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Couldn't Make Me Into a Hero (Couldn't Turn Me Into a Coward)

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“You think he’s dead?”

The voice fills the empty void of his thoughts, echoing without resistance off the walls of his skull. For several moments, it’s the only information he has, a question without context, until a thought of his own, almost intrusive in nature, appears in response. 

I am Tilian.

With a start, Tilian feels air rush into his lungs as his eyes shoot open, a shock of sensation running through his previously unfeeling body. He can’t see anything of substance yet, just blinding white light, but it’s still a stark contrast to the nothingness that had been surrounding him when he first awoke just seconds ago.   

“Oddly enough, no,” says a different voice, followed by what sounds like someone huffing in mock frustration.

Slowly, Tilian’s vision clears and sharpens, revealing that he’s lying flat on his back, face turned to the sky. It’s stretched out far above him, a blanket of pale blue broken only by wispy white clouds, but Tilian’s more preoccupied with the two figures leaning over him to really notice.

To his right is a man with a head of dark, shoulder length hair and a mustache, brown eyes curious. The denim jacket he’s wearing has the sleeves cuffed, and it’s unbuttoned to reveal a bright red shirt underneath.

To his left is another man whose hair is shorter and lighter in color, the start of a goatee accentuating his facial structure. His hazel eyes look more indifferent than anything else, and he’s dressed in a navy blue button-down that’s slightly wrinkled.

Looking up at the two, Tilian can feel something icy cold wash over him, an uneasiness that lodges itself right in the center of his chest and sits there like an omen. At this, Tilian’s mind conjures another thought.

Something is wrong.

“I’m Mario,” the man on Tilian’s right says, the owner of the first voice, “and this is Erick.” He jerks his thumb at the man on the left, who raises his hand in a wave. “Are you alright?”

Tilian opens his mouth to respond, not even exactly sure what he’s going to say, when Mario and Erick suddenly disappear from view.

In place of them, taking up his entire field of vision, is some kind of entity that Tilian doesn’t recognize, the bottommost part of it hovering just above his chest. It’s about as large as his upper body and vaguely pear-shaped, no part of it seeming natural in composition. Aside from a stretch of reddish brown comprising its middle, most of the entity is tinted a soothing lavender, though it also has highlights of white, silver, and black. Tilian has no idea what to make of it, so he just stares blankly, waiting for something to happen.

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to wait long. 

“Chill, Homey,” Mario says, and, at first, Tilian thinks he’s the one being spoken to. He only realizes his mistake when Mario reaches out to grab the thinnest part of the entity and gently pulls it backwards out of Tilian’s personal space. “Sorry about that, he’s just curious.”

Not yet able to read Mario too well and still barely coping with the mostly blank state his mind’s currently in, Tilian nods in understanding, even though he really doesn’t understand at all. Mario seems to notice.

“You’ve never seen a Guitar before, have you?” Mario’s head is tilted a bit to the side, slight confusion painted across his features. Erick has his eyebrows raised, seemingly contemplative. 

“Uh, I don’t know…Maybe?” Tilian flinches at how rough his own voice sounds, though some part of him innately knows that the high-pitched rasp of it is normal, not a cause for concern. “I don’t really…remember much.”

Mario hums in acknowledgment and ends up shrugging, as if what Tilian’s saying is logical enough for him to believe. “That’s fair. It did look like you fell pretty hard.”

Tilian’s first instinct is to agree with Mario, to thank him for being understanding, but then he realizes the exact implications of Mario’s words. “Wait…what?”

Mario smiles, still sympathetic, an air of patience surrounding him. “We were in the area when the sky just sort of…opened up? I guess? There was this streak of light; thought it was a meteor or a shooting star or something, but it must’ve been you. There’s nothing else around.”

Tilian thinks this over. He fleetingly supposes that Mario could be lying to him, trying to manipulate him for some reason or another, but the possibility doesn’t stick. The feeling of disquiet he’d experienced upon first seeing Mario and Erick hasn’t faded, and he knows it’s tainting his judgement.

“I think I was put here for a reason,” Tilian eventually says, acutely aware of how vague and unhelpful such a statement is, especially compared to everything that Mario's said. “But I don’t know why or how or…anything else, really.”

Mario chuckles in response, this light, pleasant sound, and Tilian envies how calm he is, completely unphased by the situation at hand. “Well, we were gonna visit some friends, if you wanna come. I mean, staying in this field probably isn’t gonna do much for your memory.” There’s a beat of silence, then Mario’s expression suddenly turns serious, and for the first time Tilian wonders if he knows more than he’s letting on. “I really don’t wanna just leave you here.”

As he says this, Mario extends one of his hands to Tilian, offering to help him off the ground. The gesture is innocent enough, but, to Tilian, it seems to carry a sort of weight, as if this moment, this decision, is pivotal somehow. 

