Mental deep dives are powerful tools and not to be used lightly. In the Choir’s texts, it’s likened to entering a cluttered library. Without the librarian, you’ll never find anything. That’s a beautiful but sterile metaphor. You can deep dive anyone you want, but without the owner’s psyche, you’ll not find anything of value. That’s where the metaphor breaks down because Librarians are willing assistants in the search for knowledge. In the academy, Allie learned that it’s much more like a home invasion with hostages and the Esper is the perpetrator. Once inside, the owner’s mind is forced to pull memories and knowledge while under duress. If they refuse, the Esper is in position to do damage to their psyche that is impossible to fix, such as randomly destroying memories and knowledge and even shattering the person’s core personality, leaving them in a puppet-like state. Mental deep dives are just like empathic deep dives in that it can leave the body vulnerable, but it can also open the Esper up to muddling or even absorbing traumas and character traits.
One of the significant components of a mental deep dive is controlling the mindscape of your target. It helps maintain a reasonable distance. Allie was fond of seeing her target’s mind as a supercomputer with a single operator’s chair. Everything from the walls to the control panel was a mirror. Breakdowns in her control would alter the room, so with reflective walls, she could easily track changes and adjust. Amber’s psyche was shackled to the chair. A mask replete with wires and cables adorned her head and connected her to a panel, which was attached in turn to a large monitor. Allie stood behind holding her gun to her captives head.
“Show me what you know about Camp Carson,” Allie ordered. Broad orders were best at first. She could narrow things down in time.
A massive screen flickered to life, and a montage of images danced upon it. In a human mind, these memories would have different levels of clarity based on how well they could be recalled, but in a being with eidetic memories, they were all in focus. They were all grey as well, indicating that the memories were only of passing interest in the first place. It was information Amber had because she had it. Unimportant and negligible.
It wasn’t at all what Allie had been expecting. If Amber were lying about her knowledge, then at least some of this information would be in color. Allie scanned the images again in earnest.
“Wait. Where are the memories of the drowned children?” Allie asked.
The images on screen shuddered and flitted about in a dance of agitation. They shook, and random sounds echoed through the room. Amber psyche jerked hard against its restraints and grunted laboriously. Then, everything relaxed again. In the wake of that, no information about the drowned children became visible. Nothing had changed.
Allie glanced around the room. Her reflection was pensive on the unchanged walls. Amber had admitted she knew about the kids, but only at that moment and not before. Allie was forced to accept something was happening here, and Amber may be innocent after all. Some part of her was relieved. Even as she’d threatened Amber, she felt guilty about it. She’d fueled her anger with thoughts of what had happened to Don, but some small part of her wanted to be wrong. She’d only broken one mind before, and she didn’t relish doing it again. She’d need to keep digging. Something was here.
“Show me dead humans,” Allie ordered.
The current images sank into the darkness of the screen, and a handful of new images swam into view. Most were in black and white, much like the Camp Carson memories, though a handful were in color. The colored memories were personal kills. Men and women stripped of their life force and left as hunks of meat. Most were also old, save a few that carried a profound sense of sadness around them. The early ones were marked with hints of hunger and desperation. Few had any joy connected to them. Amber’s kindness was genuine. She didn’t avoid harming humans merely to prevent the Choir’s justice. Unless forced she seemed to have an instinctive dislike of killing in general.
Among the images was the conversation with Allie, Don, and Goldie where she learned of the death of Rowan. It was in gray, but something about it stood out. It was blurry.
“Focus on that memory,” Allie ordered.
The other images sank into the darkness, leaving only the requested memory. Generally, within Allie’s controlled mindscape, the memory should play out as recalled, but this one didn’t. It sputtered and stopped like a high definition video streamed over a bad connection. The sound was like listening through a wall.
In a human, this would be normal, but not in a Succubus. Allie reached out her mind and touched the memory directly trying to find the cause of the strange behavior. The memory screamed in protest, and the room shifted. Amber’s psyche writhed in its chair and began making choking noises. Amber was in actual physical pain, and it was all from Allie attempting to force out this memory. Allie released the remembrance, and the upheaval quickly ceased.
Someone had done something to Amber’s memories. Locked or sealed certain ones away and the lock was affecting this new memory most likely because of the ones Allie wanted. It had to be magic of some kind, but the trigger was an external confrontation with the sealed knowledge. She would need help.
“Don,” Allie called out.
“What’s going on?” Don’s voice flooded the room.
