A/N: Okay, I'll admit it—I got a little bored.  And when Dakki gets bored, you'd better watch out, because that can only mean one thing—another fic in the works.  (Yes, I know.  Another one.)  But this one's gonna be really nifty—I promise!  And if I can draw inspiration from a computer game, what do you think I can do with childhood nostalgia for "The Neverending Story" and assorted Norwegian pop songs?

DALTON [the annoying yet semi-cute preppie-muse]: Actually, you probably don't want to think about that one...

Shut up and work on your coloring books.

DALTON: YAY!  Coloring! *scurries off*

*grins* Anyway... *loses her train of thought*

DALTON: *yells from the other room* EXPLANATION OF PREMISE, DAK?

Ah, yes.  Right-o.  So basically, the fic chronicles an alternate dimension country called Möbia, a fairy-tale land full of pirates, gypsies, thieves, and dragons named fluffy.  It proves to be the chink in the wall through which our world and that of the newsies' time can connect...and from there on, the plot thickens.  As thick as a very thick pudding, maybe.  Like tapioca. 


DALTON: *slaps her upside the head*

And now, on to the fic!


Chinese Lantern


Chapter One—

Riding the Dragon


It was the opium that did it.

Spot only decided this later—once there was no turning back, and certainly no chance for either blame or regret.  He knew it was the truth, though, and he never once doubted it.  Spot never doubted anything.

If you're feeding an addiction for so long, then things have to come to a head sometime.  At first he was only going up to Chinatown once every Tuesday; soon it was twice a week, then every other day.  When he had it in his lungs and it slowed the beat of his heart everything was softer; he would lie down on the floor among the threadbare cushions and rugs, watching the rain against the window for hours, not trusting himself to look at anything else.  Every movement blurred and feathered; images bled into the cool night air until nothing was distinct anymore.  And after that, there was always a moment—a single moment when something changed, a door in his mind closed and let him loose of his worries for the rest of the night. 

In the morning when he woke up, back in Brooklyn, in the bunkroom or some grimy flophouse, or sometimes still back in the opium den, he could feel it in him—he was hollow-eyed, hollow-bodied; the peacefulness had left him and whatever it was that had brought it to him was nothing more than an ache in the marrow of his bones.  But it never hit him harder than the morning when he woke up early in summer, the sun barely risen the sky—the morning when he finally paid the price.

He had never left Chinatown the night before.  That much was clear the moment he opened his eyes.  He was in the room they always brought him to, the one that was never light, even at midday.  The window that looked out onto the alleyway below had its shutters closed with only a few filaments of sunlight slipping in; just enough to see by.  The girl who always lit his pipe was kneeling on the floor, her back to him as she stared towards the window, or something else before her that Spot simply couldn't see. 

            His whole body aching, he rose and began to walk slowly toward her.  Sensing his presence, she turned to face him; the dark silk of her kimono slipped from her pale shoulder, but all she did was beckon for him to come closer.  A shaft of sunlight was suspended between them, almost opaque in the darkness of the room.

It was only when she reached for his hand and grabbed hold of his wrist that he noticed she was holding a knife.

            He barely felt it as she touched the point of the curved dagger gently to his skin.  It was as if he was watching from a distance.  And then, with lightning quickness: a flash of steel, and a crescent-shaped wound had appeared on his palm.  A tiny thing.  The tip of the knife barely darkened by his blood.

            The girl brought the knife parallel to the thread of sunlight that had escaped through the closed window, and gold turned to copper.  The brightness was stained by his blood, almost as if it had hardened, become a concrete thing, and willing to believe anything, Spot reached out to touch it.  With the tip of his finger, he felt the solid presence of warmth, and it was only when the feeling of living fire had spread to his palm, his wrist, his forearm that he realized that part of him had disappeared, turned to light, to air, to dust, and it was spreading faster and farther by the second.

            He turned to the girl to shout, ask for help, anything, but she was looking away, an expression of rapture on her face, and the words never got past his lips.

            "The time has come," she said.

            By then, he was finished.  Filaments of fiery sunlight shot up through the cartography of his veins, the map of his pale skin; too cold to be hot and too hot to be cold, and he didn't know what was happening or where he was going...

            Only that he was going somewhere he had never been before, and somewhere he might never leave.

            As it came closer and closer he didn't close his eyes.  He didn't close his eyes as he felt his whole self plunged into whatever it was, this nothing, and up and down his spine, in his hands and his eyes, and his soul; for fire leaves nothing untouched...

            The time has come.