Athra left his lavish and comfortable study, filled with borrowed books from the academy library, for the first time in a century. As the second prince of the Ira, he enjoyed the luxury of personal servants catering to his every need. This privilege extended even to the floating academy city of D’lora’reth, where the esteemed royal spellsword academy stood tall. Its main tower, a symbol of authority, pierced the sky and was reserved for the headmaster. Accompanying it were three impressive towers of varying heights, each designated for the three head teachers under the headmaster. These towers reflected their differing strengths, with the weakest residing in the shortest tower and the strongest in the tallest.
His fellow students began to take notice of the prince, their curious eyes following his movements as he wandered the academy's ornate halls. Athra was on his way to the headmaster's office to request permission to visit his family. Word of his departure from seclusion spread quickly throughout the academy, far outpacing his leisurely pace. He was too engrossed in his own thoughts about how to explain the answer he had come up with to his sibling whom he dearly missed to notice the small entourage he had gathered behind him.
This marked the first time that most students would lay eyes on the elusive prince. Athra had spent nearly his entire time at the academy inside his private chambers, earning him the nickname "the coward prince." Unbeknownst to him, he had entered seclusion just as rumors circulated about challenging the weakest D’lora, which was what gave way to the gossip of him being a coward avoiding fights following the queen’s orders. Typically, no one dared to challenge a D'lora to a spellsword duel, as they possessed significantly higher mana reserves and casting speed compared to other Ira. However, Athra was different. He had not inherited the vast mana reserves of the matriarch, and he was physically less gifted than his siblings. However, if he had known what was said behind his back, he would have come out of his seclusion a few times to put an end to such foolish thoughts; his pride would not let him allow those rumors to linger any longer than he had caught wind of them.
It's worth noting that, as a spellblade, Athra was still well above average. This fact remained undisclosed. Unlike his peers, he had been enrolled based on the recommendation of the royal trainers who had homeschooled him until he turned 500, the age at which an Ira was deemed independent enough to attend the academy. Most students assumed he secluded himself to avoid duels and protect the royal family's reputation, given their lack of knowledge about his true capabilities.
There were a few students who knew of Athra's prowess, but they refrained from correcting their peers' misconceptions. They believed it was essential for the others to understand the consequences of acting on misinformation. These few students were unaware of the real reason for Athra's seclusion. Not even the queen had knowledge of it. Only Athra's siblings knew what he was truly pursuing when he left his chambers, and they eagerly awaited the results of his endeavor. Unbeknownst to them, the solution he sought was far more extreme than they could imagine.
As he embarked on his leisurely walk through the academy, Athra's path was suddenly blocked by another student. A few of the students among the crowd started murmuring, as they knew who the person blocking the prince’s way was: a senior about to enter his second term at the academy, which meant he had completed all the courses necessary to be considered a full-fledged spellblade. Moreover, they knew this man was ranked fifth among his class, akin to an experienced and talented knight challenging a trainee. Although none would dare to voice such words.
“I challenge you right here and now, Athra D’lora,” declared the young man with short red hair, a tall and lean frame, and a smirk on his face. To him, this was an opportunity to achieve fame by defeating a member of the illustrious D’lora bloodline and prove his destiny for greatness.
Athra's black eyes briefly assessed his challenger's physique before locking onto the older man's crimson eyes. He perceived this as an opportunity for a much-needed workout. It had been a century since Athra had dueled, and he wanted a challenge that wasn't too easy or too difficult. This challenger seemed to fit the bill.
“Very well,” Athra responded with an annoyed expression. “I, Athra D’lora, hereby accept your challenge.”
The academy's overarching system spell acknowledged the challenge and swiftly activated, transporting them to one of the private practice arenas within the academy's grounds. The results of this duel would remain hidden from public view, much to the red-haired man's displeasure. He suspected that this secrecy was at the queen's behest to save face and conceal her weakest child's potential defeats.
Annoyance etched across the challenger's face as he glared at Athra, who had already tied his long black hair into a ponytail to prevent it from interfering with the duel. The indifferent expression on Athra's handsome face further irritated the challenger, prompting him to draw his sword while awaiting Athra's response.
“Serve me, Ulrio,” Athra whispered. A bastard sword with a crimson blade and a hilt resembling flames materialized in his hand. Athra glanced at the sword and then back at the red-haired man, his confidence evident as he dismissed the challenge.