"Trayce, if you would, kindly explain to me how we keep ending up in these situations?"

"Good question, Broker. If I had an answer, I would tell you. But, seeing as I don't, can we please stop the dialogue and fix the situation at hand!"

"Fine, fine. But you owe me…if we survive this."

"Motherfucker, if we live, I will kill you myself!"

"Whoa, whoa, why all the hostility?"

Gritting his teeth, Trayce braced himself for impact as the wild, whipping tentacle of the mammoth aquatic mark, the SS-class mark, the Kraken, whipped him straight into the mast of the Thorn, the Roses' personal ship. The rebound knocked him loopy for a second but quickly regaining his bearings, he struggled to pry himself from the monster's tentacle. A sharp downward elbow found it's mark into the soft, spongy tissue that made up the appendage of the Kraken but, even with Trayce's massive strength, it would not relinquish its hold.

Broker was no better off. With four additional spiritual arms protruding from his back, he still couldn't get the monster to let loose.

"Jesus, how strong is this thing?" Broker cried before being yanked out of the air and slammed onto the deck before being raised again.

"Oh, I don't know," Trayce began, loading his crimson colored energy into his right arm. "Maybe because it is an SS-Rank mark! ASSAULT MAGNUM!"

His right arm shining brightly with the hue of a crimson red moon, Trayce let the blow fly, downward into the tentacle with piledriving force, ripping it to shreds. The beast howled in pain as Trayce dropped to the deck, the ship threatening to capsize in the stormy sea.

He didn't know why he took this mission or why he even decided this would be a smart idea. But, for some reason, the Black Rose known as Trayce D. King smiled a Cheshire smile. This is where he was most alive and, more importantly, this is where he excelled. Doing things that no other mercenary on the planet could do.

"Xero! Richard! Get up!"

The metallic warrior groaned against the railing of the boat, a solid stream of blood running down his head. Using the rails for stability, he slowly climbed to his feet, allowing his armor to reform around his skin like an insect carapace. Richard, the gentleman artist of the roses, crawled out of a massive hole in the deck created by the kraken's first attack, his precious sketchbook still in hand.

Looking back at his two teammates who now stood ready, Trayce grinned and gave order. "Let's kill this son of a bitch!"

Nodding, the two other Roses set to work. Forming his right arm into a three-foot blade and splitting his prehensile tail into a set of wings, Xero dashed forward, grabbing Richard with his free hand was he passed. By that time, Richard was already drawing. His water resistant ink brush moved across the page with the deft ability of a Michelangelo or a Van Gogh, and within seconds, as the reached the starboard side of the ship where the main body of the beast lies; he had a surprise for it.

"Throw me!" Richard instructed. Xero obliged, launching the art warrior high into the air, over the side of the ship. Closing his eyes and slamming his hand down onto the open page of the book, Richard invoked his Living Ink.

"LIVING INK: GRAND BUTCHER!"

As if being called, the book awakened, shining with a sinister light. Removing his hand from the page, Richard slowly withdrew, from within the pages of the book, a gigantic sushi knife. Slinging the knife over his shoulder, he pointed his body downward towards the monster, letting out a primal scream. Xero was far behind him. Kicking off the starboard railing, Xero rocketed into the sky, his blade gleaming with mischievous delight.

"Hey, ya'll motherfuckers are just going to leave me?" Broker screamed, covering himself in his ghostly aura, phasing out of the grip of the kraken and falling to the deck. "That is fucked up!"

"Hey Broker?"

Broker sneered. "What negro?"

Trayce looked back over his shoulder at Broker, cracking his knuckles. He grinned as a child would on Christmas day, anxious to play with his new toy.

"I'll race ya'."

And with that, Trayce was off, sprinting for the railing. Broker could do no more than grin, flick his nose with his thumb and bolting after his friend. Greeting certain doom with a smile, Trayce leapt over the railing, arm cocked back, the joy of the fight filling his heart.

"LARIAT!"

… … …

The Garden of Black Roses

Presents

MERCENARY FICTION:

Those Who Laugh in the Face of Death

[Hit 1]: The Legend of 100% and the M.E.R.C. Exam

When they returned the following day, victorious over the SS class mark, the Black Roses Academy of Higher Learning was full of jubilation. To date, no team of mercenaries had ever managed to clear the SS rank mission, Terror of the Deep, but they did. They had become the first, and only, organization to challenge the Kraken and return with all of its members alive. To everyone there, Trayce, Richard, Xero and Broker were heroes. Really, it only added on to their grand legacy but it was still a major achievement that would mean higher paying missions for the Roses including the SSS rank missions and even, perhaps, if they dared to think it, an X-rank mission.

