Although one may be inclined to think of all mercenaries as those willing to fight for any employer for sufficient pay, the Mercenaries' Guild is almost a misnomer of the title. The Guild is, if anything, a first line of defense against the Great Enemy (or lawless humans), particularly in the more remote regions of the world where the formal militaries of Terranis have little, if any presence. Likewise, they are also relied upon in situations where local lawkeepers are unable or unwilling to help. Nearly every town boasts at least a small office of the Guild, and the larger halls in major cities are frequently as heavily fortified as an actual fortress.
Despite their necessity even today, as Terranis becomes more civilized and peaceful, the Guild must deal with a growing malign reputation; their violent nature serves as a stark reminder of the dangers that exist beyond the bounds of civilization. It is perhaps not surprising that those able to live their entire lives in peace might find the sight of a band of armed warriors to be coarse, unnecessary, or even offensive.
Even with this reputation, however, the Guild still does not lack for recruitment. The fatality rates are staggeringly high: barely 20% of Guild members survive to retirement in good health. Despite the obviously high level of danger, most Guild members consider the risks worth it, as surviving to retirement usually means doing so with vast amounts of wealth. Members of the Guild are among the highest-paid professionals in the world, often receiving on average hundreds to thousands of zyer a week for the work they do.
The first groups that would eventually become the Mercenaries' Guild arose as early as the second century AF. As Great Enemy presence began to increase across Terranis, fledgling nations found themselves frequently stretched to the limit to protect their territories. Groups of warriors from diverse origins began to offer their services to those who felt their lives were in danger. Whether disgraced soldiers, exiles from home, those filled with wanderlust, or even would-be barbarians deciding to work with civilization instead of against it, their services were welcome.
Some augmented local garrisons, some protected travelers on the road, and some cleansed monster lairs. Anywhere a strong arm was needed, they could be found. While the majority died within their first few years of work, those who attained any kind of veterancy were highly sought after.
By the fourth century, as many nations poured the majority of their resources into the Bastion Wars, the need for these mercenaries continued to grow. In time, the leaders of several of the largest groups met in Jorandek, the closest thing to neutral ground that could be found, and elected to create a formal organization. If the nations of Terranis would not protect their people, then these mercenaries would. And make a hefty profit for their troubles, too. After weeks of discussion and debate, the first version of the Mercenaries' Guild Charter was published in AF 347.
At first, the Guild's influence was limited. It took decades, even centuries, for it to become well established in every nation. While some countries welcomed the Guild, others resisted its presence, partly out of fear of the Guild becoming too powerful, but especially in light of many of its members simply using the Guild as an easier means of acquiring jobs with dubious ethical goals.
By the fifth century, the Guild Charter had been heavily revised to forbid these sorts of jobs, and indeed ultimately it took the form of banning any job that would run contrary to local laws, and working closely with law enforcement where applicable. This went a long ways to smoothing relationships with most nations, and the Guild entered a new period of growth.
Within a century of this, it was beginning to resemble the global organization it is today. Even the ferocity of the Third Barbarian Wars, the greatest test the Guild has faced, was not enough to destroy it, despite half its membership being killed in battle by the end of the conflicts.
When the Unity Wars broke out, the Guild found itself in a similar situation to that of its founding. The militaries of Terranis were too busy fighting each other to keep their civilian populations safe, and so it fell to the Guild to safeguard the roads and more isolated towns. Although they tried to remain neutral in the Wars, on numerous occasions they were forced to draw blades against military forces seeking to attack civilian targets.
Now, in the eleventh century, as global unrest appears to be on the rise, the Guild once more finds itself in high demand.
There is no singular head of the Guild. Rather, representatives from each of the seven largest Guild halls across Terranis convene at the Bastion on Daeldren to discuss matters of policy. The headquarters of the Guild is also located there, on neutral ground so as to not show favoritism to any one nation.
With international communication being slow, the Guild is structured in a way that individual halls are largely autonomous, but still expected to adhere to the Charter's dictates. Numerous mercenaries fulfill a double role of also traveling from hall to hall, reporting any violations they find.
Each individual hall with have one or more senior officers that lead it, depending on the size of the hall. Members are free to come and go as jobs or their desires take them, and changing one's primary hall is quite typical. Most halls are also stocked with provisions and living quarters for members to call upon, though the quality of these can be highly variable.
The Guild is also known for its extensive record-keeping. The main hall at the Bastion contains one of the largest repositories of knowledge outside of Kunskaborg, with centuries of detailed records describing nearly every mission a member of the Guild has ever undertaken. Individual halls will also keep records of their activities, and frequently report worthwhile knowledge, such as a major political event, a new species of monster, etc., to each other so that other halls can be informed. These records are handled by a veritable army of trained scribes and secretaries, their work as vital to the Guild as those who actually complete the missions.
To join the Guild, one must demonstrate not only the capability to survive in battle, but a sufficient degree of ethical standards, as well. It is unsurprising that the promise of good pay can draw many of a more unscrupulous nature, but the Guild's primary mission is to protect the innocent and help maintain civilization.
Should a prospective member be inducted, they are given a badge and identification papers, which will make them welcome at any hall in the world. There are annual dues to be paid, mostly as a means of helping ensure members aren't simply taking advantage of the free lodging and provisions.
Members of the Guild come from every nation and every walk of life. Most will travel extensively in their careers, interacting with a huge variety of people of other cultures. Within a hall, or even a single group of mercenaries, it would not be unusual to see a Kornethi noble, a farmer of Doramor, a Weijini scholar, and a Hassidian trader all sharing a table, laughing and enjoying a friendship that has existed for years. They all know they might die tomorrow, and petty feuds are simply not worth the effort.
Perhaps a lesson in interracial relationships could be learned by the rest of us.