Velathri was not a large town by any definition; large towns required large amounts of clean water, something almost entirely devoid in the Kingdom of Heaven after the Tarsandis Calamity.
Despite its large sprawl, the population of the town was actually quite tame. Its large walls surrounded more buildings than inhabitants after all.
A population under 6000… a town that barely passes for a town. And this ‘City of Velathri’ was the regional Capital of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Many caravans traveled from afar to ‘donate’ water to support the main Human Holy Cities, financed by people of power looking to absolve their sins through their generous support of the Church. Without this regular donation of clean drinkable water from other countries, this small town of Velathri would have disappeared long ago.
This town was originally founded next to a river, which had dried up two hundred years ago. After the Tarsandis Calamity, the population was able to subsist upon drawing well water from an underground aquifer. But after over two hundred years, even this source of water dried up and became nothing but muddy patches beneath the ground. The town only continued to exist thanks to the fact that it was a site of holy pilgrimage.
A sad state of affairs for one of the most ancient capitals of human civilization. A city sitting in a half ruined state, its glory days long forgotten and buried under a mountain of dust and sand. A city rich with ghosts of its past, pitifully continuing its existence as a struggling, decrepit, impoverished welfare state.
What used to be the main market square from the days before Tarsandis Calamity, was now a site of an impromptu vagrant’s tent city. The poor humans from all over the continent came flocking to this city within the Kingdom of Heaven seeking refuge under the Church, and the Church provided them with basic necessities.
After all, it was one of the promises of the church; the protection of mankind.
Blankets and food.
The temperature of Kingdom of Heaven was warm, so a thin blanket with minimal material was sufficient to get through the night, and the human body was able to subsist surprisingly long on simple dry bread.
The Church provided bare minimum necessities… but this act still allowed it to seem magnanimous, and earned them much praise.
Town of Velathri was not large.
But only in terms of population. Its large urban sprawl with a small population led to many abandoned and isolated alleyways.
In such alleyway not too far from the execution grounds, a woman was being chased.
Holding her child, she could not outrun her pursuers. She had fled for a few minutes, gasping for air, yelling for help. But she and her pursuers knew that there was no one near.
Regardless, she kept hope and ran towards the direction of where the city was better inhabited, hoping that she would eventually come across someone who could save her.
Unbeknownst to her, the pursuers were chasing her towards a dead end.
The woman, despite her child, ran away the best she could. Finally, she turned around the corner and saw the dead-end. She collapsed to her knees, realizing her effort thus far was all in vain.
Behind her, her two assailants slowly walk up to her.
A large commotion from the execution square far away could be heard even from this alleyway. Screaming for help was pointless; it would be drowned out by the background noise. The two men cornered the helpless woman with her child and slowly walked up to their prey.
“Please let us go!” The mother begged. “I’ll give you everything I have!”
Looking at the mother’s decrepit outfit, it was laughable. As if there was anything worthwhile to give, thought the assailants.
“How lucky for us that there is something going on over there,” said one of the men, ignoring the woman’s desperate plea.
“No one will help you even if you scream,” the other said, laughing, stepping on the woman’s leg. She cried in pain. But she could not move away due to the man’s enormous strength.
“Please, at least spare my child” The mother cried, holding onto her child tightly. It didn’t look like she was trying to protect the child; it was more accurate to say she was using her baby as a shield to hide behind.
Giving a sigh, the man lifted his leg back up.
“Don’t worry, it won’t hurt at all,” said the men.
The woman looked up in fear. No pain? Was she in no mortal danger? Why did they chase her?
However, contrary to her wildest expectation, his face bulged out into impossible shapes. It burst open, and in its place a slug like face emerged.
The women started screaming but was cut short when the slug-like face sprang forward and latched onto her face.
Blood splattered on the wall, and the women underwent violent spasms for a few moments. The baby helplessly dropped to her knees and started crying loudly in pain.
Soon, the man’s body fell lifelessly onto the floor; it collapsed like an empty husk.
The mother, picking up the crying baby and looked at the other man.
