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.
I write this with William’s permission, as I know he’d never bother to put any of his life into words. That’s always been one of the unexpected curiosities surrounding the man. I assume because of his good deeds and diligence in protecting the Aeolus many would assume him to be a good spirited and jovial man, ready to have a friendly conversation or lend a helping hand whenever one is in need. This is certainly the image the press has offered to the public.
No actual person could ever live up to such an image. The fact that the press has yet to ever turn on him is proof enough of his good deeds, but it isn’t the things he’s done that many wonder about, but the personality that drives a man to accomplish such things.
I’m not sure how old William is. Few Eternals care to ask about a person’s age given how many are quick to lie. After all, if you appear to be twenty, and you’ll always appear to be twenty, very few people can call you on a lie, so why say you’re actually forty, when you can get a bigger reaction by saying your one hundred? I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t added a few years to my real age depending on whom I was speaking to. In reality, most of us just don’t remember anymore. I know I’m close to two hundred, if not older, and were I to consult birth records, I could pin point it more exactly, but it doesn’t matter, and in the case of William, I don’t think anyone could know.
William came from an undeveloped dimension, at least at the time of his birth. I think he told me he was in his teens at the time the Aeolus first made contact with his dimension, and as soon as he was able to he enlisted in this new army under the false belief that there would be many others like him.
Though he’d never kept his power hidden from his family, he hardly embraced it, either, fearing the fall out should he reveal what he could do to the world. After an ambassador from another dimension rips a hole through the walls of reality and tells the world there’s a lot more out there, the situation changed, or William thought it did. I think if he’d known how rare his powers were, he would’ve kept them better hidden, but at the time, being the wide-eyed youth he was, he readily revealed to his superiors what he was able to do. Having seen the potential, they weren’t about to tell him to hide those powers away. Well, those particular men didn’t, at least, though I suppose I can recall more than a few shortsighted commanding officers that might have done so out of fear or jealousy. These men basked in the potential.
This is why William was able to use his powers within the armed forces. Outside of it, on the other hand, he was given strict orders to keep his abilities a secret, and to my knowledge the only person outside our ranks to know about him before his official unveiling years later was the woman he’d eventually marry. I choose not to use her name here at William’s urging. Long dead from old age, he’s always wished to spare her name from the headlines for his own reasons, and I’ll respect that decision.
My point in writing this is to counter the prevailing notion that William was just so kind hearted and willing to help he didn’t let such prejudice prevent him from being a true hero. I’m also not trying to tarnish his name and claim him to be more selfish than others believe, because William is a good, honest man, and if he’s able to lend a hand to others, he’ll do so in a heartbeat.
But this fantastic image of him has become so engrained in the public consciousness that I feel it’s reduced him to more of a caricature than a flesh and blood human being. I watch the animated shows based off of him, the books claiming to be non-fiction representations of his achievements, and the films filled with heroes modeled so closely off of him he could likely sue them for copying his likeness were he so inclined. I see the man himself buried under the fiction until he’s no longer allowed to show any personality for fear of the way it will be interpreted—well, not William himself, perhaps, who is surprisingly good at ignoring such things, but rather, the many officers in the Exercitus army who would never dare utter anything but over the top praise should William’s name be mentioned.
So who is William? If he isn’t the fantasy, then who is the real man? As with any person, one book wouldn’t be long enough to detail William’s life, and one chapter certainly isn’t enough, a fact made even truer by the unknown length of William’s life. I’ve read six hundred page works documenting the life of a person who has lived no more than sixty years. How does one approach the life of someone who has to be nearing four or five hundred?
I don’t write this to tell anyone his life story, but to explain where some of the fantasy and reality meet. William is a very focused individual. Once he sets his sights on something, once he decides to live by a certain ideal, he’ll abide by it with all the authority he can. As admirable as such a trait can be, it’s also exhausting for him, and doesn’t always lend itself to pleasant conversation.
I don’t know when I last had a chance to sit down and have a friendly chat with him, because right now his focus is on the Fortis Hastatus unit and keeping our society safe. Should any citizen happen to see him and try to strike up a conversation I suspect he’d be too busy to even notice they were there and walk away without a word. If he did notice, he’d give them as much of his attention as he could muster, maybe even sign an autograph for them, but he’d do so with an air of agitation at the delay the interaction was causing, because the longer he spends talking to this random individual, the less time he has to be prepared for the next threat.
In the early years William approached his job with a zeal few could match. The years have done a lot to dim whatever light had once glowed brightly in his eyes. He holds a weight on his shoulders heavier than any I’ve ever seen. Arguably my job forces more responsibility, but I’d be an arrogant fool to claim I had as much stress as he does. Should he fail then yes, I would have to write the report and explain to the world that the Fortis Hastatus wasn’t able to protect them this time, but I wouldn’t bear the weight of that failure in my heart, and I wouldn’t have the image of those I’d let die flashing through the back of my mind. I’d sit far away from it in my office and be able to enjoy that detachment. William has no such comfort.
Many ask me, especially those who still hold their old prejudices against the Eternals, if the Fortis Hastatus only exists to promote William to the world. They say we exist as a way of publicizing his deeds so he can bask in the praise his name is given. This is a lie.
I didn’t help create the Fortis Hastatus because I wanted to promote William. In fact, I hope that one day, should the Fortis Hastatus become strong enough, William will no longer be needed. He’ll bear the weight of protecting the Aeolus for as long as we need him to, but that doesn’t mean I wish to force that weight upon him forever. People might claim they’d like to join the Eternals in living forever, but if that immortality means they’re never able to retire or enjoy a quiet life, than what have they gained? Some may view William as the celebrity our world holds him up as, but in many ways I see him as a slave to his own sense of honor, forever trying to push that boulder up the hill only to see it tumble back down each time a new conflict arises. If I can have my way, the Fortis Hastatus will free William from his endless cycle and let him have the peace he’s earned.
I hope no one comes away from this thinking less of William, or feeling as if they should owe him something for the actions he’s taken. I know William would scoff at such a thought. He’s chosen his path and walks it with his head held high. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy his time of rest.