The man Epione stole the hydrokinesis from was named Lucas in life. He called himself Floodwater as a cloak and he was perhaps the most powerful hydrokinetic in South America. He died fighting the Inheritors early into their campaign to reunite South America under the banner of New Foundation, before countries starting dropping out of the tattered UWC left and right.
He screamed into Epione’s ear as she summoned his power from her ring. “You fucking bitch! Let me out of here!”
Epione ignored him and the sudden fury that flowed through her, concentrating it into Doppelganger’s pool. Gabe was losing his bout with Paul, while the other person she sensed in the basement with her empathy was on the way up. Whoever they were, their colors flowed dark, full of pain.
The pool responded to her fury — to Lucas’ fury. The water sighed, sloshing inside the pool and gathering power, until it ripped free and crashed into the house as a raging wave. The water smashed through windows and crushed walls, wrenched everyone in the house off their feet. Epione danced along the water, stepping on it as if it were a solid surface. She rode the currents into the house, using the power to make tendrils from the water to bind up their enemies.
Gabe pursued Doppelganger, bound by Mr. Gold’s chain, through the entry hall and out the door. Paul stumbled to his feet after them.
Kassandra was preoccupied with Remise and Maisa, but already she was winning that fight — she knocked Maisa from her board with a scythe of pure stone, while Remise she kept at bay with giant hand shaped statues that groped and crushed through the furniture with their limestone fingers. The hands chased Remise up the walls as she used her jets to evade them. Kassandra was half a beast, with leathery hide for skin, yellow cat eyes, and sharp claws instead of nails, and fighting nearly as fast as Remise.
Epione made her choice: let Gabe, Mr. Gold, and Meltdown fight with Doppelganger and Paul.
Epione switched out her rings, summoning Carnality’s power, and the Luca’s fury was replaced with the demoness’ lust. Epione wanted to rend, wanted to kill, wanted to consume. She used her own blood to form the crimson armor that overlaid her suit and a spear that could pierce through steel.
Kassandra, too, summoned her element: stone chunks ripped from the floor and encased her in armor. She stepped forward, whirling her hands, calling up solid columns of rock to block Epione from advancing. She showed her teeth in an expression somewhere between a grin and a grimace, and stepped forward, hungry for battle.
Epione, too, was hungry. She leapt up, letting Carnality’s voice fill her ears: “I want to see her, darling, I want to open her up and taste her! I want to know her!”
Kassandra disappeared, slipping into the floor like a rock into a pond.
Epione had no place to put the bloodlust, now. She fell to her knees, confused and disoriented by the outburst of Carnality’s emotions.
“Where the hell did she go?” Remise asked, free of the stone hands now that they were not animated. They remained frozen in place where they stepped, a strange statue of spiders climbing up the walls.
“Find her!” Carnality screeched.
Epione squeezed her ears shut, though it did nothing to block Carnality’s voice. She closed her eyes and searched the Affect for Kassandra.
Instead she found the fourth person reaching the top of the basement stairs. “Remise!” she cried, pointing at the door as it opened.
Another Doppelganger emerged and with each step his body shifted. His skin looked as if it were boiling as it transformed into red-black chitin, his hands — missing the same fingers the Doppelganger she met in Buenos Aires was missing — became giant claws, while his legs tore free of his pants, swelling to the size of tree trunks. A rhinoceros horn sprouted from his forehead, spilling blood across his face like war paint.
Epione could only stare in horror as he dropped to all fours and charged.
Maisa screamed, startling Epione from her stupor, while Remise shouted over the comms: “There’s another Doppelganger! And he’s a big old fucking monster!”
Maisa hurled a sphere of solid light that glanced off the Crabganger’s body. Remise whipped her claw cables but they only scratched the chitinous armor bounding him. Epione conjured a swarm of knives from her blood — but the Crabganger diverted his charge at the last second, avoiding that end. He lashed out with his claws at Remise, nearly cutting her head off.
A hand reached up from the floor and snared Epione’s ankle. Kassandra! Epione had lost track of her in Crabganger’s charge.
Kassandra reached up with her other hand but Epione kept that leg free. She grabbed one of the red knives hanging in the air and sliced at Kassandra’s fingers. Rage moved Epione’s limbs in charged bursts, as if an electric impulse fired off at random intervals and commanded her muscles. She kicked free of Kassandra’s snare.
Someone above them began to sing. “La donna è mobile! Qual piuma al vento!”
In response, the house swayed as if in dance with the rhythm of the song, scattering the paintings from the walls, throwing the Crabganger onto its belly as it dove at Remise. The earthquake shattered the statue hands into pieces. Windows screeched and cracked into pieces, the chandelier over the living room spun like a top. Drawers slammed, doors opened, the lights sputtered and died.
Epione fought for her footing with the well of strength from Carnality’s power. She stayed upright.
Until the ground opened its mouth and swallowed her alive.
She cried out and grabbed at the rock, tumbling into darkness. She smashed against hard rock, against unrelenting stone, against the domain of Kassandra, and was almost lost in the sea of undulating earth. The house chased her into this hole; wood, tiling, glass and more debris tried to bury her in the newly formed rift.
The only thing she had in the darkness was her question.
“Are you human?” Carnality asked.
“Of course I am,” Epione answered.
