6. Summer: Pariah (Part 1)

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"Cyrinx: A large feline, similar to the panther. Notable due to the dark purple sheen to its fur. Unseen in Byssia for hundreds of years, and believed extinct until 10766 when discovered by the esteemed explorer, Dr Redwood. Byssian legend states that the cyrinx has the intelligence of a man, and can shapeshift to human form at will. Dr Redwood began a conservation and breeding programme and they are now no longer considered near-extinct. No evidence of shapeshifting has been noted for certain, though many men and women in Byssia and abroad have claimed otherwise."

"Cyrinx", THE ARCHIPELAGO BESTIARY, Royal Snakewood University



My new education began at breakfast.

Breakfast was an explosion of sound, sights, and smells. People pushed each other in the queue for food, quibbled with the cooks for another spoonful, and joked and insulted each other in the same breath. I found myself standing in front of the two dancers. I tried to avoid looking at them, but the dark-haired girl caught my furtive glance.

"My, my, Tila, look at the newest chit of the circus," she said, licking her lips and glancing at her friend. "Doesn't he just look good enough to eat?"

Tila laughed, looked me up and down. I squirmed under her gaze. "That he does, Sal. My, the poor lad's blushing! Look at how he looks at us." She laughed and cupped her clothed chest. I swallowed hard.

"Dear, we're not that frightening, are we?" Sal said, running a finger along my arm. I startled at her touch.

"You eating or not?" the cook said. I had not noticed we had reached the front of the queue. Sal and Tila tittered again. My face could not possibly have been any redder.

I held out my bowl. The cook looked me up and down and gave me one solitary spoon of porridge and a lop- sided fried egg. The others had received far more. I was too afraid to open my mouth. I could hear the cook chortling as I went to my seat by Arik and Aenea.

"You'll grow thin if you don't ask him to give you more food," Arik said by way of greeting. "And you've not much to spare. He does that to all of the new babies." "Oh," I said, feeling stupid. I wondered if they had

seen the two women teasing me.

"Your thin skin will have to thicken," Aenea warned. "My skin isn't thin," I said, aware of how defensive

I sounded.

She laughed. "We'll find out if you go home in the next month, I suppose."

"Don't have a home to go to," I said, trying not to sound too sullen.

"Then you'll go somewhere else." "Why does my skin have to thicken?"

"We're a close-knit group in the circus," Arik said. "We're playing a joke on the world. Outsiders aren't in on the joke, and soon you'll start to see them differently, if you stay." The conditional hung in the air like an accusation.

"And so now, to the circus, you're still an outsider. You're still one of the 'normals'. You're going to have to prove yourself to all of them. Until then, they'll have nothing to do with you if they can avoid it. They may even be cruel to you. Don't take it personal, work hard, and you'll become one of us," Arik continued.

I looked around at the circus. A few people would glance at me every now and again and then pretend that they had not. They must all view me as a spoiled, skinny little rich boy who had run away. They all, even Aenea and Arik to some extent, expected me to return home. I ground my teeth together. I would prove them wrong.

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