11. Welcome to Hell

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Being dead wasn't quite what Ashley expected.

There were no clouds, harps, angels, demons, or bottomless pits of flame for one thing.

She couldn't feel her limbs.

It was dark.

But mostly, it was wet. If Ashley had to describe the main unexpected feature of the afterlife, it would be its sogginess.

Perhaps the way you die impacts your afterlife. Like if you drown, you're wet for eternity.

Images of her final moments flashed into her consciousness. A blur of wind and flying feathers and streaks of rainbow blood. The weight of Gerald's arm around her waist, like a medieval seat belt, pulling against her belly to keep her on Louis's back. Louis's screams.

Or maybe they were her screams.

The feathered shaft of the arrow flapped in the turbulence. If she could reach it, perhaps he'd recover. Unicorns heal quickly.

Her arm stretched, stretched, stretched.

She fought Gerald's grip even as he warned her to keep her center of gravity. Then he said some choice words a groom ought never to say in the presence of a lady, let alone a princess.

But she'd failed.

Obviously.

Since she was dead.

And Louis and Gerald. Were they dead as well? Her gut twisted. They couldn't be. Gerald was a powerful pilot. He surely made it. After all, he wasn't here, wherever here was.

But what about Louis? If only she'd removed the arrow so he could heal.

Who had shot it? Would they find the culprit? What would Charming do when he heard of her untimely demise?

There was no one to answer her questions.

You'd think there'd be a better welcoming committee in the afterlife. Someone to come 'round and say, "So happy you've joined us. Head over to central processing to get your harp and robes. Dinner is at six. No cloud-hopping. (Assuming she was in heaven, which she really, really hoped was right.)

But if she was in the other place: "Welcome to damnation. Your personal pit of fire isn't quite ready, but if you'd be so kind as to step into this boiling vat of acid? Don't mind the brimstone. You'll get used to the stench. Clay, goat cheese, and ash buffet served at six daily.

"Do you think she's dead?" said a female voice. It sounded angelic, which was frankly a relief after all the sinning she'd done lately—sneaking around, lying, setting the breakfast room on fire, breaking into the library, not to mention the handcuffs. On the other hand, an angel ought to know that she was dead.

"I don't believe so, Sadira," said another voice, like liquid silver. "Her eyelid twitched. Is that a sign of life in humans?"

Humans? That name. Sadira. It sounded familiar. Like she should know it.

"Sadira, Kai, allow me," said a man. He didn't sound angelic. Definitely devilish.

Someone, with breath like fresh grass, peeled back her eyelid. "Ouch," she said. Everything was blurry, like being underwater.

"See, not dead. Told you."

The image of a man came into focus. He had the greenest irises she'd ever encountered—like two sparkling emeralds—and wore an elegant green velvet coat with matching jodhpurs. His short dark hair had streaks of iridescent green; his face was clean-shaven.

He sat back on his heels, raising a quizzical green brow. He appeared neither angelic nor demonic, but why not be optimistic? Beside him, in a semi-circle, were 5 of the most stunning women she'd ever seen.

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