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A Dream on Fire

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Prologue

Loneliness.

This was a feeling that Galo was no stranger to. Not that he ever outwardly appeared to be in need of company. Galo seemed to meld into any crowd he was with, showing no sign that he felt out of place, but the truth was he never really belonged.

At the orphanage, he hadn’t really clicked with anyone. A common complaint was that he was too enthusiastic, to the point where it bordered on annoying. Galo liked to think of it as being too driven. As soon as he was old enough he enrolled in the academy, ready to begin training for Burning Rescue. He was part of a small class there. One of five people. He knew this wasn’t an easy job, nor did it have the same glory as other jobs. Sometimes they would share the field with the Freeze Force cadets. They had far more recruits, nice uniforms, and an unearned sense of superiority that rubbed Galo the wrong way.

Galo had never been the smartest person, but he knew where his shortcomings were. The physical tasks came to him easily, so he spent most of his nights studying. He memorized proper procedures, the names of equipment, and how to care for it. He learned what to do in case of different emergencies, the signs of respiratory distress. Everything he needed to know he studied it until it was ingrained in his very soul. Despite never being the best student, Galo passed everyone one of his tests with flying colors. Galo graduated at the top of his class at the academy, but that wasn’t a surprise to anyone. After all, by the end of their training Galo was the only one left.

That wasn’t strange, in fact, it was quite common for people to drop out without completing training. It was brutal and dangerous. Galo went to bed with small burns and sore muscles more often than not. Galo had welcomed the soreness. He liked going to bed feeling like he had a good day's work. He could tell by the disgruntled grumbling of his classmates that they hadn’t shared his opinion. His classmates had been nice but they didn’t have the same kind of motivation that Galo did. They didn’t have the same reason for pursuing his dreams.

The fire that killed his parents. The one that nearly killed him. It still showed up in his dreams sometimes. It was the same nightmare he had been having for most of his life. At this point, he couldn’t tell which bits were dreams, and which bits were memories of the tragic events. When he was younger he could remember the heat of the blaze. The taste of smoke filling his mouth and nose. The way Governor Kray’s, who wasn’t a governor at the time, just a college student, strong body felt pressed against his as he was carried out of the house to safety. It still terrified him if he spent too long thinking about it. Not many children had to come to the realization that they were about to die. It used to be all he could think about when it came to fire.

Now he had come across so many fires, all much smaller and more manageable, that the experience didn’t feel quite as catastrophic as it once had. One day, when he finally joined Burning Rescue, fires would just be part of his everyday life and maybe one day it would all feel just a little less terrifying.

Kray came to his graduation, and Galo wanted to cry with how happy he was. He had invited him, but he knew how busy the Governor could be. He hadn’t actually expected him to turn up. Galo couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have someone like Kray who cared for him more than he deserved. He couldn’t be around often, but Galo appreciated it when he could.

Galo was offered a small smile and a firm pat on the back by the Governor. Afterward, they went out for pizza and Galo ate until he felt like he couldn’t move anymore. He wasn’t sure if this day could get any better, and then it did.

“I’ve spoken with a few friends. You can start with a Burning Rescue team on Monday,” Kray told him once the meal had ended. Galo was glad that he had waited because if he had still been eating he surely would’ve choked.

“Are you serious? I can start on Monday? I thought it usually took months to get assigned a team. I don’t have nearly enough training hours and-” Galo said, his eyes wide.

“I took care of everything,” Kray cut off his rambling. “It usually takes longer to be assigned a team. Technically they don’t want to take on new recruits until they have more practical experience with fire. Usually, you would have to join a volunteer team that deals exclusively with nonburnish related fires, but I pulled a few strings and got a captain to agree to take you on and train you as part of his team. They’ve been asking more for more recruits, and I know how badly you want this,” Kray said.

“Thank you, really. You’ve already done so much for me,” Galo said. He felt tears gather in his eyes, but he fought against him. Gov Kray didn’t need him blubbering like a child.

“You don’t need to thank me. It’s me who should be thanking you. It’s people like you who are doing all the hard work when it comes to keeping this great city safe. I know I can count on you to run headfirst into danger,” Kray said. He smiled at him and Galo felt a warmth in his chest. He was luckier than most. He had someone who believed in him. Someone who wanted to help him reach his dreams.

“I’ll make you proud. I promise,” Galo saluted him. His heartfelt as though it may burst.

Kray shook his hand at the end of the night and sent him on his way. Galo laid in his shoebox of a studio apartment, unable to stop smiling. Monday. That would be the first day of the rest of his life. The day that his one and only dream would come true.