“Of course you are,” came the reply, spoken through a giggle. Carnality snickered in her ear. “Of course you are.”
Epione bit her tongue. She wanted to bite back, to snarl at Carnality, or at least to silence her by putting her mind back in the ring. But the power was the only thing keeping her alive right now.
Not much longer. She was only drawing strength from her own blood and she had no way to collect more.
Saw Off’s miserable face bubbled to her memory from the last time she’d been buried under rubble. Her weeping cry as she clung to Lugs’ corpse haunted Epione. Would likely haunt her until the day she died.
The colors changed near her. A silver fire approached through the ocean of Affect. The rubble shifted. Light pierced the darkness. A gloved hand reached into the rift and grabbed her arm, pulling her free.
Meltdown greeted her. Her colors spoke of relief, of pain, of fear, and of guilt. Relief that Epione was still alive, pain from the fight, fear from Doppelganger, and guilt… from Flashfire. Oh, if only Epione could relieve that guilt somehow, tell her that there was nothing to worry about. There was no way Epione would ever get back her love for him, because it was where it needed to be.
Words for a later time. If there ever was. “Are you okay?” Epione asked.
“I’m good. The White Shark is here. Let me take you to it.” Meltdown scooped Epione into her arms and took flight. They lifted up out of the huge rift, back to the house.
The pair ascended into a wasteland. Epione marveled at the house, broken down to its base parts, destroyed to the foundation. She couldn’t see Maisa, Remise, or the Crabganger, but she did see two flames fleeing from the house, west toward the coast — one silver, one gold. From their colors, she knew they were Kassandra and Paul.
“Not yet,” Epione said. “Paul and Kassandra are getting away.”
Meltdown’s colors revealed a flash of indecision. Epione made a face, meaning to say, “Take me there, now.” She wasn’t sure if that got across, as Meltdown’s colors didn’t change to resolve. But she nodded and changed course.
Paul and Kassandra dashed down the hill along the edge of the rift that Kassandra opened with her power. Epione summoned a bola from her blood. She threw the weapon at Paul, and the two red balls orbited his ankles and tangled him, knocking him to the ground. Epione willed the blood to transform into a harness, restraining him.
Meltdown called lightning down from the sky, but Kassandra swan-dived into the earth before any of the bolts could strike her. The fire of her Affect bobbed and weaved as she burrowed through the earth, more graceful than a fish in water, but she stayed close to the surface and the walls of the giant rift she’d created with her power.
“Take us in,” Epione said, switching the rings out. Carnality screeched in protest, but the scream was cut off by Epione shoving her into her prison.
Alec, the scared boy, took her place. The power to activate other powers. Epione pointed down to the rift. “Dive down there.”
Meltdown soared down. Arms made of stone grew from the earth like weeds, but Meltdown repelled them with blasts of electricity. She carved their path down into the rift and brought Epione within feet of Kassandra.
Alec sniffled as Epione bid his power force Kassandra’s hand — she compelled the woman to burrow upward and surface from the earth. “Hit her now!” Epione shouted.
Thunder roared in the sky and lightning brought its ax down upon Kassandra. Her Affect sputtered, but did not die out. Her colors were confusion and agony, and she was dazed out of her mind. Doppelganger’s changes to her genetics must have kept her alive.
Meltdown carried Epione from the rift and landed next to Kassandra. The lightning had scorched part of the clone’s hair away, leaving a black mark down the middle of her skull. Her cat eyes searched the sky while she babbled nonsense.
“She’ll survive,” Epione said. She reached down and bid Kassandra to sleep, offering a small mercy to the woman. Alec, too, she allowed to rest. “I think she’s tougher than she looks.”
“She looks pretty damn tough,” Meltdown said.
Paul struggled against his restraints only a few yards away. Part of the restraint gagged him so that he couldn’t speak, but he growled as they approached him.
Epione was unsure of what to do with him — she wanted to try and free him from Doppelganger’s compulsion, but the last clone she’d tried it on had failed. Then again, that woman was only a lightweight.
“Doppelganger has Gabe!” Bedevil shouted over the comms. “All Inheritors on my location!”
A flare popped and hissed, casting the entire estate in a low red light. Meltdown grabbed at Epione’s arm to guide her back. “Come on, put him to sleep. They need us!”
Epione had no choice. She had to free him from the monster somehow.
How on earth would she do that, though?
When she’d tried to save the other clone in New Foundation, the poor woman that Doppelganger had kidnapped and replaced, she’d tried to free the clone from his influence by a similar process in which Gabe beat the Fear possessing him. Epione tried to force the clone’s actualization, make her become more herself. That had the opposite result that Epione intended.
Now she looked to her own history as an example. When she no longer loved Flashfire, it was because something crucial had been taken from her. A piece of her Affect, a piece of her heart. But that piece put a wall between them. A wall that meant that nothing Flashfire ever said or did would compel her to act.
Epione laid her fingers upon Paul’s brow. She searched his Affect for the thing that bound him to Doppelganger. Something that, if she removed it, meant that Doppelganger would never compel Paul to act again.
She found it. Fear. It was always fear. A little black shard wedged into his colors that, if given the right command, could force Paul to act. Epione saw the true extent of Doppelganger’s powers, then. Not only did he change genetics, not only could he clone people, but he could shape the Affect of those he created, as well.
Epione plucked the shard of fear from Paul’s mind.