“At least, I don’t know if it hurt or not,” she said with a grin.
Unhinging her jaw, she opened her mouth wide, a mouth full of jagged teeth, and devoured the baby.
A boot stomped heavily on a spider.
“Damn spiders everywhere!” complained a young looking woman. She was sitting on top of a box when she saw a spider as large as a rat scurry by.
“Try not to mess up your face this time. I’d rather stare at this body than your previous one,” said her male companion, as he arrived in the alleyway the woman was waiting at. The woman stood up dusting herself.
“So did you find him?” she asked the approaching man.
“Yeah, no one is left to recognize you now,” the man answered with a grin.
Both of them smiled, a wide toothy grin that betrayed the evil intentions hidden within.
“This town is as good as ours.” the man informed the woman.
“So we’re free to do whatever we want?” the woman asked with a carefree smile, her cold, inhuman grin melting away as if it never existed.
“We should stay away from church members for a little while though. Mages did something apparently.” The man warned her.
“Is that what that commotion earlier was about?” the woman asked, tilting her head to the side.
“Yeah, I heard a mage interfered with the execution of another mage,” the man shook his head as he spoke. “Seriously annoying, but what can you do.”
“How strange, I thought they easily sacrificed each other to prevent detection,” the woman mused, tilting her head the other way and looking up towards the sky visible in the gaps between the buildings.
“It must have been a big wig’s execution or something. Either way, the church is going to battle the mages for a while, probably.”
“Perfect, no one will interfere with us!” laughed the woman happily, spreading her arms wide in glee.
“E… Excuse me…” a small voice spoke out from the alleyway behind them. The two Face Eaters spun around to look at who it was.
It was a small child.
It was a little girl. A girl barely eight years old. She was covered in rags and filth. It was impossible to tell what was her real skin or hair color from all the grime. Her hands were rough from the harsh living condition, and she was emaciated with a bloated belly; A classic sign of a starving child.
“You… How much did you hear?” The man demanded, stepping forward. Despite his intimidating attitude, the girl looked back at him with eyes of determination, though fear flashed across her face for a moment.
The female Face Eater was intrigued. How interesting, this creature. She thought. Stopping the man from stepping forward, she smiled at him.
“Wait, let her speak. I want to hear what she has to say,” The female Face Eater said.
The male Face Eater hesitated. Seeing that the girl did not make any attempt to run away, he sighed and nodded. Walking backwards, he leaned his back against the wall.
“Go on child,” The female Face Eater urged softly.
Gulping audibly the nervous girl began. “I…I…I heard that you two kill people!” she began, stammering. How adorable! The Female Face Eater thought to herself, unable to conceal a smile.
“I don’t have anything or…or…or anyone to protect me. I… I’m not stupid! I know I will die if I stay like this!” the child loudly expressed herself, looking down at her rags in despair. “I will die without becoming strong! I thought… Maybe…”
“Maybe what?” The Female Face Eater said, walking forward towards the girl. “Maybe you could leech off of us, living like a parasite and get free protection from danger? Is this what you were thinking?” She accused while laughing gleefully, teasing the girl. She touched the girl’s cheeks with her finger. The face was hard from cracked mud, but under it was a soft, vulnerable skin of a child. Delicious young skin that still hasn’t lost baby fat despite her obvious starvation. The girl shivered at the touch.
“N…no! I didn’t mean it that way! I know better than to ask things for free! I offer myself to you in return for protection! I know that I don’t look like much, but I bet there are lots of ways in which you can take advantage of the fact that I am a child!” she declared boldly, showing conviction unbefitting that of a child. She sounded so confident of being able to prove her own usefulness that for a moment the female Face Eater was at a loss for words.
A child with such conviction… The female Face Eater searched the child to see where it was coming from. It was in her stance, confident despite her emaciated state. It was in her voice, honest and true despite her obvious fear and discomfort. It was the fire in her eyes, burning brilliantly in spite of her pitiful appearance, size, and circumstance.