“Why are you helping me?” Tilian asks, overwhelmed and completely at a loss as to Mario and Erick’s motives. Despite having no reason to be, they’re nothing less than insistent on bringing him along with them, and he just can’t wrap his head around it.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Mario says, as if it’s obvious. He laughs again at Tilian’s confusion, and even Erick cracks a smile. “And, well, I know this might sound weird, but I feel like maybe we were supposed to meet. Like fate, or whatever.”

It’s equal parts comforting and unsettling for Tilian to hear Mario effectively echo his own thoughts, to have a stranger find him at his most vulnerable and immediately try to form some kind of bond. He only has two things to anchor himself on, a name and a feeling, and neither of them make him want to be particularly careless with his trust.

But maybe Mario’s right and the universe isn’t out to get him. Maybe it wants to set him on the right path, to show him not only how to remember everything he lost, but also why he forgot it all in the first place. He just needs to take the first step himself.

With a sigh, Tilian grabs Mario’s hand and lets himself be pulled up.

#

Once Tilian’s on his feet and deemed to be in good enough condition to walk, Mario and Erick waste no time leading him through the field they’d found him in.

As they travel, Mario, with some intermittent assistance from Erick, tells Tilian stories about all the places they’ve been to and the adventures they’ve had. To Tilian, it almost feels like the three of them are just friends catching up after falling out of touch for a while, which is kind of strange, but it doesn’t bother him, either.

Well, it doesn’t bother him until he realizes why Mario and Erick are acting like this: They’re trying to see if they can say something, anything, that’ll jog his memory.

After this realization, what really bothers Tilian isn’t the banter itself, but how he can’t help but feel bad for giving Mario and Erick a hard time earlier, since all they’ve done is prove that they’re pretty great allies, all things considered. And though part of Tilian wants to blame his standoffishness and suspicion on the situation, the amnesia, another part, some innate remnant of his personality, knows that he’s just like this, generally.

So, in his best attempt at an apology, Tilian tries to remain as receptive as he can to what Mario and Erick are saying, and hopes that’s enough.

#

When Mario, Erick, and Tilian finally stop walking, it’s only because they’ve reached the edge of what seems to be a sizable lake.

The water’s practically transparent, revealing not only schools of fish, but also how surprisingly shallow the lake is. If they really needed to, they could probably wade across it, though Tilian isn’t particularly fond of the idea.

“So, we have to go around, right?” Tilian eventually asks, wondering why they’ve even stopped here in the first place. It occurs to him that maybe they’re taking a break, though the way that conversation's lulled along with their progress is telling him otherwise.

“Nah,” Mario says, turning to look at Tilian. He’s smiling again, casual, and Tilian’s beginning to think that’s just how Mario is: always casual, always chill. “Erick’s got it.”

As if to confirm, Erick nods, his posture straightening slightly. “Grow,” he says, holding out his right hand.

There’s a beat of silence, then something, a sudden burst of color, darts into Tilian’s vision, only really visible when it reaches Erick’s open hand.

After a moment, when the entity stops moving and his eyes are able to focus on it, Tilian’s surprised to notice that it’s another Guitar. Besides being mostly metallic green in color, as opposed to lavender, this Guitar, “Grow” as Erick had referred to it, looks nearly identical to Homey. There are some minor variances in design, but the basic structure is similar enough that Tilian almost thinks the two Guitars are just different forms of the same entity until he catches Homey hovering next to Mario in his peripheral vision.

With his left hand, Erick grabs something attached to the top edge of Grow, a strap embossed with a floral pattern, and slings it over his shoulders, letting Grow hang in front of his stomach. Once the Guitar is situated, Erick reaches into the front pocket of his jeans and produces a triangular piece of plastic, holding it between the thumb and pointer finger of his right hand.

“Initiate: Splash.”

As he speaks, Erick begins to play a jazzy, entrancing melody by strumming Grow’s strings, fingers flying over the Guitar’s fretboard. Tilian watches, probably wouldn’t be able to look away even if he wanted to, barely able to comprehend what’s happening.

He’s so captivated by Erick’s performance, the display of raw skill, in fact, that he doesn’t realize the effect the music is having on the lake.

At first, all the water does is bubble, like it’s suddenly boiling. Before long, however, the water starts to move, to part, leaving the sand at the bottom dry and easily traversable. The scene is nothing less than biblical, especially when Erick starts crossing the lake without even slightly fumbling over the song he’s playing.

“C’mon!” Mario shouts over the music when he realizes Tilian isn't with them, snapping him out of the trance he’d been in. Both Mario and Erick seem to have no problem with walking on the bottom of the lake, and are actually moving pretty quickly, leaving Tilian behind on the shore.

At this point, being forced to fend for himself is completely out of the question, so, after a moment of hesitation, Tilian follows them, feeling like his heart’s about to beat out of his chest.