I likely would have never discovered it if not for the impromptu room change.
It was a cold night, not surprising considering we were currently traveling through the Powdered Peaks. We had set ourselves up in the inn as per usual, everyone paired off in one of five rooms, when I awoke to the sound of screaming. It turned out that, during the night, Tidbit had for some reason gotten out of his bed and in a sleepy stupor flopped onto the bed of his roommate for the night and woken him up. That roommate happened to be Fawful, who was so terrified by the sudden presence of a dog on top of him that any brief progress he had made toward getting over his dog phobia (at least when it came to Tidbit) was made moot in an instant. It had actually woken up damn near all of us, and it was agreed that someone would have to change rooms with either Tidbit or Fawful in order for anyone to get back to sleep. I volunteered to switch with Fawful, as I had been rooming with Edame that night and I knew that Fawful trusted them.
I grabbed my box of personal effects, something we all had which somehow made their way to every inn we came across and would always be found in each room with all our things intact, and made my way to Tidbit's room. The poor dog was sitting outside the door, moping about how he was a "bad boy" for scaring his friend. I gave him a pat on his soft furry head, reassured him that he was in fact a good boy and that we all knew he didn't mean anything by it, and made my way inside. This room was like all the others in the inn, with two rather small beds, a table in between them, and a simple lamp. The green blanket that Fawful used was already gone from one of the beds, presumably wrapped around him in an effort to comfort himself. I carefully pulled my own violet blanket out of my box and unfurled it onto the free bed, putting my box down at its foot. Then I noticed a flash of green underneath the bed. Confused, I bent over, looking underneath. There it was: a green box roughly the size of my own, several journals poking over the edge. Apparently in his panic, Fawful had left his box in the room, either kicking it under the bed in a panic or just in the habit of shoving it in there in the first place. I glanced around the room. Tidbit was still moping outside, and Fawful showed no sign of returning any time soon.
The opportunity was just begging me to take it.
Carefully, I took my wand (which was conveniently hand-shaped) and used it to pull the box closer to where I could grab it with my own hand. I'd been wondering what was up with Fawful ever since we had met in the Realm of the Fey. His strange speech patterns both confused and intrigued me, and if he thought those references to experimentation got past me then he was sorely mistaken. This would allow me to peer into his mind a bit, or at least that's what I'd hoped.
Inside the box were several journals, along with some sort of device that looked like it was capable of recording audio. There was also what looked like an old bottle of mustard, which I turned my nose up at due to both its age and my own distaste for the condiment. I took the top-most journal out of the box and carefully opened it to the first page. Out fluttered a small photograph, which fell to the floor. Curious, I picked it up and examined it. It was Fawful, grinning wide as ever and standing beside what appeared to be a tall older woman. She had a green face like he did, smiling wide with pointed teeth. Her pink eyes were narrowed the way they do when they're making a genuine smile. Violet horns protruded from the sides of her head, which had similar colors to the dress she was wearing. Was this his mother? Aunt? Grandmother, even? Whatever the case, they were clearly very close. Their smiling must have been contagious, because I felt the corners of my mouth turning up as well. I placed the photo beside the box and looked through the journal.
The first thing I noticed about the writing in the journal was that it was actually coherent. While a lot of academic vocabulary was used, the grammatical syntax was more like how the language was meant to be spoken by the common speaker, rather than Fawful's...unique speech patterns. I supposed that it wouldn't make sense for him to write the same way he spoke, given that I had heard him speak normally on a few occasions. Even so, the concepts and illustrations contained in the first few pages of the journal were all scientific concepts that I didn't currently have a very strong grasp on myself. I could read the words just fine, it was just the ideas were hard for me to visualize in my mind. Maybe I could get him to explain these things later, as he did enjoy talking about himself and his discoveries. Though I'd have to explain how I knew about his research in the first place.
I soon finished skimming through the first journal, then moved on to the second. There was a title in the top margin of the first page, but upon reading it I felt a chill run up my spine, one that I couldn't convince myself was just a loose window letting in the snowy cold.