An interesting child. But shaking her head, the female Face Eater gave a cold reply with a bitter smile.
“Little girl… how unfortunate for you to ask us for help,” the female Face Eater said, kneeling down to lower her eye level to match the child’s. Gazing softly into the girl’s succulent eyes, the Face Eater saw even more clearly the intelligence, the courage, and the determination within. And something more…
Shaking her head, she continued: “We are not humans you see?” She informed the girl, pretending to look troubled.
“You… you’re not?” The girl responded, obviously surprised and taken aback.
“No little girl. We are Face Eaters. Have you heard of us?” The female Face Eater asked, smiling again, but this time with malice leaking from her body.
The girl shook her head in denial.
“This is what we look like,” she said, her face bulging out, erupting and revealing the snail like appearance. Her mouth opened up into four flaps, filled with numerous teeth. “We eat humans, so you humans would call us Man Eaters,” She continued in a strange raspy voice.
The girl could not help but flinch and closed her eyes tightly. She bit down on her lips and held herself.
How admirable, the female Face Eater thought. The little girl managed to hold herself back from screaming. Still, in a playful mood, the Face Eater used her feeler like tongue and licked the girl’s dirty face. The little girl shivered in fear and disgust. Delicious! The Face Eater felt. I wonder how good she tastes-
“E…even better! I can offer you even more if you’re not human!” She declared, looking up at the grotesque, monstrous face. She didn’t shy away from the tongue, nor took a step back, even though she was looking slightly pale and green.
“Oh? What’s that?” the Female Face Eater asked, taken back by this unexpected behavior.
“I…I…I bet there are things you can’t do as monsters that humans can! I bet that there are things you can’t do as adults that a child can! I can do them for you! I won’t ever betray you, I swear!” The girl swore, putting her right hand over her heart. “When I grow up, I will do everything I can to protect you!”
“Such noble wordssss,” chuckled the female Face Eater, pulling back her true face and resuming the shape of the human. Looking back at her partner, she asked. “Interesting enough to consider, don’t you think?”
Her partner’s face had an amused smile as well. It seemed he too was have fun watching her.
“If she can handle this much intimidation and still not bend, I have no objections,” he said. How sly, she thought, he’s trying to feign disinterest. I can clearly see that he also wants to see how the girl would behave.
“Ok little girl you pass,” The female Face Eater said. With one sentence, the tension in the little girl seemed to break, and she smiled happily. Such a radiant smile. How interesting, this human child.
“I promise I won’t get in your way! I will try to learn as quickly as I can!” She declared, looking all pumped up. “What should I call you?”
“We don’t have names,” The female Face Eater said looking back at her partner. “Do you have any idea what we should call ourselves?” she asked.
“No idea. I never thought about wanting names,” he answered honestly, shaking his head.
“In the slums, they call me rags. But I think that trying to find suitable names for all three of us can be our first quest!” The girl exclaimed, full of excitement. It was as if she wasn’t a starving orphan scraping by to survive in the slums without her parents.
“A quest? What does that make you? A Hero?” The female Face Eater asked while laughing. The little girl blushed.
“A…a…hero… No way! I can’t possibly become a hero!” She exclaimed distraught, looking down at her filthy rags. “A hero shouldn’t be like me at all! It should be someone pure, someone strong! Someone who works to protect the weak!”
“Ah, so you want us to teach you to be strong, so you can become a hero when you grow up?” The female Face Eater teased. “So you can protect us who will become weaker than you?”
“N…no! That’s not what I…!” the girl started stammering.
“Calm down, girl. She’s only teasing you.” The male Face Eater said, ruffling the child’s hair. “Let’s first get you food.”
At his words, as if on command, the girl started drooling.
“R…really? Is that okay?” she asked with uncertainty.
“Yes, come along. We don’t know what humans eat after all. So you’ll have to teach us.” the female Face Eater lied. But the girl believed it.
“Got it. I will tell you everything I can!” The little girl answered, once again pumped up, full of determination and motivation. How hard working! I just want to eat her up!