“I think there is a lock on Amber’s memories. I need you to trigger them externally. Ask her about the kids again.”
Allie holstered her pistol. It wasn’t needed, and she didn’t want to make any mistakes. After a moment, the fuzzy image became clear and it started to play without issue. It also became a full-color memory. The spell wasn’t just trying to obscure memories. It was also dampening their importance.
“Show me dead kids at Camp Carson,” Allie ordered.
This time a group of memories showed. They were in full color but aggressively blurred. Spectral chains bound the thoughts together that joined with a lock floating in the air. The lock lacked the dial of a combination lock or keyhole, but instead a memory, gray and completely blurred sat upon its face. Unlocking the chained memories required the destruction of that memory. It was a brilliant design as the recollection was most likely of the mage that put it there.
Destroying the memory would keep his or her identity safe and without the proper trigger words, playing the correct information would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
If the homunculus was any indication, this mage was fond of traps, so Allie would need to be fast. There was no telling what would happen when the lock broke. She drew her pistol, that selected symbol of destruction, and fired on the memory holding the lock. It shattered into a brilliant spray of colored sparks. Allie tossed the gun aside and waved her hand, freeing Amber’s psyche from its restraints so that it might defend itself and vacated her mind just as a grand rumbling gripped the room.
As Allie broke the connection, Amber groaned and slumped to the floor. She hugged herself tightly even as she began to shiver violently.
“Well?” Don asked. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, her bandaged arm hanging limply at her side.
“I’m gonna need to apologize,” Allie said as she rose unsteadily to her feet. Deep mental dives could be physically exhausting even if they were short. Allie’s rapid egress hadn’t helped. “She had a spell on her. It was sealing the memories and anything else related to those deaths. It was even creeping into new memories.”
“How did you break it?” Don asked, reaching out a hand to steady the wobbly Esper.
“It was sealed behind another memory. I had to break that one to unseal the rest.”
“What if that one was important? Couldn’t we have worked around it?”
“I’m sure it was and with time, absolutely,” Allie sat heavily on the edge of Don’s bed. “If I had a week, I bet I could have worked out the lock memory or cross-referenced different people in town until I dug up everything behind the lock. That’s if this thing in her was unique to her, which based on my conversation with Goldie’s friends, it is not. That would mean more deep dives.”
“Every gambler loses if they roll enough dice,” Don sighed.
“Yeah, and I have enough neurosis already, thank you.”
“Speaking of neurosis-” Don began.
“Yeah, yeah, I came in hot. I know,” Allie said, holding her hand up. “In my defense, I’m fresh off a memory of your brother, and you did almost die. This is a little close to home here.”
Don stared at the floor for a moment before giving a small nod.
“Besides,” Allie said, rubbing the base of her skull with both thumbs. “She’s a Greater Lillith. I don’t know how long anything else would have worked.”
“Not long,” Amber said. Her shaking had stopped, but she was still curled up on the floor. “And were I your enemy, well, your neck does look rather breakable.”
“I suppose I deserve that. Sorry for hooking you the way I did.”
“If Don can forgive me shooting her, I can forgive you for this,” Amber propped herself up. “If I understand correctly, you’ve removed the spell that was on me?”
Allie nodded. “How are you feeling?”
“As though I have been thoroughly beaten, and not in the way one had hoped.”
Don gave an amused snort.
“Can you recall anything more now?” Allie asked.
Amber nodded, her head bobbing drunkenly. “I can, but to do so causes me physical pain at the moment. Let me rest, and I will tell you all I know. I feel there is much.”
“I can help you there,” Don said. “As long as someone doesn’t have any other reasons to object?”
Allie rolled her eyes. “I don’t care who you sleep with as long as they aren’t trying to kill us.”
“I’m working on getting her to add the word ‘actively’ to that sentence,” Don said with a chuckle as she moved to help Amber up.
“I fear I meant it when I said I needed rest,” Amber lamented. “I am in no shape to enjoy myself.”
“That’s fine. You be little spoon and just feel better.” Don guided Amber to the bed and waved Allie aside.
Allie allowed herself to be shooed as Amber and Don curled up in bed. In short order, Amber began to emit a soft glow as Don wrapped her up in a gentle embrace. Allie returned to her room. The day had been busy, and there wasn’t much more that could be done. Don was hurt. Amber was free of the spell altering her memories but was physically damaged by it. Even Allie could use a nap. With nothing to do but wait, a rest was looking very attractive. Allie sat at her computer and started prepping her report. She suspected she’d have a lot more to add before long.