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. This book is intended as an in-world non-fiction work that the character Darrien wrote and released to the public after the Fortis Hastatus unit became popular.
Though the Aeolus has rarely sent its armies into large-scale conflicts, and most viewed the period following the end of the Sentrillian war to be an age of peace, there were many small wars to fight. When I joined the military our policies regarding how we approached less developed and hostile dimensions hadn’t been finalized. There were more than a few generals given the freedom to act as they saw fit, and I’d been part of several excursions to beat back any hint of aggression with a show of power to ensure local governments couldn’t unite against us.
I say this in order to make it clear that I’d seen my share of death and destruction before that day in Marlen. However, the violence there was different for several important reasons.
I knew about those distant conflicts in other dimensions, but few in the public did, or cared to. There was an unspoken derision in those days for any dimension outside the reach of the Aeolus. Most didn’t openly talk about those kinds of things, because what was the point? Who cared about what occurred in random worlds, years behind in technology, filled with violent, ignorant fools? The press had enough to keep up with and there was nothing exciting about another mission into uncharted territory, most yielding a few weeks of wasted time. If anyone mentioned our activities it was to complain about the money we were wasting on useless exploring. What was the end result of our efforts: another undeveloped world using up our resources and technology while bringing nothing to the table.
None of it was true. Few in the public realized how badly we needed new worlds brought into the fold. We didn’t given away commodities to primitive worlds; we plundered them for anything we could. Today our consumption has been tempered and our treaties more fairly established, but back then we were little more than conmen tricking the ignorant out of their money, and eventually when they wised up enough to grasp what a raw deal they’d been given, more than a few of them turned on us.
Those skirmishes were never reported. All dimensional travel was heavily restricted, much more so than today, and we only allowed reporters to join us on our initial trips so they could pass along our altruistic efforts to bring advanced society to these primeval societies, or our daring conflicts against the undeserved aggression we faced.
Communication was so limited between dimensions, and often not possible at all, the public would never hear of later wars initiated by once allies. This lack of information led to calls every year to cut our budget and reduce our forces. What was the point of a military when we so rarely fought? Many of the elected officials didn’t know what was really going on.
Of course, everything changed on that hot day in Marlen. I recount our earlier arrogant exploits because I’ve always felt they brought him to our doorstep. Not everyone agrees, especially those who crafted the earlier policies, a few of whom are still in power today and not likely to admit the harm their actions caused, but I think our heavy handed approach to diplomacy caught Maladuke’s eye. Based on his later actions, it’s clear to me he enjoys challenging whatever authority he can find; probably to show how little power they have over him. I’ve never believed the more widely accepted claim that he’s a sociopathic madman cutting a path of destruction wherever he goes. Such a thought allows one to throw up their hands and say there was nothing they could do to prevent the horrors he caused. He is no different than a storm that rolled through a small town and turned it to rubble. Terrible though it may be, sometimes nature does that, and all we can do is move on and rebuild.
I will never agree with those claims, nor would I ever want to, because I was there in the aftermath of the Aeolus’s first meeting with Maladuke. He is not a force of nature. I refuse to believe such a horrible sight cannot be avoided. I refuse to believe we have no choice but to sit back and wait for the next time it occurs.
What few know is that given my rank at the time, I should’ve been on the front lines, part of the first regimen to be sent in when he launched his attack, and if I had been, I wouldn’t be writing these words, but rather, would be among the ten thousand dead. I’m not sure what happened to the bodies. Many had been burned into nothing by the initial onslaught, and I don’t believe all the dead have ever been identified. I wasn’t among them only because I’d been given a temporary assignment that took me away from my normal duties. It wasn’t until the severity of the attack was realized that the entire might of the military was brought to Marlen, but by then it was over.
I didn’t witness the first fight between William and Maladuke. I stepped foot in Marlen after William had driven him away, as those there said it, and I first believed. William is a good friend of mine. I met him shortly after enlisting. Though I’ve since climbed higher in the ranks than William, his innate power gave him an advantage few could match, and it’s only by choice he’s never risen higher, but I’ll talk more about him in later chapters. I mention him now to note that William has made it clear he didn’t drive away anything. Had Maladuke wanted to, he could’ve killed William, but chose not to.
That knowledge still terrifies me. Marlen shattered the world I’d been living in. We walked into strange dimensions to fight, and we saw violence still prevalent within new societies, but the Aeolus was free of such things. When the mission was over and we returned to our homes, we did so confident that no one would ruin our peace. I wasn’t alone in looking to people like William as the proof of our power. His strength was beyond anything any of us had ever seen. The Sentrillian war had not only given him a chance to prove his abilities, but more so, had shown him rise to even the largest challenge and come away unscathed. We naïvely imagined no one could be stronger.
I know it makes us look simple minded now to have ever believed such fairy tales, but believe them we did. In some dark corner of my mind I’m almost thankful that Maladuke crossed our path. I wish he had done so without bloodshed, but that was an awakening we needed. We had conceitedly thought we’d seen it all, and standing in Marlen with the stink of the dead filling my nose and the cries of the wounded wailing through the humid air, I understood how all those other worlds must’ve felt when our forces tore through them. I’ve never felt so helpless.
Two paths opened before me that day. I could already hear in my mind the arguments, the political statements, and days later my suspicions would prove accurate as I read editorials and sat in meetings: William beat Maladuke and we were safe. People liked this idea. The threat was over. Yes, we’d seen a new evil, but through our valiant efforts, we’d bested it, and we’d be ready for whatever came next. No changes were needed and no effort was required to make sure this didn’t happen again. We were in control.
I knew I had to choose the other path. Before that day I’d never been much for politics, though I doubt many who know me today would believe it. I was content to take my orders, do my job, and go home feeling as if I’d done something worthwhile with my life. But standing in Marlen and knowing how my leaders would react, I knew I had to do something.
We weren’t ready. We were a colony of ants waiting for the next time a foot decided to step on us. There had always been those like William in our society; people born with odd and unique powers. It wasn’t that our military didn’t see the benefits of such people, but they’d always been distrustful, seeing them as unruly and difficult to control. More importantly, the public feared them. This fear wasn’t overt, but we all felt it, and anyone who made use of the power, even those like me who could only manage the smallest of feats, were told to keep the information strictly hidden.
All of that needed to change. This wasn’t just about forming a unit of such people in order to keep our society safe. I knew we needed to fundamentally change the way people saw such power, and there was William, a man already being christened as a savoir. If anyone could sway the public, it would be him.
I’m sure if the officials at the time had known my thoughts they would’ve laughed. It wasn’t just the difficulties of what I proposed, but the fact that I was little more than a grunt. Yes, I’d gained excellent marks and proven my strategic capabilities, but I’d never risen to any position of notable rank, and I knew no one would bother listening to such a lowly soldier and his grand plans to reshape both the structure of the Exercitus army as a whole and the viewpoints of the entire society.
Still, if a moment needs to be marked when the Fortis Hastatus was truly born, I won’t hesitate to say it was that day in the hollowed out remains of Marlen.