390 students | Class 1120 NE
Two nights away from the start of official training, a notice was posted on the bulletin board in the common area. In the morning, the students of the new class gathered around. The bulletin was the status quo of Attributes in the newest class. It was a clue of the future to come.
As tradition, students would eventually form units of five, known as quints, to mirror the Prime Military teams that went out to perform missions. Many of the students also had the fortune of watching the very publicized competitive galas of previous years. They knew carefully choosing your team members were important, especially for students in their first year of training. This was because first year students had to form quints among themselves, with no assistance or trades from previous classes. The point of the notice was clear.
In fact, it made waves among them and they gossiped with speculations and information. This was the time to learn about potential teammates. With reason, the subject at the forefront circled around the rare Attribute among them. It didn't take long for someone to identify the student.
"There's a BLOOD-Y."
"The BLOOD-Y is Lobelia. I saw a feature on him last year."
"I want him in my quint."
“Are you kidding? Why would he choose you? I’m better."
Fortunately, Lucas was absent from the place of the hot discussions and did not have to diplomatically answer. Upon memorizing the chart, he'd immediately left with Za to digest the information out of sight. That just meant they returned to the library where Za could drown himself in plenty of books. Lounging across four chairs, Lucas asked his friend, "What do you think?"
His nose deep in a book, Za had to pull himself out of it to answer the question. He said indifferently, "Skill level and individual trademark overrides Attribute."
Lucas hummed in thought then concluded based on Za's answer, "Most people wouldn't think like you. I thought it would be nice to have a nice mix. But complementing each other's strengths and weaknesses is more important.” He considered the renowned Erina Marigold. Initially, he wanted her on his team but that was without analysis of her skills. He backtracked; even if she contributed very little offensive or defensive firepower to the quint, she had background outside the battlefield that would be found useful. Aloud, he said, “I think we'll be given some time to figure it out.”
And that was all their conversation about the bulletin amounted to.
Moving on, Lucas pulled out his phone and browsed through the latest news and updates. More unrest in the Storm Lands. An upcoming meeting for the Round Council. Kidnappings by slave traders. And an exciting sneak peek at next week’s feature on Sou Rudbeckia, the top student at Hollyhock Training Institute.
Meanwhile, Za delved into another beginner's guidebook explaining the Astradom defense force (Militia, Prime Military, and First Quint) and level of Shields (Stone, Silver, Sword, Scarlet, and Sworn).
The Militia were made up of ForeGuards that worked for private businesses, veteran ForeGuards retired from the Prime Military, and student forces from advanced institutes like Hollyhock. Often less trained, they handled problems on a smaller scale within the cities and inhabited areas.
On the other hand, active ForeGuards in the Prime Military performed missions and exterminations internationally and outside civilized lands. However, they may be called upon to resolve internal issues that exceeded the abilities of the Militia.
Finally, First Quints operated on the international level and rose above these two groups in the hierarchy. They consisted of only five at one time from any of the allied countries and their authority was only checked by the Round Council, in which their combined power made up the ISC.
Shields, in the form of badges, were the authorizations granting these groups the power to work the cases and missions.
Institutes like Hollyhock with ties to a federation issued Stone Shields to their top 50 ranking students.
The federations also issued Silver Shields to the ForeGuards of the Militia (after an individual passes an exam).
Likewise, the federation issued a Sword Shield to all ForeGuards who are exclusive to the Prime Military.
Rare was the Scarlet Shield that was issued by First Quints to any individual they deemed fit for service, whether a trained ForeGuard or not, therefore given authorization to operate outside the influence of the Militia or Prime Military and answerable only to the First Quints.
Even rarer with only five in use at a time was the Sworn Shield held by the First Quints.
Za touched the tattoo of a small ring at the base of his neck. A slight distortion in the air accompanied the fading of the tattoo, replaced by the tiniest of a fresh cut in his flesh, while a small red badge solidified into existence between his fingers. He compared it with the picture in the book. It had the same engravings, markings, and everything else. The Scarlet Shield. So that’s what it was. He understood a lot more now. Originally, his master had nonchalantly tossed it to him and told him to not lose it because it'll save him from getting into trouble. Nothing more.
"She should've explained it properly," Za muttered. He held the badge back to the wound at his neck. The immediate area distorted as the Shield vanished and the ring tattoo drew itself back on his nape, where the small cut had been. It took only a few seconds; any unfocused person would have missed it.
Za closed the book with some unease settling in his stomach, although it wasn’t apparent in his blank expression. He was trying to catch up on common knowledge, but the dismay remained. This nagging doubt jogged his memory and the return of his master's words, "Learn. Love. Live. You can't be a First Quint without that experience." Honestly, he didn't understand. However, she was convinced he would find whatever she intended here and so he didn't have a choice. After all, she had delivered the ultimatum, "If you don't graduate as the top student, don't come back."