Assembled in the main conference hall, all students and personnel gathered for a feast and party in their honor. In general, as with most celebrities, people swarmed them with questions and request for photos, which, they obliged. But these were mercenaries. More important than the questions and the photos were the spoils of war. Stretched across the massive oaken table that sat the four conquering heroes, was one gigantic tooth from the slain beast. It was an astounding sight. Long enough to reach from one end of the table to the other and wide enough to overlap the sides; the kraken's tooth drew all to the back of the room.

"Dude, take a look at that thing!" one student exclaimed, rubbing his hand along the surface of the item. "It is massive."

"How," another, a teenage girl, asked, touching the tooth and looking across the table to Trayce. "How did you manage to kill something with teeth this big?"

Trayce, who sat in the sent of the table, grinned childishly and rubbed his nose. "Honestly, I don't remember. I just landed the killing blow. The others did most of the work. Xero was the one who cleaved off this bad boy."

"Seriously? Dude, Xero, you rock!"

The metallic warrior blushed, bowing his head in embarrassment at the shower of praise. Trayce chuckled beside him, wrapping his massive arm around the warrior and yanking him in close.

"Get used to it kid! You're a celebrity now. You've done what no other student has done."

Richard chimed in from the other side of him. "He's right Xero. You've gone from villain, to Rose, to now conqueror of the Terror of the Deep. And,"

Richard motioned to the corner where a gaggle of female students giggled and waved to Xero.

"I even believe you have some fans."

"Embrace it, noob," Broker spoke up, stuffing his mouth with a fried chicken drumstick, " You are big man on campus, everyone is impressed."

All except one. Sitting in the back of the room, leant back in his chair with his feet up upon the table, Creed A. King stared a hole straight into the heart of Deep End. Brushing a strand of his black dreadlocks from his face, Creed crossed his arms, closing his eyes.

"Impressive my ass." He murmured.

Since the day that Xero Nevermore walked into his life, Creed had developed no particular love for him. It he wasn't being called a prodigal mercenary, he was being showered with adoration from everyone with a pulse. Which included Creed's own big brother, Trayce. That, by itself, pissed him off more than anything.

It wasn't as if Xero were the only one with impressive statistics. Creed was bare none the top student in the junior class of BRAHL academy, in both academics and combat scores, and had successfully completed more combat and student hunts than any student in the history of the school. He even had defeated a room full of green Punchbacks of Notre Dooms without the help of anyone while wearing an oxygen deprivation mask. He was just as impressive as Xero, if not more so.

But overprotective big brother Trayce still could not see it. He kept him close to the school, not allowing him to go on hunts for marks or any other type of mission for that matter. Creed could have easily fit into any of the subcategories for mercenaries but he would never get his chance stuck behind walls built to keep him in. For now he would have to star at Trayce's prodigal student and grit his teeth for his shot.

"Creed?"

Creed opened his eyes and looked up. Standing almost directly behind him was his loving girlfriend, Lotus. Lotus was one of the students who was allowed to go on missions and was a usual member on the teams led by Alastor. Her powers, while creepy, were generally a huge help to the powerful vampiric rose alongside of their fellow teammate, Memento Mori, another of Creed's rivals.

"Yo."

She smiled and bent over, placing a kiss upon his browned lips. Her long, sea blue hair fell forward to cover up their passion. She parted with a smile, allowing Creed to gain his bearings.

"Jesus, Lo, you know we can't do that in public." Creed remarked, sitting up.

"Yeah, yeah," she commented, pulling out the seat next to him. "No one was looking. And, even if someone was, they wouldn't care, Creed. Students have relationships all the time. It's not that big of a deal."

"It's not that big of a deal for you. My brother would blow a gasket if he knew we were dating."

"I know, I know. It's just; I would like to be like a normal couple, y'know? Hold hands in public. Kiss when we want to. Instead,"

She motioned towards the table at the front of the room where people still were entranced with the conquering four.

