Below is an excerpt taken from the book Forming the Fortis Hastatus by Darrien Cothern recounting the first moment when he decided to create the Fortis Hastatus unit.
Those With Power
Long before William became as widely recognized with the public as he is today, he was always well known among the ranks of the Exercitus army. He was careful to keep his displays of strength and power well hidden, but that’s the kind of thing you can’t avoid when on the battlefield and you need to save the lives of those around you. There was certainly a similar strain of distrust and dislike in the army of those who would later be dubbed Eternals. I kept my abilities a secret for that very reason. Yet, no matter how much one might initially dislike the concept of those abilities, after being saved by someone using them in a fight, many suddenly realized the benefits of having such a powerful individual on their side.
The fact that most battles weren’t well recorded or ever known to the public helped to ensure William’s might didn’t become too well documented, and his showings gradually improved the general mood around the army for Eternals. Not enough to make me reveal the abilities I had, but enough to at least put the idea in my head that perhaps people could learn to accept us.
None of this is meant to imply I was anywhere near William’s power. Few before or since have ever reached such a plateau. To understand the difference, one must better understand the nature of prae and how we interact with it. I like to explain it through the notion of an invisible third arm. Let’s say everyone has this arm on their body, they just can’t see it or feel it, but it’s there. Ignoring William for the moment, as he’s not a good representation of the average Eternal, I’ll use myself instead. Eternals like me are born knowing that third arm exists. We might not be able to move it, at least not at first, but we can feel its presence. Everyone might have that same third arm, but in order to do anything with it, you first have to know it’s there.
I’ve been told there are those who were born without being aware of this third arm who eventually learn how to detect it. I know of only one documented case of such an individual growing strong enough to become an Eternal, and even then, he only managed it at the ripe age of eighty-four. For everyone else, unless you were born with the knowledge, you aren’t likely to be able to develop your abilities in time to mean anything.
That’s where I stood. I was one of a handful of people who just knew that third arm was there. I could feel my prae from the very beginning and was surprised to learn others hadn’t the slightest idea what I was talking about. My father was the first person to sit me down and explain what I was feeling, and to say it would be best to never bother making use of that power. Better to ignore it and forget I’d felt a thing than to expose myself as something abnormal. He had his heart in the right place, and for a lot of years I abided by his wishes, but the temptation was hard to resist.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t halt my age sooner. I’m by no means an old man physically even now. Thirty-seven isn’t bad, and if it weren’t for a few strands of gray hair, I could probably pass as even younger. Furthermore, my abilities minimize whatever aches of age I’d normally feel, so compared to most others my physical age I might as well be in my twenties. Yet, once you realize you’re going to remain the exact same age for the rest of your life, and you know you could’ve kept yourself in your twenties for all that time, I must admit it doesn’t sit well with me knowing that if I’d been just a little braver about admitting my abilities, I wouldn’t be so old right now.
I did on more than one occasion throughout those younger years delay my aging a little. By the time I met William for the first time I claimed I was twenty-six, when in reality I was a little closer to thirty in actual years.
I hit it off with William immediately. Our friendship wasn’t really born from mutual interests, but from the fact that we both knew the other could use prae. He was like a beacon glowing so brightly in the darkness I had to practically cover my eyes at first when I saw him. I know he sought me out because he knew I’d been manipulating my prae enough to gain those extra years. We felt others who had a glimmer of something, but I suspect most of them had buried that fact so far back in their minds, they might not have noticed it themselves anymore, and certainly didn’t show any reaction to William’s presence.
I said before that most were more like me, so what does that make William? Even now our research hasn’t been able to make any solid conclusions on the matter, but we do know that every so often, probably best estimate being one in one trillion born, if that, a person can not only feel their prae, but has a larger than normal build up of it. Even given those low figures, the majority who experience this will have only the slightest up-tick in their overall capabilities. An infant might be born with the level of power I had when I was ten. Certainly an advantage should they train, but nothing too unusual.
Then you have those like William. We’ve since learned there are far more like him than ever imagined, but then, the previous estimated figure of one in one trillion starts to sound a lot less impressive when you consider just how many people are being born across more dimensions than we’ve ever been able to count. If the normal case is a baby being born with the power of a ten year old, William was born with the power of someone who’d spent the past hundred years doing nothing but train. As ridiculous as the image might be, had William actually had the mental capabilities to control that power as an infant, he probably could’ve taken on most of our ground forces when he was two years old.
There are many who claim I became friends with William in order to ride his coattails to the greatness everyone knew he’d arise to. Truthfully, that’s not too far away from the truth, a fact William is fully aware of. Don’t misunderstand though: I enjoy the man’s company, but I stuck by him so closely because I wanted to see where he would go.
Remember, this was long before my ambitions had been formed, and long before Maladuke would rear his head in Marlen and reveal that William wasn’t so unique. I saw in William the potential to finally take advantage of this power I’d had hidden deep within me for so long.
Why didn’t I do so sooner? After all, I met William when I was physically twenty-six, yet it wasn’t until I was thirty-seven I finally made that leap.
I think I’ve advanced as far as I have because I can properly read the environment around me. I can feel the winds of change and understand the mood of others. Why thirty-seven? Because that’s exactly when the Sentrillian war started.
William certainly had a lot of appreciation within our ranks, make no mistake of that, but appreciation didn’t mean acceptance. Most battles we fought prior to the Sentrillian war could only politely be called skirmishes. He saved many lives, but these weren’t large-scale conflicts, so William’s true potential wasn’t known to very many. When I’d hear people talk about William they’d often have just as much fear in their voice as awe. I spent time with William, but not in a very open way, so I had the freedom to move among the others without them realizing what I was capable of. Even during the Sentrillian war I avoided overt displays of power. Most viewed me as a tough soldier able to shrug off a lot of pain and keep fighting.
As much as I wanted to reveal what I was, I didn’t have the nerve to mark myself. Perhaps my father’s stern frown was too vivid in my mind. He died before I halted my age, and to his knowledge, I never made use of my abilities. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him otherwise.
I will always be friends with William and always respect him because of the abuse he suffered for people like me. Maybe he was just too strong to hide who he was, and because of that, figured it was best to embrace it instead. I don’t believe this is true. Rather, I think William couldn’t stand the idea of knowing he wasn’t helping others. He had the power to save people and keep his society safe. He was willing to suffer the animosity that came from revealing his abilities. I’ve never viewed William as a hero because of his strength. He’s the best man I’ve had the honor of knowing because he was willing to make that sacrifice. I’ve heard people complain that William can be aloof and difficult to understand at times. Perhaps this is true, but to me, all one needs to know in order to grasp William is his need to protect those around him. Once you know that, everything else about him falls into place.