It's been a long time coming, but welcome to Book Two of my Newsies/Reign of Fire crossover, "The Dusk Descending." The story picks up directly where Book One left off.
Nerves already on edge, he nearly ducked out of sheer reflex as the shape abruptly hurtled towards him to land hard just three feet away. The next instant he was lunging forward out of the opening, grabbing double handfuls of fabric.
"I got you," he gasped, "c'mon—"
"Grab him—" Snoddy shouted.
"Got him!" With all his strength he yanked the other boy back into the mouth of the shaft, mere seconds before a tidal wave of heat slammed into them.
The two of them stumbled backwards down the slope before he could get his feet under him. He released his awkward grip and wrapped his arms more securely around Spot's chest, bracing his boots against the masonry to halt their brief uncontrolled slide. Down here, just a body's length below the grating, the heat was not so direct, though the roar of the flames still threatened to drown out all other sound.
"You hurt?" he said quickly.
Spot shook his head; Race could feel his throat working for a moment before he could speak. "What happened to Garrs and—"
Gravel crunched and the light from overhead was suddenly cut off, blocked by a large body that all but fell into them. "Jesus, Spot," the newcomer panted, "I—"
Spot lifted his head. "Garrs, you all right?"
"Yeah, boss." Garrs shifted in the cramped space, apparently trying not to crush his leader, but the narrow ventilator didn't allow much movement.
Garrs looked like he was in one piece, but Race couldn't see a thing past the other two boys. There was a hell of lot of fire up there, bright flickering orange reflected off the rough walls of the shaft. "Jack!" he shouted.
"Don't see him!" Snoddy yelled back. He was still aboveground; out of the four of them, he was the only one who hadn't retreated from his position at the carriage door.
"You don't think the dragon got—"
"No," Garrs interrupted. "I saw him, he told me t'get back here. I thought he was right behind me."
"You left him out there?" Race asked in disbelief.
"He told me—"
"I see him!" Snoddy called. "He's going for City Hall! He's leadin' the dragon—Goddamn! Carriage's on fire!"
Spot forcefully pushed himself away from Race's arms. "We gotta get out there! Get me up!"
"Watch the cane!" Race protested, though he was thrusting Spot upwards toward the grating even as the words left his mouth. Spot scrabbled for footing in the angled shaft; Race saw Garrs grab his arm from above—
"It's coming! Get down!" Snoddy cried, and Race was catching Spot again as Garrs shoved his leader to the sloping floor. Without another thought Race flung himself atop Spot, found himself in turn beneath Garrs' bulk as the latter did the same. A heartbeat later, a shotgun blast filled the small space, its echoes painfully loud. Over the ringing in his ears he heard the sudden angry change in the rhythm of massive wings, and despite being shielded he could feel the re-doubled rush of heat that poured in from outside.
In the distance there was a faint, chilling sound: something very much like a scream.
"Down! Now!" Snoddy was shouting. "Fire's blowing in!"
The weight atop him disappeared. He rolled to his feet, felt Spot's fingers knot in the back of his suspenders, the line of boys already on the move even as he did so.
There was a crashing from behind them, the blazing carriage falling to pieces above the grating, dropping debris into the shaft below. The smell of burning wood and paint and scorched metal hung thickly in the air. Then, in the midst of it, came the sharp sound of smashing glass. It was immediately followed by the unmistakable odor of spilled lamp-oil.
"Down, down!" A high note of alarm rang through Snoddy's voice. "Go, go, go!"
Though Race didn't have time to turn his head to look behind him, he didn't need to: the glow from the debris threw huge shadows before them, and he could too-easily picture the spilled oil flowing at Snoddy's heels. Thank god the watch-lantern that had hung in the carriage had been unlit, or they would not still be alive; nor had the reservoir in the lantern certainly held enough fuel to reach the entire length of the ventilator. But that was almost beside the point. Oil flowed more effortlessly than water; it would only require a thin, thin stream...and it wasn't just the threat of burning. The farther it descended, the faster a fire would suck all the oxygen out of the shaft. All it would take was a single stray spark...
Half-sliding, bent double in the narrow ventilator, they skidded their way single-file down the slanting path. Little flashes of pain through his elbows and knuckles marked every time he accidentally caught them against the walls. Behind him, the steel tip of Spot's walking-stick banged and dragged along the rough masonry until Race thought that he could practically feel the metallic vibrations in his own clenched jaw.
In the darkness up ahead there appeared a new flicker of firelight and Race shied back, thinking only of being trapped between flames at front and rear. His relief at recognizing it as an intact lantern almost made his knees go weak, but it quickly gave way to renewed urgency. "Turn around, morons! Get back down. Go!"
It was Specs who was in the lead of the approaching group; Race couldn't make out his eyes past the reflection in his lenses, but the shock on his face was clear. At Race's frantic gestures, Specs swiftly halted his own boys. The brief pause as their would-be rescuers scrambled to reverse direction seemed to take forever. They had just picked up the pace again when, without warning, there was a sound like a gas-stove igniting behind them, a new flare of fire and heat.
They all but tumbled the last few yards. He heard the rapid thumps as the boys in front jumped down into the main tunnel. Spot had no time to let go of Race's suspenders and was dragged out with him as Race made his own jump; landing, he braced Spot's weight against his back until the other boy regained his balance. They both staggered onto the floor, clearing the crates as Garrs and finally Snoddy came through.
"Close it," Snoddy gasped.
"But—" someone said, "what about J—"
And then there was the thud of a thick brass panel sliding into place, and the fire that had pursued them was cut off at last.