"We have to play Cloak and Dagger because your big brother can't seem to comprehend that his little brother is growing up and might have certain needs."

Creed raised and eyebrow, a sheepish grin creeping across his face. "And what might those needs be?"

For a second, Lotus didn't get it. But the second she did, color flushed her face and she pushed the younger King, letting out a girlish squeak.

"No! Don't be gross, Creed! Pervert!"

The young man chuckled, holding his hands out in front of him. There were reasons that he had fallen for Lotus over a year ago and her fiery disposition was one of them. She said what was on her mind and didn't mind breaking a couple of rules. Granted, she also was mostly overseen by Alastor so it wasn't that big of a deal since he didn't really care what happened. Even then, he sat in his own corner of the hall, sipping a dark red liquid Creed could only hope was red win while he twirled a lock of his platinum blonde hair with his finger.

"My bad. Bad joke?"

"Very!"

"Okay. I'm sorry. But seriously, I know it sucks, but we just have to keep it a secret. He's been real protective of you since he rescued you from that shaman in Louisiana who was trying to drain you of your powers. I would hate to think of what he would do if he found out his precious little brother and his precious little sister were actually a couple."

She pondered for a sec, and then spoke. "First off, don't ever use the words brother and sister when referring to us. Second, I appreciate what Trayce did. When Memento and I made it here, we were being pursued by some bad people. Things got rough and your brother helped us out which I am forever grateful for. But, he has to understand that we aren't like the characters in the comic books he likes to read. I am not Kitty Pryde and you aren't Colossus. We are only a year apart in age: 16 and 17 years old. He doesn't have to protect us."

"Tell that to him. This is the same guy who won't let me go on missions, remember? Reasoning isn't exactly his strong suit. Smashing things to smithereens and praying that it doesn't get back up it his strong suit."

"Look," Lotus began, sliding in closer to Creed and taking his hand and interlacing his fingers with her own, "He'll come around one of these days. You'll see."

He had no clue how right she was. On cue, a sound at the front of the room grabbed the attention of everyone. Creed stood from his chair, bringing Lotus up with him to see what was going on. All eyes turned to the front where Trayce was standing, Xero sheepishly at his side.

"Um, I'm not very good at this speech thing but here goes. Since we first opened the Black Roses Academy of Higher Learning, we have developed a reputation. This reputation has become known as the Legend of One Hundred Percent. It started out as just something I would say to psyche myself up to not get murdered out there but it evolved into much more. Now, all of these years later, it has become the life's blood of the Roses. Any mission, no matter how tough, dangerous or whatever you may have, we will complete it without fail, one hundred percent of the time." Trayce stated. "It is not only my motto, but, it is your motto. The people that I have met because of this mantra like Land Mark Combat Professor Sunni Assan and the school physician, Kentaro "Kenta" Fujita, have all gathered here because for some reason they believed in the cause that I and so many other fought for. Thus, the legend of one hundred percent became infamous."

The crowd applauded Trayce's words but he quieted the with a rising of his hand.

"But that is not all. Since that time, the legend has reached the world. Mercenaries groups from all over the world have taken it upon themselves to prove us wrong. While we may have one hundred percent completion of missions, we are not the top organization. Groups like DNAeon and Crimson Bullet far outrank us in earnings because it isn't about the money—"

"—speak for yourself, negro," Broker interrupted.

Trayce simply laughed off the gesture and continued. "As I was saying. This isn't about the money for us. While guilds are ranked by earning, we are nowhere near the top. I don't even think we are in the top fifty. But we take on the missions that have no monetary tag attached to them. We take on the missions that make men out of boys and women out of girls. And we do it while laughing in the face of death."

Another round of applause circled the room, with the whoops and hollers being accompanied by the chant of "Black Roses". Again, Trayce quieted the crowd, but even then he was unable to hide the smile on his face.

"So for those that have put your lives on the line for us, Lily and I thank you. Now, that the formality is out of the way, I don't want this party to just be about the four of us who whipped that California roll's ass. I want this to be about more than that. This banquet will be in celebration of this years M.E.R.C. exam and those this academy will be sending in as representatives!"

Creed's ear perked up. Did he say M.E.R.C. exam? The highly difficult test to grant an individual their merc license and would allow them to go on missions without a senior rose?

"This year I have decided that several students have what it takes to be full members of the Roses mission squad. Furthermore, these students, I charge with helping us with our new goal.."

