Chapter 1:

A singular scent

Rakshasa's lair

Proudly standing amidst a blue sky sprinkled with a few clouds, the sun enlightens Thailand's green treasure: its lush and wild jungle, a Garden of Eden enchanting the spectators coming from here or elsewhere. And they have enough to feast their eyes on, even when elephants and tigers are not yet deigning to show their majesty.

Mischievous gibbons and graceful sambars¹ catch one's gaze with their leaps and bounds when packs of dholes² aren't waging turf wars. Ignoring these canids' bloodthirsty whims, imposing herds of gaurs³ cross open pastures under the birds' songs and the siamangs'⁴ howls.

While the jungle's large animals strut under the king of the stars' light, the shadows it casts are the scene of another play. Far from the bellowings, the yappings, and the songs, a particular yet familiar melody resounds in the woods.

The twigs and branches cracking. The leaves swishing. Gravel being dug up, and dirt being plowed. These sounds are all part of a score performed by a palm civet crossing the wooded area as fast as its legs can carry it. However, its frantic, well-tuned race isn't the one the jungle hears best.

Several meters behind, the same wild score played with more clumsiness but also with greater noise. And for a good reason: a quite strange predator is hunting the civet.

Emerging from the bushes and chasing the viverrid, a child bearing a tiger's tail and ears is bouncing on all four. No matter how clumsy and strange it could appear, this run is his attempt to make up for his failed ambush.

"Come back !!!!" The feral child shouts in the beasts' language.

Despite the gap growing meter after meter in the viverrid's favor, the tiger-child dressed in a simple loincloth doesn't give up and continues to bounce with a hare's vigor. Each leap is fueled by his immense determination to savor a more consistent and less chocolatey dish than the kopi luwak⁵ of which only his prey has the secret.

Moving deeper into the tropical forest, gradually blending into the vegetation's massive shadows, the palm civet suddenly caught a whiff of a scent emanating from what appeared to be a dense, leafy chasm. A fragrance that makes its little muscles flutter and its fur bristle. Has the civet found the scent of its lair, where its pursuer couldn't find it?

The civet fully understands what this olfactory signature implies: anything but going home. Otherwise, the masked mammal would not have suddenly changed direction and climbed the first tree to disappear among the tropical foliage of this part of the jungle.

The tanned-skinned and brown-haired feral child slowly comes to a halt as his eyes gradually light up with a golden glow under the leaves' shades. He would have gladly pursued his prey into the trees if the scent emanating from the mysterious penumbra had not frozen him in place with its powerful tenor.

And this is the only thing that the man-cub discerns with clarity.

Everything beyond that edge between the natural shadows and the jungle's blackest darkness does not even take on a clear consistency in the eyes of the tiger child. No birds are singing, and no monkeys are howling. Even the sun's holy gleam, direct or residual, seems to have abandoned and denied this strange kingdom. The feral child only discerns the beginnings of the entrance, but also and above all, this vitiated and pestilential odor which makes the delight of scavengers and a particular caste of predators.

This scent, sinister in many aspects, nevertheless has a unique characteristic that distinguishes it from all the meats the tiger-tailed child has tasted during his life among wild animals. That specificity urges him to stay where he stands or even to move away. What he smells isn't fundamentally unknown to him, but the fumes of death don't help his fragile sense of smell to identify what he believes to know.

Overwhelmed by the strange, cadaverous scent, the golden-eyed child puts a hand on his nose. But he doesn't move further, as he's torn between two impulses: hesitancy due to what he cannot see, but also a strong curiosity. The conflict between these two impulses, one urging him to renounce and the other pushing him to walk further, only manages to immobilize the feral kid.

And this inertia stirs the grimiest appetite the jungle could shelter.

Added to the sight of his skin devoid of any feline fur, the child's indecision arouses the ravenousness of a pair of eyes staring at him from thickets in the sinister domain of shadows. Although the brave little trespasser doesn't spot them, these eyes are well and truly there, waiting for the perfect opportunity to leap on the defenseless boy. The odor of decomposed flesh is so strong that the curious little man does not discern the one coming from the shadow glaring at him.

As invisible and hidden as it may be, this shadow nevertheless signals its presence by making the leaves rustle with its simple step. A stirring of the bushes, that's what triggers the wildling's ears. He's suddenly paralyzed on the spot.

The invisible creature made too much noise, a mistake usually critical for a hunter.

But how important is it when facing a prey as still as a rock?

Just one leap… Just one move… And-

"Golden Star !!!!" A strong voice howls, one that's well-known by the child.

The tiger-tailed boy turns around as an imposing, azure-eyed silhouette frantically approaches him. By merely seeing the beast, the child starts to leap… Towards her. What the so-called Golden Star has interpreted as a familiar voice is, in reality, and to many other animals' ears, the roar of an Indochinese tigress calling her cub.

"Mother!! I-" The little boy starts.

