[disclaimer: when I write in a world I try to write standalone pieces that all fit into a puzzle, but this might add some context.]

“’When did you know you were lost?’ he asked.” Yong shoves Deon with his elbow as he repeats Sam’s question. Deon shoves back, ignoring the prompt, and they both almost go off the deck and into the pool. So I guess it’s up to me to answer.

“We weren’t exactly lost. I mean, we had the right coordinates to start, and the landscape was familiar, or at least, kinda familiar, once we got down to Doggerland. But… it was barren, Sam. I mean, when we went before…” I trail off, assembling my thoughts. Past the villa wall I can see Monaco going about its business, locals to markets, tourists to the casinos.

When we went under the waves before, the grass was green, and the whole land was a memory of its own prehistory. Saber-toothed cats like the one that took my eye (okay, and killed me, but I’m trying not to count that, it was embarrassing) roamed free, and there was a small village nestled in the hills. Of course the whole area reeked of what Sarah calls ichthyans. I wish we could still use the term, but after I tried that the first few times I gave up and just called it squidge like Colin and everyone else. I realize that I’m running my finger around the outside of my eye socket checking for scars instead of talking, and fold my hands in my lap quickly. Of course there aren’t scars. Sarah would never permit it.

“When we went before, there was a village. And now there’s just nothing.” I try to convey the vastness of that nothing with my hands, my voice, but it isn’t adequate. Deon picks up the thread.

“We opened the portal like you showed us, straight across the veil to where we were before. I recognized the mountains, and the spot where the chest was. But there weren’t any other landmarks. It was a fucking wasteland. All the grass, gone. The trees, the village, the whole land is one big smoking crater. Burned back to the memory of its own bedrock. I know the village was squidgy as hell, and that cat, but this? Even for us this is kinda drastic.” He folds his arms sullenly. “Even the fucking U-boat was just a burned-out shell, sitting on stone. Who the hell even does that?”

“New York,” I blurt without thinking, and everyone stares. Well, it’s what I do. Data analysis.

“Go on,” Sam murmurs. Jerold thumps to the flagstones at his feet, father and son looking more alike than usual as they wait for me to explain.

“I know the Elders discussed our original Doggerland excursion with New York,” I say slowly. “I think with Sejanus. I know that Diel met with Angus privately afterward, too, and I think that’s why Angus authorized the excursion.” I hold up a hand to stop Deon protesting that it was his own idea. Angus only looks big and slow. “Plus I can’t think of anyone else with the sheer firepower to level an entire, um,” I cup my hands in the air as though I could fetch the word.

“Magical sub-ecosystem?” Yong suggests, and I nod.

“Seriously, Sam. Everything was gone, but it didn’t resonate like explosions, or war. It was more like the aura on the ‘angel’ we saw there. Um. Which my sources” meaning Marcus, but I’m not telling them that “say is one of Vana’s strike troops. That thing could have easily done the damage we saw, and if she’s got more of them?”

Sam nods and leans back in his deck chair, watching ripples play on the surface of the pool. Finally he sighs and stands up.

“You know I’ll have to report this to the Elders.” His voice is grim. “Holly, you had best be damned sure about what you just said.”

I look over at where our useless gear sits in a pile in the sun.

“I’m sure.” I’m sure as hell that we don’t want to go to war with New York, not as things stand and not ever. We’re supposed to be on the same side. But at least now we’ve got a sense of what they can do.

It scares the hell out of me.