Trayce paused and extended his right arm and flipped out his middle finger.

"…of saying fuck you to all the other guilds by helping us attain the rank of number one. The legend of one hundred percent is more than just a mantra and we will prove it. So, for everyone not familiar with the M.E.R.C. exam, here are the specifics. Mercenaries, as a whole, is just an umbrella term. Mercenaries can be hired to do anything but some specialize in certain missions. There are Hunters, like myself, who track down monsters and bring them back deader than they were. There are also Gourmets who find special food items and ingredients for customers even if they are in dangerous areas. There are Bodyguards, like Richard, who specialize in protection missions. There are even Raiders, who specialize in procuring ancient and powerful artifacts. Regardless of the specialty, there are tons of jobs for mercenaries and can be anything they wish them to be. A young lady, by the name of Skyla Reinhart, once told me she wanted to be a Lyric Hunter, someone who tracks down specific pieces of music. Now she is the top Lyric Hunter in the world. The same can be for these students. That is, if, and I do mean if, they pass this exam. The M.E.R.C. licensing exam is pure hell on earth that lasts for multiple days. It is never the same thing twice and all of the skills that a mercenary will need will be put to the test. If someone can last the multiple day period and pass the test, then they will be awarded the title of mercenary. Now, so that I may shut up, I will introduce the candidates for this year. When I call your name, please stand."

"Memento Mori," Trayce stated.

In the crowd, the dragon boy stood up, his crimson eyes beaming with pride as a he breathed out a distinct plume of fire.

"Keselina Porter."

In the back of the room, next to an extremely large man with a plethora of weapons hanging from his being known as Kuok Minghui, the blind phoenix of the Roses, Kes stood up. Her chocolate brown skinned glistened in the moonlight that came in through the skylight.

"Katt and Yoonhyun."

Exploding out of their seats, the two best friends rose to their feet, hands clenched tight as they exclaimed with great glee.

"Oh my god! We're gonna be mercenaries!" they cried in unison.

The crowd laughed at the display and instantly quieted for the next name.

"Lotus."

Creed tried to suppress his snarl as Lotus released his hand, adjusting her uniform as the applause met her.

"Xero Nevermore."

And the crowd leapt to their feet. Hoots and calls from all around rang through the room. Xero simply waved shyly at the front of the room, averting his eyes from those that were praising him.

"Savior of the school!"

"Go get'em, Deep End!"

"When he passes, give him his own team!"

It was enough to make Creed sick to his stomach. He had had enough of it. Turning his back, Creed began to walk away, brushing off Lotus' attempt at grabbing his arm. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he spoke.

"Congrats Lo, knock 'em dead."

At the front of the room, Trayce narrowed his eyes. Clearing his throat, he made his final announcement.

"And the last candidate is one I am most proud of because he has endured more than any other. He has even had to put up with me being overprotective. Your final M.E.R.C. candidate it, Creed Angelus King."

And in that moment, as Creed, looked over his should, time stood still.

Next Chapter

"Teacher Feature"

A/N: Hey! How are you doing today? I know it has been a little bit since I lost posted a new story but it has all been coming to this. I received a lot of positive feedback about the original mercenary fiction so I wanted to continue it with a longer, deeper engaging storyline that tracks the storyline of the younger Roses as well as the older Roses. This story has been a while in the making so I hope you enjoy it.

The first big arc of the story, the MERC Exam, is going to involve a lot of characters so, I need your help! If you would like to submit a character to be seen in the MERC exam (they may even show up after) then fill out this form and PM it to me or copy and paste it to your review so I can know. Who knows, your character may just become a permanent fixture in the world of the ever-expanding world of the Roses. Here is your form:

Character Name:

Age:

Height:

Weight:

Measurements (if female):

Power Suggestion: (it is a suggestion because I tend to change powers to fit the story or to keep them from being world breaking)

Weapon (if one is used):

Small history of character:

Keep in mind when you submit a character, I may have to change them a bit to fit the story but I will always try to stay true to who they are. Now, I will try to commit to putting these new chapters out on Fridays but if they aren't on time, don't hate me. Between my job, grad school, and my social life I don't have much time. Regardless, I hope you have a good time and enjoy Mercenary Fiction: Those Who Laugh in the Face of Death