Darkness descended, Deeper than the night, deeper than the darkness itself, a pitch-black darkness assumed a humanoid form.
A creepy appearance where only the mask that resembled a bird of prey could be seen.
The masked assassin, the hero of Falandia, the only guardian of this world, he has appeared.
“So you really were the current generation.”
A voice that turned a scream of doubt into certainty and an exclamation that contained a cry of impossibility.
“Why give the mask to an otherworlder!? What was the last generation thinking!?”
『That I agree with you. 』
Though the Mask spoke in a mysterious indiscernible voice, his dismay could still be fully conveyed. The Mask’s right hand cleaved the space in front of him without hesitation.
And in the next moment, an explosion occurred and Johann was sent flying.
Johan couldn’t break his fall and rolled on the floor, but if not for the experience of the five heroes regarding pain, he would have likely fainted already.
Another way to put it was that even with their experience, he was just barely able to keep his consciousness.
“Gu, gah, gaha!”
Johann coughed up radiant blue blood as though his soul had been wounded and stood up in a daze. He tried to gaze at the jet-black figure before him but failed to keep track of it.
The shock of the greatest hunter losing sight of his target was beyond description. And just as soon as it dawned on him that he had lost sight of the boy, the white-masked figure appeared before him again.
This was not teleportation but pure speed, an abnormal speed that moved so quietly that even the air did not notice it and was too fast for Johann’s thoughts to keep up.
Johann only noticed that he’d raised his arms after his reflexes concluded. He’d managed to catch the left fist of the Mask with his two palms, but as a result he’d discarded his two swords. He focused on his body and braced himself for the impact.
Despite that, it was evident that Johann was overpowered and pushed back by the damaged left hand. It wasn’t like the initial strike that aimed to send him flying; instead, it felt like a contest of strength.
He had been steadily and effortlessly pushed back, even though Johann was exerting his full strength and skill without any reservation.
“Uguu… W-What is that!? Even if you’re Masquerade, it shouldn’t be possible for you to change your stats!”
Even though it shouldn’t be possible, he was losing. A perplexed expression crossed Johann’s face as the crescent moon behind the mask sneered.
『Fool, this is the mask of the guardian that has protected this world for many years. Did you really think that concealing one’s appearance was the extent of its abilities, Former Sorcerer King?』
Indeed, it was widely known that the Mask of Masquerade had an astonishing ability to block any detection or recognition so long as the wearer refrained from taking any aggressive actions.
Regardless of the means used, it was nearly impossible to detect or discover the Mask. However, the reverse was also true: only that particular aspect of the mask’s abilities was known, leaving much about it shrouded in mystery.
“Could it be? Is the oddity surrounding the legendary Masquerade that!?”
If the mask’s abilities were limited to what was widely known, there was no way it could have become a living legend, and surely, it couldn’t have become a hero that has existed to this day.
The identities of those that had worn the Mask of Masquerade and their actions remain shrouded in mystery. However, every one of them had been powerful enough to defeat every opponent they faced. Surely, they couldn’t have actually won every battle, yet history has never recorded their defeat.
If so, then there must be something else to the Mask beyond what was known.
『You’re right that I’m nothing more than gold-plated mud with my S Rank in Skill, a fighter with no value whatsoever; however… Do you know, Former Sorcerer King? Mud can be molded into anything.』
“──Ahh!! Status alteration!?”
Johann couldn’t help himself, while Lilisha and the others were hopeful, but regardless of how they felt, both parties checked the boy’s Status.
Save for one stat, the rest of his Status that had originally been plagued with All D had now greatly changed, and his physical abilities were now much more formidable.
『In other words,
The mixed emotions formed a complex web, and what emerged was a response that could hardly be described as a single sentiment.
All he had done was demote his Skill from S to AAA. It was just one rank, yet three stats that had been D Rank shot up by more than three full ranks.
The price didn’t match at all, yet at the same time, it made sense.
“Ugu, gah… Was it because the price paid was Skill!? Are you telling me the gap between S and AAA has that much value!?”
『Correct, Former Sorcerer King. Skill alone is the exception. It might be a stat like the others, but the function it fulfills is on a completely different level. That is the common sense of this world; therefore, this too is the natural order of things.
There are downsides too, of course, such as the weakening of the Recognition Interference and the function that concealed Status, but that’s no problem for me.』
But that was only a given, after all, in a situation where he was more than two ranks of Skill ahead of his opponent and his opponent had no choice but to fight him up close, there was no way for such abilities to even be relevant.
“This is absurd! It’s illegal! You shouldn’t have that Mask!”
A Mask that lowered one stat to raise the other stats and a boy whose only redeeming point was his extremely high Skill.
Such a function might have been necessary considering the nature of Masquerade’s duties, but has there ever been a master who benefited from it to this extent?
『No matter, as you have been informed… From this point on, I will be giving you a personal smack down.』
The external enhancement of stats through the taboo far surpassed conventional means. There were no schemes, no traps, no techniques involved. The battle simply boiled down to whoever possessed greater abilities. Were there more distance between them, had he more time, more tools, were it possible for him to prepare a better environment, then perhaps there might have been room for more ‘what-if’s, but unfortunately, there was no such thing.
Though Johann was still superior in areas other than Skill, the difference of at least two ranks in Skill would still undoubtedly determine the outcome of this battle. Yes, by this point in time, Johann had already lost.
“But so what!!?”
Despite that, Johann unleashed his magic with a yell, and arrows of flames, blades of ice, spears of lightning, and gigantic arms of rock shot out, surrounding the Mask as they poured into him relentlessly. Alas, the snap of a finger was all it took for them to change their trajectory, and without even a moment to spare for astonishment, the very same spells were sent back to Johann.
“GAH!?! Guu, you stole my spells!?”
Despite the shock and the pain, Johann managed to create another pair of swords and stood up once again. With the twin silver blades in his hands, he faced the Mask that has declared this battle already won.
The skills of the swordsman, renowned for his speed of sound, combined with the agility of the thief that could surpass any trap and shake off any pursuer, resulted in a form that surpassed even the sword dance of the swordsman when he was alive. Unfortunately, all of that was meaningless if Johann couldn’t land a hit.