Every time I do a rewrite of Coldfire, the first chapter changes in some way. I’ve done it again. This time, however, the change was bigger than most times. Like most of the previous chapters, it starts at the train station before the main character boards, and he also gets beaten up by a gang like every other time. The circumstances have changed a little. Basically everything after this excerpt I’m about to post has also altered drastically. I’m still not sure if I’ve shortened or lengthened the beginning overall.
Edit: I should point out this is only part of chapter one.
Edit again: This chapter is already obsolete. I have recently rewritten it, but I’ll keep this version here anyway.
Chapter 1: Coalsmoke and Flame (excerpt)
The platform stank of exhaust and urine. In the dark corners of the station, shabby people exchanged cash and packets of pills. A teenage boy, the smallest of the lot, sat on the edge of a frozen bench, rubbing his numb hands together. He would have preferred to stay away from the drug dealings, but a gang stood on the other side of the platform, ignoring the yellow safety line and high-fiving someone who had brought back some white pills.
One of the drug dealers sat on the other end of the bench. “Fancy seeing you here, Darian.”
Darian gave the man a withering look through his mop of black hair, wrapping his patched coat tighter around his body. “I’m not interested.”
“You will be.” The dealer slid a small metal box along the bench, eyes darting around suspiciously. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“I said I’m not interested.”
“And I said you will be.”
“I don’t do that anymore.” Darian would have liked to scoot away, but he couldn’t risk looking weak. The appearance of weakness got people killed almost as quickly as overconfidence.
The dealer snorted. “That’s what they all say.”
“I mean it.” Darian adjusted the straps on his backpack. “I’ve been clean since October last year.”
The dealer scowled and snatched up the box. “Fine. Have it your way.” He pocketed the box and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hey, boys!” The gang looked over. “Fresh meat.”
“Shit.” Darian sprang to his feet. The dealer cackled, revealing his missing front teeth, as he pulled out a gun. Darian kicked it from his hand before dashing around the toilet block. A boy was already there, waiting for him. Darian skidded to a halt and glanced back. The other gang members had arrived.
The first boy flicked the hood of his sweatshirt off his face, revealing a criss-cross of raised, pinkish scars. “Thought you’d escaped, did you, kid?” Darian remembered the boy’s face. He’d cut him with a knife the last time he’d been cornered, giving him those scars. Darian kept his mouth shut.
“Kid doesn’t talk much, does he?” said one another boy. The leader pushed Darian at him. The boy held Darian still, arms behind his back. Darian clenched his jaw and stayed silent. Anything he said could result in an even worse beating than the one he knew was coming.
The leader kicked him in the stomach. “Where’s your mummy, little boy?” Darian gasped for air.
“Hey, guys…” one of the boys near the back said. “Leave the kid alone. How do you know it’s the same guy?”
“Go back to your knitting, Billy,” said the boy with the drugs. He punched the side of Darian’s head. Darian saw white lights. The leader took another turn and knocked the air out of him again. The drug boy opened Darian’s backpack and emptied its contents onto the bitumen. Mostly books and nonperishable food.
The leader smirked. “You think you’re so smart.” He kicked Darian in the groin. “You’re in our world, little boy. Kids like you get eaten for breakfast.” Darian landed face first on the floor with a grunt. The gang laughed and wandered off, high-fiving. Darian lifted himself up onto all-fours, arms shaking.
“Bastards,” he muttered. “Got no backbone, have you? I’ve seen five-year-old girls with bigger balls.” He knew the boys wouldn’t hear him, and that’s the way he liked it. Like always, voicing his thoughts helped keep his focus away from the pain. After a few minutes, Darian was able to collect his belongings and stuff them back into his bag. He used the wall to support himself as he stood back up and limped away. This wouldn’t have happened if the train had been on time for once. Canberra trains were always late.
Darian slumped over a fence, his breath misting in front of him. He just wanted to leave behind Canberra and all the gangs, murder and corruption that its name was synonymous with. Darian’s stomach and groin ached. If he was a powerful Gaius Magicker like his Instructor, Raoul, this wouldn’t have happened. He could have harnessed the power of the Earth to strangle the gang with vines before they’d even laid a finger on him. He contemplated returning to the Gaius Temple, where he learned to use his magic with little success, but decided against it. He’d been lucky no one had tried to kill him on the way to the station.
In the distance, Darian could hear the labouring engine of an ancient train. He straightened, refusing to give into the pain. As coalsmoke tainted the air, he shouldered his backpack, struggled to his feet and waited.