 

 

Chapter 1 - Awakening

Galo rode his bike to his new job on Monday morning. He was supposed to arrive promptly at eight o’clock in the morning, but he woke up three hours before his alarm and couldn’t fall back asleep, so instead, he arrived closer to seven. The air still had a chill in the air and the city hadn’t quite come to life. It was peaceful. A different kind of energy compared to the nervous excitement that consumed Galo.

He had his matoi gear strapped to his back. He remembered seeing Burning Rescue in news reports and how cool their rescue gear had looked. Galo knew he wouldn’t be getting any gear for a while, but he came prepared with his own. He was hopeful that when he did get rescue gear made for himself, that it could be matoi themed. If anyone could truly appreciate matoi, it would be the people of Burning Rescue, right?

His heart was racing and his palms were clammy. He knew he was nervous, but beyond anything else he was hopeful. He had never been part of a team before, but he knew that he was going to be a good addition.

The whole team was already there in one room which made introductions easy enough. He was ready to make a good impression!

...

He didn’t make a good impression.

Within the first ten minutes, he could tell that everyone thought he was an idiot. He had seen those facial expressions enough times during his life that he knew exactly what it meant. Some were even happy to say so out loud, which only caused Galo to deflate even further. Then the captain bent his matoi gear, which broke when he tried to straighten it out again.

It was the worst-case scenario. Galo was used to people finding him to be obnoxious or annoying, but he always brushed it off because deep down inside he knew it was just his passion for fighting fires. Something most people wouldn’t be able to understand. He expected the people of Burning Rescue to share his passion, but that appeared to be not true.

They hadn’t even given him a chance and they were already looking at him like being here was a mistake. He hoped it wasn’t a mistake. This was the only thing he had ever truly wanted. His entire life he had been on a path to lead him to this exact spot. He had never once considered that it wasn’t right for him. That they would think he wasn’t right for them. Galo pushed down the hurt he felt and instead chose to use that as motivation. He would make them see that he was a perfect fit for the team.

A siren cut through the station, followed by the announcement of a Burnish attack. It was like a switch had been flipped. The team went from teasing to serious in an instant, and everyone rushed down to the rescue gear.

Galo scrambled after them. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew if he followed them he’d get where he needed to be. He was assuming that this would be his first chance to prove himself and he was ready to show everyone that he deserved to be on this team. Then he was stopped.

“Oh no you don’t, you stay here,” Ignis said.

“This is too dangerous for a rookie, “ Aina agreed.

“What? Come on, I’m here to get experience right? How am I supposed to do that if I stay behind?” Galo argued.

Ignis seemed to think for a moment but ultimately nodded.

“You stay in the rescue mobile. Lucia, you’re babysitting,” Ignis said.

Galo knew he should be a touch offended at the idea of being babysat, especially because Lucia didn’t look particularly happy to do so, but he was too excited about going on his first mission to really care.

He sat in the rescue mobile and they took off out of the station towards danger.

The sirens rang out loud over the city as the large vehicle moved with a surprising amount of grace. The rescue mobile was a symbol in this city. It told people that help was on its way. Galo’s chest felt warm with pride knowing that he was part of that symbol now.

They parked in front of the building and Galo could see the living flames on Lucia’s screen. The chaos that he had only truly seen from afar before.

He didn’t have any practical experience with burnish flames. All of the ones he had at the academy were man-made. He had seen them on TV of course. He had watched news coverage of Burning Rescue back in the academy. He had seen the way they battled the flames the way ancient heroes battled monsters. Seeing them in person was different though. He wasn’t sure what he had expected them to be like, but they were truly terrifying in a way that only made Galo’s more excited. It was like those living flames encouraged his firefighters' souls to burn brighter.

Remy and Varyus suited up and headed inside while Aina took off. Ignis went in armed and took out the flame snake creatures with ease. Lucia was typing away so fast that her fingers seemed like a blur. The team worked together in perfect harmony and Galo felt jealousy burn in his stomach. Not only were they living the life he had always dreamed of, but they were also doing it together. They belonged together. They trusted each other. This was a bond, unlike Galo, had ever seen before. Perfect love and perfect trust for your teammates and friends. It was really the only thing Galo had ever desired more than fighting fires.

Galo’s foot bounced impatiently as he watched the scene unfold in front of him. He wanted to be out there. He wanted to be saving people. Every moment he sat back and did nothing felt wrong. The discomfort he felt from it made his whole body feel like it would explode. He tapped his foot faster to get out some of the energy.

“Oh no,” Lucia said.

“What’s wrong?” Galo sprang forward to get a closer look at what she saw.

“There are a bunch of pharmaceutical items that are highly combustible. Not to mention her.” Lucia pulled up a video feed from inside the building. There was a woman who looked to be trapped inside of a supply room housing the before mentioned dangerous and very flammable items. She pounded her fists against the door but it didn’t seem to budge.

“Is the door jammed?” Galo asked.