However, he is interrupted by Khamot's – thus the humans who met her glowing gaze in the darkness called her – insisting eye as she examines him from every angle.

The tigress then rubs her muzzle against her son's face, who emits a sort of affectionate, muffled purr at the warm touch of his adoptive mother. Seeing that her child is safe and sound in this dense area of the jungle comforts Khamot more than usual.

"You're fine... What a relief!" Khamot sighs reassured.

After some coaxing, the tigress lifts her head from her adopted child's. She then stares at the darkness' edge. Golden Star also looks towards the entrance of the dark domain he discovered.

"Mother... What is it?" The man-cub asks with a sense of innocence.

Sniffing the air, Khamot slightly rolls her lips up as she recognizes the sinister scent emanating from the chasm. Squinting her azure eyes, the fierce tigress ferociously growls. But her snarls and warnings resound in the silence.

The creature watching her son had returned to the deepest darkness as soon as Khamot had shown herself.

Not understanding his mother's sudden aggressiveness, Golden Star snuggles up to her paw and reaches up, gently grabbing her fur.

"M... Mother?" The child asks with a faint and scared meowing sound.

"Let's go home. Immediately." Khamot orders with a firm growl.

Tired from his hunt, Golden Star climbs over his mother's body and finally lies down on her back. Without further delay, the tigress heads back to where she came from, to the sunny edge of the tropical woods.


Khamot's hideout, twilight.

Huddled against his mother tiger's flank, Golden Star looks for a long time at the high ceiling of the lair where he rests, a lair much more immense than an ordinary tiger den; and for a good reason...

Khamot, whose white fur, blue eyes, and slightly more arched stripes than her fellow tigers are enough to distinguish her, is the queen of the Thai jungle. And like any queen, she has her castle: the ruins of an ancient Buddhist temple where she has raised and fed Golden Star for so many seasons by now. A temple with a mystical and ancient aura that attracts more than one curiosity but which few dare to approach beyond its external walls ever since Khamot took up residence there.

The tigress also stares at the ceiling of her palace, thinking about what she felt when she saw the mysterious abyss. Nothing seemed to live there, and yet...

"Mother... What was there?" Golden Star suddenly asks.

Interrupted in her thoughts, Khamot discreetly gasps before sighing for a moment. The disturbing smell she discerned at the brink of obscurity had something to do with it.

"Nothing you need to know. Stay away from this place." The tigress retorts.

"But, I... I thought a tiger that eats meat could do whatever it wants!" Golden Star protests with the self-confidence and courage that began to emerge in his soul with his hunting training.

"Golden Star... The jungle is vast. It is full of wonders to see and discover, but it is also home to things that even a tiger shouldn't see. Don't ever venture out there again, do you hear me? Golden Star's mother asks and orders with more and more palpable concern.

Khamot's tone catches the little boy's attention. What in the world is in this pit of shadows to disturb the most ferocious tigress in Thailand?

On the one hand, this encourages him to obey her... And on the other hand, it gives him a strong wish to discover what secret is hidden behind the shades of the jungle.

"... Yes, Mother." Golden Star replies before yawning and rolling into a ball against Khamot. "G... Good night..."

Tenderly narrowing her eyes, Khamot licks her child's forehead.

"Good night, Golden Star. "

The tigress yawns in turn, revealing all her fangs. She pushes out of her mind the shiver of disgust and fear she felt earlier in the day to think about the protection given by the temple. This simple thought allows her to fall asleep with serenity near her son.

Khamot's behavior towards this child might surprise the typical person: the usual logic would want a tigress stumbling upon an abandoned infant to devour it or leave it to its demise. And yet, the white huntress has adopted and educated Golden Star as if it were her own child. Her powerful maternal instinct led her, five years ago, to take in this infant child - who was then a toddler- left to his fate.

But there may be another explanation for this affection. The blood flowing in Golden Star's veins is that of the Seua Saming, a mysterious tribe with tiger-like features and abilities. And although his tiger's fangs and claws aren't sharp enough to intimidate large predators, Golden Star has their fully functional senses, tail, ears, and scent. Perhaps it is this last feature that drew Khamot to him? She herself could not say.

But in the end, the reason doesn't matter. What matters now is that Golden Star is the prince to whom Khamot has chosen to devote all her love and attention, a little prince whose safety is her highest priority in this dangerous jungle where danger lurks in every shadowy corner.

And this priority, the scent from the darkness has reminded her all too well... 


¹ Sambar : a deer encountered throughout South Asia.

² Dhole : a wild Asian canid with a brownish-red fur.

³ Gaur : a large ox originating from Southeast Asia, and the largest wild cattle alive.

Siamang : a large, black species of gibbon. They have a gular skin on their throat, allowing them to howl and sing over long distances.

Kopi luwak : an expensive Indonesian coffee with a non-bitter, chocolatey taste. It is produced by roasting coffee seeds that have been partially digested by the Asian palm civet.