The party going to Earth to begin peace talks had all been given special talismans to wear around their necks that were supposedly the equivalent of a permit to cross between realms. They were small, about the size of a dollar, and were carved with the ever-popular pentagram marking us Hell’s delegation.
We had a day’s ride to what was only referred to as “Ascension.” I rode with Athena, Dionysus and Myrrh, generally silent.
Eventually we reached what I could only describe as an exact replica of Stonehenge, a series of massive boulders precariously balanced to form a huge circle.
We all stood on the perimeter, one person to each stone arch as Lucifer stepped into the middle of the circle.
He chanted something. I wasn’t paying much attention. But then I blinked and stepped back as light blazed into my eyes.
The entire centre of the Stonehenge-arena-thing had erupted in a column of blinding white light, starting from the ground and reaching higher than I could see. A forceful wind was forcing me to squint, but I could still see that the other delegates were each running through their arches.
I held a hand up to shield my eyes, trying to muster the courage to run.
It looked like stepping through would either vaporize or dismember me. I wasn’t too eager for either.
I tried to force myself to count.
I found myself remembering the endless staircase that had taken me down to Hell. Eversio counting down the seconds on his pocketwatch, counting down the seconds before he would push me into the abyss. I found myself wondering if he would have actually pushed.
If he would have actually killed me. Or Lucifer.
I felt the scene flashing before my eyes again, but I knew something was different. Different from what I had remembered, from what I had allowed myself to remember.
The scene was rudely replaced with white light as I felt myself being pushed forwards.
Stepping (or falling) through the arch felt like stepping into the bottom of a vacuum cleaner. I was being pushed (or maybe pulled) up so fast I could hardly open my eyes or make a sound. It felt like I was hurtling down a roller coaster, but up.
I briefly remembered the lift Aparctius had given me back in Heaven and would have laughed at the stark contrast, if I could.
And then it was over. I felt like I was hovering for a split-second before gravity kicked in and I found myself with a face full of grass. I was on the verge of pushing myself up when I realized there was a weight on top of me.
I squirmed to turn myself away from the ground and realized I was face-to-face with Myrrh.
“What the - ?”
“I’m sorry, Your Excellence, but the Ascension is very quick. You would have missed it if you waited any longer.”
I realized suddenly that she must have pushed me but resisted the urge to snap when I saw plainly in her expression that she meant no harm.
“It’s fine. Just help me up.”
She scrambled off of me, giving me her right hand. I took it, and she pulled me up with a surprising lack of effort.
Her palm was cool against mine, and I found myself looking at her hand and smirking.
“You haven’t been in Hell long, have you?” I asked, watching her expression.
She blinked, taken off guard.
“Why, Your Excellence?”
I held up her hand, before letting it drop.
“Offering a demon your right hand is the equivalent of committing suicide.”
“My mistake, Your Excellence.” She admitted, bowing her head with the hint of a smile on her lips.
“It’s fine. I’m no demon.” I replied, brushing off my clothes and turning to find the Council, “And it’s Zara.”
I realized with a start that we were now standing in Stonehenge. The actual Stonehenge. The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon, and it was hard to comprehend that I wasn’t dreaming up the fantastical party bathed in reds and oranges.
We rode through relatively empty countryside, and for the duration of the ride I had to admit I was lost in thought.
Earth. My realm. I never thought I’d see it again.
I realized with a start that it was warm, even though it was so late.
It was summer.
A year had passed. Maybe two?
The thought of my friends graduating filled me with ice. Wearing gowns, throwing their caps in the air. Going to prom. Choosing a university. Moving out.
My mind wandered to my parents. I wondered how they felt. Knowing I was in Hell. That they would never see me again. Thinking that I was either dead or suffering eternal torture.
And that it was all because they sold my soul.
I wondered about Izzy. Thinking I was in some elaborate accident, in a foreign hospital, isolated from human contact.
I started regretting having called. My parents would have probably thought of a better explanation...
Or maybe they had.
I wondered briefly if they had told her I died.