. Additionally, one punch from me left me close enough for him to slam his head into mine, and he was careful enough to hit my forehead between my horns rather than to hit the horns themselves.
The human was a powerful fighter worthy of respect for his combat ability, but I would not grant him anything more than that.
Eventually, even if he did manage to inflict more wounds upon Ahti and I, our combined efforts tired him out and caused more damage than we took.
My latest punch, which hit him just over his right eye and broke the skin, caused him to take a step back and look around himself as blood trickled down his face.
Sidi and Dian worked together to take down the heavily armored human with the shield and mace. Crim finished off the woman at the back before going to handle the human with the sword and shield who was standing beside his boss before. In each of these other battles, my monsters won. The heavily armored human was nowhere near fast enough to dodge the constant attacks of Dian and Sidi, and their spears were proven extremely effective as they pierced through his armor with ease.
The human with the sword and shield who defended against Crim may have been able to block Crim’s sword, but blocking the sword left the human open to the two extra arms that Crim had punched into his face. Now, while Crim’s slimy body meant that a blunt attack from his fists would not do much harm, that was not where the danger was. The true danger of Crim’s punches came from how, after punching the human in the face, the slime spread out and began to dissolve him. It went into his eyes, his nostrils, his mouth, ears – the human was so preoccupied with defending against Crim’s sword that he never even considered what Crim might use his extra arms for.
Being dissolved by Crim’s slime was an even worse way to go than being melted by magma. Fortunately, the slime that filled the human’s mouth and throat prevented him from screaming.
When the human with the hammer looked at his allies, only two left alive, and one of them had spears impaling him while the other was being dissolved by Crim.
“So, this is how it’s ended up,” the hammer-wielding man said.
“There was never any other way for it to end,” I replied.
“You do not even seem bothered by the loss of your family.”
“Family? What? These brats are nothing but the latest replacements to my team.”
“You don’t consider them your family?”
“Why would I? No, the only family I have… I guess I’ll finally be meeting them soon. I wonder if that little runt has grown up at all.”
“What do you mean by that?”
The man smiled and wiped his hand over his bloodied eye. “That’s enough talking. I have something to look forward to now, so let’s hurry up and get this over with.”
“I see. Dian,” I called out with my arm extended toward Dian.
Dian retracted his spear from the heavily armored human and tossed it to me.
At the very least, this spear was a creation of my dungeon. I may not have been defeating him with my fists like I wished to, but bringing an end to the day’s conflict was more important than that.
I held the spear with both of my hands and thrust it toward his chest, ready to adjust my angle as soon as he tried to dodge.
But he didn’t.
The spear thrust straight through his chest with his heart impaled on its tip.
The man fell to his knees and looked up at me. With an incredibly weak voice, he smiled and said, “Thanks… never had the… courage to do it myself.” Each word sounded weaker than the last as his eyes struggled to stay open.
It was only when his eyes shut that I pulled the spear out from him and allowed him to collapse.
I was happy for the battle to be over with, but I was left feeling confused. The human was so confident before – he sounded sure that he would be defeating my monsters and I. Yet, in the end, he did not even step out of the way from the spear. He allowed it to go right through his chest to tear his heart out.
Not only that, but he seemed happy about it.
Deiti picked up on my confusion and chimed in. “An old and tired human who was only living for the sake of living, too afraid of taking his own life to rejoin with those he lost. Perhaps he was waiting for a day like this. Perhaps he continued to fight in search of somebody to finally defeat him. While we may never know the exact truth for ourselves, we can at least make assumptions. What a sad life he must have led to end up like this. Though, this is not to say that I cannot relate to him. To live for the sake of living… is something that becomes standard once you are old enough. Some dragons take virgin sacrifices and raze villages to pass the time. Some humans continue to fight hoping that something or somebody will finally kill them, too stubborn to simply give up sooner.”
“I’m not sure that I understand,” I replied out loud.
“All you must needs understand is to always find something or somebody to live for so that you never like for the sake of living on its own. That is no pleasant way to survive. Otherwise you become a husk of what you once were, just as the man you killed had become.”
“He was a husk?”
“I believe so. Had he truly cared about survival, I do not doubt that we may have been finished today. Instead… I believe that he purposely put minimal effort into protecting himself and his allies to hopefully meet his end. What a selfish human. Well, we should be thankful that they sent us a husk instead of a warrior.”
I was not sure what to think of everything that Deiti had to say to me, but her words left me less satisfied than I hoped they would. If anything, she disappointed me. She made it sound as if the only reason that we won was because we were up against a man who did not truly want to win in the first place.
And she was right.
Had the hammer-wielding man truly wished to survive, there were numerous ways he could have approached us instead. He could have stayed with his companions, he could have fought by their side, he could have worked together with them – none of this happened. Instead of giving any of them a single order, his group was immediately split up and he put no efforts into putting it back together. None of them fought together. They fought alone even if they were meant to be a team.
And he never cared about their lives in the first place. He had practically no reaction to when any of them died, instead focusing only on me and our fight.
Because he saw hope in me.
He saw hope that somebody would finally kill him. Of course, he wasn’t so bold as to say that he looked forward to me killing him or anything like that. He did the opposite if anything. He assured me that he would be the one to kill us, not the other way around, despite that being the opposite of what he truly desired.
But even if he was a husk in pursuit of death, I still find him at least somewhat respectable. He refused to take the easy way out – he refused to bring an end to his own life. He fought on and survived even if he didn’t want to. He kept on going, even if it was without as much effort as he lived with before, until the end was imminent. It was only when he knew that survival was impossible that he finally surrendered and allowed the spear to tear his heart out. It was only when he knew that there was no other way for his life to end that he finally allowed it to happen.
I wanted to kill him to obtain revenge for Nakra. Yet, in the end, he was the one who walked away with victory.
His victory was finally finding death.
Therefore, after the battle was over, I was left feeling… hollow in our “victory.” We may have won in the sense that we survived, but we were not the winners.
We lost Nakra. We would be classified as an even greater threat now due to fending off the invasion attempt, resulting in even more and even stronger humans coming to wage war against us. I was injured without anybody to heal me and so were some of my other monsters. We survived, but that was all we did.
Then, while most of the humans were killed aside from those lucky enough at the top of the caldera to avoid the flames I called upon, there was one human in particular who wanted to die. One human who could not have achieved a better end to the day than he did.
In the end, the man with the hammer was the only true winner of the day.
The rest of the humans lost, and my monsters and I simply survived.
I gave the winner exactly what he wanted.
Knowing that frustrated me. Yet, as annoying as it might have been, I could not allow the negative feelings I felt toward the situation to consume me. There were still more important matters to take care of.
“Dian, Sidi, Crim, strip them,” I ordered. All of the humans’ equipment needed to be removed before I went to convert them or else it would go along with their corpses. As for Ahti, I looked at her injured leg and picked her up within my arms. “I will take you back to the others. Thank you for fighting with me.”
“Ahti can walk on her own,” Ahti said.
“I know, but you deserve to be carried.”
Ahti looked into my eyes for a few seconds as if she was thinking it over before nodding with the subtlest of smiles.
Even if we could not be considered the true winners of the day, we survived, and that was all that really mattered.
For as long as we survived, we could stay together.