"Experiments in Facial Separation and Reclamation"
What could this mean? What sort of experiments had Fawful been performing? Was he...doing something to victims of the Dark Lord's face-stealing magic? Slightly uneasy, I began to read further.
The recent epidemic of people losing their faces has my mind racing at the effects and implications of such an affliction. How does a victim of facial loss not seem to suffer any sense of pain from having parts of their body literally ripped away from them, and all orifices subsequently sealed shut? They should logically be unable to breathe as a result of this, just as they are unable to see or speak, so theoretically they should suffocate minutes after being affected. Furthermore, when the removed faces fly away from their owners' bodies, they seem to retain the victim's personality and the abilities of sight and speech that were taken away from their bodies. That is, of course, barring they attach to any monster as they are very likely to do, though the attachment to monsters just leads to further questions. There's got to be more to this. We're all already well aware of the cause for this–an individual known as Dark Lord Sanders. However, there is so much more we need to learn.
Dark Lord Sanders... Clearly this was written before we had defeated him, leading to that strange blue wisp possessing Indra and turning him into the Darker Lord. Still, there was something very unnerving about the way Fawful was talking about this. It was very clinical, almost completely unfeeling. I had to know where this was going. I kept reading, flipping past numerous diagrams of different designs for what looked to be a containment device of sorts. I was starting to feel like the protagonist of a bad horror story, one who had multiple opportunities to back out for their safety and for whatever reason chose not to.
I've done it! I've captured a bodiless face! The facial containment device I've been building has had several unfortunate failures, but this time it has succeeded! Unfortunately, the face is incomplete. Specifically, the left eye and the mouth are missing, likely having already been deposited onto a monster or two. This has led to an interesting attempt at communication, with no hands to use in sign language or writing responses, but I managed to make do. (see corresponding tape 1-A)
I looked back into the box. Sure enough, along with the audio recording device, there were several cassette tapes. I sorted through them until I came across the one with "1-A" written on the label. I placed it into the device, pressing play after only a slight bit of hesitation.
"This is being the start of survey for removing of faces, subject 1." The voice of Fawful crackled through the device's speaker. "Subject 1 has lacking in mouth and eye of the left, and I will now give an attempt in communication." A pause, followed by the sound of something rolling across the floor. "Subject 1, do you have the hearing of my voice? Please give the blink of once for yes, twice for no." Another pause, with scratching that I assumed was him writing something down. "All right, the first question of realness. Do you have painfulness? ... Do you have the feeling of the body that is yours? ... Are you knowing the location of the parts you are missing? ... I have understanding. Thanking to you, I will have the keeping of you here until the reclamation of the eye and mouth–do not give the look of such fright! This has more safety than allowing you to be flying away. The likelihood of being returned to the body that is yours has increasing–"
I stopped the tape. He was really keeping a face captive? If so, what else would these journals reveal? Well, there was only one way to find out. I flipped through the journal some more, where he mentioned he had found another face, this time with its eyes missing but its mouth intact. I grabbed the tape associated with this entry and began to listen.
Immediately I noticed that someone was frantically screaming in the background. "This is being the start of survey for removing of faces, subject 2," Fawful's voice rang out. The sound of something rolling across the floor was heard, soon coming to a stop. "Greetings to you, Subject 2!" he said cheerfully.
"Wh-what's going on?!" an unidentified voice shouted. The screaming had stopped briefly, so I could only assume this was the voice of Subject 2. "Who are you? Where are you? Where am I? What's happened to me?!"
"I am not knowing where the eyes and body that are yours are being," Fawful said calmly. "Can you have the answering of questions for me?"
"I'll do whatever you want, just please don't hurt me!"
"All right, question of the first," Fawful said. "What are you feeling?"
"Feeling? I, uh... I can't feel anything. My hands, feet, everything just has that weird numb tingling that happens when you've been laying on that part for too long."
"Are you having sight?"
