When Assistant Commissioner of Police Aditi Kashyap is called upon to solve a gruesome triple homicide in a Mumbai suburb, she is dragged into the terrifying world of the Saimhas — werelions — who have lived alongside humans, hiding amongst them, since ancient times.
Faced with the unbelievable, Aditi has no choice but to join hands with Prithvi, an Enforcer called in to hunt down this seemingly otherworldly murderer.
Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of Krishna Udayasankar’s book, Beast.
The man knew these were his last moments, but his adrenaline fuelled feet kept moving through the rubble and brush. For the first—and only—time ever, he regretted his life of crime as he looked with longing at the warm light spilling out from a cluster of apartments at the far end of the field. But they were too far away to offer hope of help or safety. He had made sure of that. He had chosen this spot because it was perfect for murder.
The irony made Rajan pause, and as he did, his eyes fell on a rusted frame, the partial skeleton of a long-abandoned, industrialsized garbage bin. The smell of fear in his nostrils overpowered the rotten stench that came from it. He clambered inside and crouched down in a corner, his hands clapped over his mouth to silence his own gasps.
The others were dead. Daniel had been the first to fall, before any of them could even understand what had transpired. For his part, Rajan still did not understand.
Kailash had opened the bag to check the money when, out of nowhere, something warm had splashed across his face. A shape had gone flying through the air and landed at his feet, wriggling and squirming: Daniel’s arm, ripped off at the shoulder, the nerve endings at the tips of the fingers still unaware that the body they belonged to was no longer alive. Kailash had secured the bag with one arm while pulling out his gun with the other. He had let loose a few aimless shots in the manner of one who believed that a gun was the solution to all of life’s problems. As soon as the gunfire abated, the screaming had begun.
Rajan had not waited to see what became of Kailash, or to identify the nature of their enemy—the mangled limb at his feet had made it clear that their attacker, whoever it was, ought not to be messed with.
His breath now under control, Rajan set himself to listen for signs of pursuit. Silence sharpened his fear, turning it into a stabbing cramp in the pit of his stomach, as though some force were sucking him dry from within his body.
A rustle, and he started whimpering. Then a loud crash as the wall of the metal bin crumpled inwards, struck from the outside by a powerful force. Another strike and the bin toppled over, ejecting its contents onto the ground. A new stink rose as Rajan soiled himself. All restraint gone, he began wailing loudly, his despair so terrible that it drove all words—even memories of mother and god—out of his mind. He turned to hide his face against the ground as a lithe form stalked out from behind the bin. His hand fell on the bag he was carrying.
A faint hope fluttered through the thug. He staggered to his feet, holding out the bag. ‘Take it. Take it all. Take it, but leave me alive, please, take it, take it, leave me!’
Then, he saw his hunter. Panic turned into a calm madness that made him fall silent and stand still. He was dreaming. He was not dreaming. This could not be happening. It was. Nothing made sense any more. Not even death. This was worse.
Words, he realized, meant nothing to the hunter. Nor did the money. But was there something in his tone, his entreating, that made sense to the monster? It tilted its head to one side, evaluating him, his whimpers.
‘Please . . .?’ Rajan pleaded, one last time.
Its breath was hot. He felt it against his face as the thing sunk its teeth, its long, ivory-white teeth, into his neck. Its thick tongue smacked against his face as it sucked up the blood that began to flow. His blood. He began screaming, but no sound came from his mouth. His vocal cords were already severed. How was it that he was alive?
Even as the thought occurred to him, the creature rectified its apparent omission, biting off his skull like a petulant child pulling off a doll’s head.
Bone crunched against tooth as the creature rolled its toy around in its mouth. With a dissatisfied rumble, it spit the morsel out. The beast clawed once at the headless corpse, like a kitten asking to play, before giving up on the lifeless form. Then, licking its blood-soaked muzzle, it stalked away into the night.
To know how the story unfolds, grab your copy of Beast by Krishna Udayasankar!