As soon as I entered, I was assaulted by a stench of blood.
I don't know what I expected to see. Blood splattered on the walls? Carcasses piled on the floor, with guts dragged all over the room? Semi-wild beasts tearing at flesh with their own teeth?
What I saw instead was a tidy room divided with painted screens. There were a few dozen small, round tables surrounded by plush couches, most of them occupied by relaxed, yet dignified creatures, now staring at me with their big, inhuman eyes. I couldn't help stealing glances at the food on the tables—and alright, it was raw meat, but it was far from the mutilated corpses I had envisioned. It was all cut into small, elegant pieces and carefully arranged. And judging from the smell, most of it was actually marinated.
I should've known. Kas'shams were carnivores, but they were also sybarites.
Silence fell as we walked through the hall; conversation died out and all the patrons fixed their big, bright eyes on us. It was the first time I saw kas'shams up close. Their features were a mix of animal and human, their faces stuck in between, with jaws too long for a civilized creature and eyes glimmering with alien intelligence. They all wore strange clothing, comprised of colorful shawls wrapped in a way that left their joints free. I knew they were incredibly agile creatures, capable of great bursts of activity, and I guessed they didn't like having their freedom restricted.
"Humans." The voice instantly drew my attention. I looked forward and noticed that one of the kas'shams was standing before us. Their body was humanoid, but strangely proportioned, with a too long torso, too short legs and arms facing more forward than human's. They had sandy-brown fur, slightly longer around the face, forming a sort of mane. Golden-green eyes took up almost half of their expressionless face.
I briefly wondered if they could even make the same facial expressions as us...
"I take it you didn't come here for dinner?" the kas'sham continued with a low voice that verged on a growl.
"No, sir—" Kaell Sol, my partner started answering, but was interrupted.
"Madam," corrected the kas'sham. With no outer traits it was impossible for us, humans, to tell her gender. Just as it was impossible to tell what the twitching of her tail meant.
"Madam," repeated Kaell Sol, bowing his head a bit. I knew he intended that as an apology, but I wasn't sure if the gesture had the same connotation for kas'shams. Or if it didn't, if they understood our ways well enough to realize what it meant. After all, the City was governed by humans. The Others should be adjusting to our customs, not the other way around.
"I'm very sorry. But we were informed that a crime was committed on the premises."
"A crime?" The tip of the tail froze. "What type of crime?"
"Well." Kaell Sol cleared his throat, then looked at me for assurance. "Someone said that the flesh of sentient species is being consumed here."
Angry hisses sounded around us. My hand automatically clutched for my wand as I drew my eyes over the room. Many kas'shams laid their ears flat and bared their teeth. They had impressive teeth, long and sharp as scimitars. It made me wonder how they kept them hidden most of the time.
"Filthy lies!" hissed the kas'sham lady. "You need not tell me who spread them. Those damned chavikii have wanted to get rid of us since the beginning! The cattle!"
"Referring to another sentient species as 'cattle' may be the reason," I slipped. The kas'sham's eyes turned to me now.
"But it's all right when they call us beasts? Send Mespana on us?"