"Yeah, I... it's blurry, but I can see something. I think we're outside? I see the cloud surface, and there's a lot of people. They're flailing their arms around...all panicky like they're scared, and my eye level is too far up to be normal..."
"That is not being the location we are in, for one thing we are being inside." A brief pause. "This has interest."
"Look, whoever you are, please just let me go!" The second voice began sobbing again. "I've got kids, their dad has been missing for a week and now–" I stopped the tape there. I've always been overly empathetic, and the person's sobbing was starting to become too much.
I moved forward in the journal. More notes about maintenance of the face-catching device, calculating a pattern to when people's faces would go missing... My stomach was sinking deeper and deeper as I read. Then I got to a set of pages that looked like...for lack of a better phrasing, like they had gotten wet and been dried in some spots, the paper wrinkled from the warping moisture introduced to it. Some of the writing was smudged as well.
My mentor - my mother was affected. Her face was removed from her body right in front of me. Luckily I was able to get her body back to my lab so that nothing would happen to her in the interim of trying to find where her face had flown off to. Hopefully I can capture it intact, and with the separated face and body together in one place I can conduct studies that I had previously been unable to.
I felt ill. He was going to...no, he had experimented on his own mother? The previous ones had been tame, just interviews with the faces of anxiety-ridden victims, but the end of the first tape heavily implied he was holding them against their will afterward, and if he had both the body and face on-hand... what had he done? I saw a note about a corresponding tape. I knew I was going to regret listening to it, but I was too far in to bite back my own curiosity. I placed the tape in and played it.
Immediately there was a monstrous roaring, accompanied by the rattling of chains. "This is...being the subject of three..." Fawful's voice said over the roaring, sounding incredibly strained. "The subject of three is...being a double, I will...I will have referring to them as 3-C and 3-M." Even though the roaring would not stop, I could still hear the sound of footsteps and a lessening of that overpowering volume. "Cackl–subject 3-C, do you have the hearing of me?" A low, quiet groan was heard, barely audible over the ruckus of whatever beast this person's face must have been attached to. Instead of proceeding with the questioning as he had with the previous subjects, there was a pause, and then the sound of gross sobbing. "Oh, great Cackletta, I have apology!" Fawful wailed. "I do not have the capability to be doing this to the one that is you! I have shame! I have failure!"
"And you are having the snoop."
I let out a squeal, dropping the recorder to the floor. Turning around, I could see Fawful, wrapped up in his lime-green blanket. His glasses obscured his eyes, but I could feel his gaze boring into me. He was pissed. Or rather, in his own words, he had fury. "I, uh..." I glanced around, trying to come up with an excuse for what I was doing, but I've never been a very good liar. "I was just curious," I finally settled on. "You're kind of...an enigma of sorts, and I've always been wondering about how you got to the point where we met up, I guess."
"You are wishing to know the up-leading to me departure from the land that is Nimbus," Fawful said. "I had employment in a lab that treated standards of ethicalness as cake being dropped on the floor and stepped on. I had the feeling of similarity, and the experiments I had participation in were in the line of this method."
"And the faces that you kept?" I asked. "What was that all about?"
"I had the keeping of the faces for their safety," Fawful said. "They were given release in a small frame of time after the recording of that tape. The lab was being put under a raid of authority, and the experiments that were mine had the ending, with inclusion of destroying of the monster that was wearing the face of my mentor. I had the fleeing from incarceration, the place I had fleeing to being the Realm of the Fey. And then I had finding of you."
I thought about that for a bit. This explained so much about Fawful's personality, so much about his actions. Then I remembered something. We had been to Nimbus once, as a group. While we were there, that strangely unaffected yet still faceless mailman had given us all letters. Maybe the one that Fawful... "Whatever happened to her?" I asked. "Your mentor?"
His face split into his trademark grin. "She has pride!" he exclaimed. "She has pride in her pupil for going to lengths of greatness for knowledge that is forbidden!"
That was...not the response I had expected.