“Yeah, it probably malfunctioned due to the extreme heat,” Lucia said.

“I have to get in there and save her,” Galo said, his voice filled with determination. He couldn’t just leave her there. Galo couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. He couldn’t watch her die.

“What? Are you insane?” Lucia asked with wide eyes as his own disregard for his own safety.

“The rest of the team has their hands full. I’m the only one that can help,” Galo said. He had already made up his mind. He just needed a plan, and he needed one fast. No time to think. He had to go with the first thing that came into his mind.

“We don’t even have rescue gear for you,” Lucia argued.

Galo looked around and grabbed the first thing he saw that could help. He picked up the container and covered both himself and his matoi gear with extinguishing gel.

“I’ll just cover myself in an extinguishing gel, and I’ll be good to go!” Galo insisted.

“And when that runs out?” Lucia asked, she squinted at him skeptically. His heart was in the right place, but it was clear he wasn’t too bright.

“I’ll just add more,” Galo said, strapping another to his back.

“Let him try,” Ignis said, and Lucia seemed surprised. If the captain gave his approval though, she wouldn’t stand in the way.

With the go-ahead from Ignis, Lucia opened the door and let Galo out.

With the confidence of a man with much more experience, Galo ran up to the building. He wasn’t looking at the flames anymore. His focus was on the best way to get inside. As soon as he saw his opening he grinned. Bracing himself on the ground he launched the top of his matoi through a window, hooking it onto a ledge. He jumped to help his lift as he was propelled up and through a window.

The gel made him slippery enough that he managed to slide under and through most of the fire. It was warm but it didn’t burn him. That made Galo feel invincible. He held his matoi gear firmly in his grasp as he turned to face three flame snakes. He grinned wildly.

“I thought this might happen, that’s why I soaked my matoi gear in extinguishing gel too!” He swung it around with practiced ease, extinguishing the snakes.

With those out of the way, he turned his attention back to helping those in need. Lucia guided him to the room. He broke the door open and gave the trapped woman a reassuring smile.

“Don’t worry. I’m going to get you out of here,” Galo promised her. He could see the fear and exhaustion on her face.

The building was crumbling around them though and with the amount of fire, the stairs weren’t exactly an option. Galo had to find another option and fast.

He took his jacket off and wrapped it around the woman’s shoulders. It was flame-resistant enough to help her more than what she was wearing. He took the last canister of extinguishing gel and covered himself once more before taking the woman in his arms.

He didn’t have much time to come up with a plan, so he did the first thing that came to his head.

He rushed out of the room to the nearest window where he could see Aina’s aircraft. He launched the grappling hook of his matoi again. It shattered the window as it shot through and wrapped around the leg of the aircraft. It was a lot, holding on to the woman in one arm, and holding them both up in the air with the other, but he did so with a smile.

He had saved her. Maybe other people had saved more, but that didn’t matter to him. He had saved someone. She would live because of him.

He thought of Kray, and about how he had given him a life he would’ve otherwise lost. It was a debt he could finally start repaying.

Galo’s heart was beating wildly in his chest as his feet finally touched the ground. He was sore and out of breath. He laid the woman, who seemed to have passed out due to either fear or exhaustion, gently on the ground. He waited for her to open her eyes, maybe thank him for his bravery, but nothing.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey wake up!”

Aina got out of her ship and walked over to them.

“Wake up! You’ve been rescued!” Galo yelled.

“Galo,” Aina scolded.

She slowly blinked open her eyes looking up at Galo.

Galo smiled at her but was distracted by how the beating of his heart hadn’t slowed. It felt like there was a pressure building there. What was going on? Was he having a heart attack?

He clutched his chest as the pressure only increased.

“Galo?” Aina questioned.

Something was wrong. Galo fell to his knees as something, something unknown, something so completely terrifying that Galo couldn’t speak, he could only scream as something burst forward.

Suddenly he was surrounded by fire. Bright, blinding, burnish fire everywhere. His voice cracked as he screamed.

“Help! Somebody help!”

What was going on? Was he being attacked? It was warm, but he couldn’t feel it burning his flesh. Was he still covered in extinguishing gel? What would happen when it burnt off? The flames only seemed to increase the more fear he felt.

He felt icey cold strike his body, but it burned worse than any fire had ever. He couldn’t see what was happening now as he squeezed his eyes closed, willing the cold to go away.

It did, the warmth was back in a sharp burst, but it was almost comforting. He preferred the warmth over the burning cold. He could hear people talking, they sounded frantic, but he couldn’t comprehend any of the words.

Then he felt two strong arms grab him, pulling him up and over his shoulder. He heard a loud bang and felt a cool breeze ruffle his hair. Galo relaxed into the body that held him. He wanted someone to take him away. Somewhere safer.

 

Then he felt the wind whip around him as he was whisked away.