It’s been over thirty years since this was published, and it still managed to do things that surprised me. Morpheus, or Dream the Endless, has been informed that consigning his human lover Nada to hell for 10,000 years for the crime of rejecting him and wounding his pride was a not great thing to do, so he sets out to make things as right as he can, which means once again descending into hell and facing Lucifer. He makes his preparations, says his goodbyes, fully expecting that he will have to fight Lucifer, and that he might lose. But when he gets there, things don’t go as expected.
When he gets to Hell, he finds it empty. Lucifer has quit, and released the denizens to go where they may, including Nada. When I say he quit, I mean he has decided to no longer reign over Hell, and he’s just done. He wants to go lay on a beach somewhere and watch the sunset (he does). And he gives the key to Hell to Morpheus to do with as he wishes. This is the form his revenge takes.
First, I kept thinking Lucifer was playing a trick. Then I realized he wasn’t, and then I could only think, Wait, can he do this? He’s doing this! The rest of the story became about the fallout. What will Morpheus do with Hell? Who will he give its care over to? (There are many factions who show up at his realm begging an audience, wanting to bargain with him and plead their case as to why Hell should be given to them.) How can he find Nada now?
Several things he does here will most likely have lasting consequences for the story, but it works on its own as a complete arc as well. It also opens up some very interesting paths for Lucifer as a character (no doubt this is why he has is own comic, which I also haven’t read, but now am more interested in than I was before).
Side note, the edition I read has a truly execrable introduction by Harlan Ellison, in which he only manages to praise Gaiman and his story by putting down literally everyone else, and making himself look like a first class wanker in the process.