Marie-Suzette sloshed damply down the pitch black tunnel. No...not pitch. More like coal. Yes, the darkness definitely had a hot sullen texture rather then the thick oily one of pitch. Just as well really, Marie-Suzette was having enough trouble with the water. She didn't need thick, congealing darkness on the top of it.

Speaking of the water it was definitely rising. It was past knee high now and slopping into her boots. "Damn. I hate wet feet." It was cold too. Cold water and cold air were flowing at her from three branching tunnel entrances. She couldn't see them in the coal blackness of course but she knew they were there. Hmmm.....

"Eeny-Meeny-Myny-Mo -" she began. Something splashed behind her. Marie-Suzette whirled, drawing her sword in the same smooth motion. Its eerie blueish light revealed a pale pointed face between an explosion of fluffy white hair and a black lace dress. "Hello?"

"Uh," the girl consulted something shining in her hand. "Er, Princess Dragomira Le Dragula?

"I prefer Marie-Suzette," said Marie-Suzette. "And you are?"

The girl drew herself up. "I AM DEATH."

"The hell you say!"

"YES, I DO SAY!" the girl said crossly.

Look here, young lady, I've faced Death before and you are not Him!"

"He's gone missing. I'm just filling in."

Marie-Suzette's wing-like brows soared upward. "Oh yes?"

"Yes!" the girl snapped irritably. "NOW ARE YOU COMING?"

"No thank you." Marie-Suzette turned back to the tunnels. "Catch a griffin by the toe -"

"But you have to! I MEAN, YOU HAVE TO!" the Grim Teenager cried, recovering herself. "I'm DEATH!"

"- if he roars let him go. My-patron-goddess told me to pick the very best one and you-are-not-it!" Marie-Suzette's weaving index finger settled on the middle tunnel and she skimmed forward, swanlike in the now waist deep water, her white cloak floating behind her.

"Hey!" Susan sloshed after her. "Wait up! DIDN'T YOU HEAR ME?"

"Of course I did," Marie-Suzette said calmly. "Check my lifetimer, Young Death."

Susan did. The Princess Dragomira's lifetimer was a pretty golden thing, studded with pearls. The sand in it sparkled like diamond dust. Susan squinted at it in disbelief. It was flowing backwards?

"What - I mean WHAT IS HAPPENING?" she gasped, pushing on in Marie-Suzette's wake.

"I am having a near death experience. Which of course means you are having a near Marie-Suzette one. Sorry about that."


The Princess stopped and turned. The water was up to her chest now, nearly shoulder deep on Susan. "I am in mortal peril," she explained patiently. "I could die here, but given my various advantages it is also very possible I will escape. It's all in quantum theory." Marie-Suzette frowned. "You should know that if you're Death."

"Like I said, I'm just filling in for Grandad," Susan said, aggrieved. "It's not like anybody bothered to give me any training or anything! Get on the horse they said. Time to take over the family business!"

"You're Death's granddaughter?" Marie-Suzette said slowly, absorbing the idea.

"Yes! My mother was his daughter - adopted daughter that is."

"Oh, right. Ysabell." Marie-Suzette shook her head. "Death for a grandfather eh? And I thought I had some odd relatives."

"Any animate natomies?" Susan asked gloomily.

"No. Just a mermaid and a Beast." Marie-Suzette answered absently. Water lapped against her chin. "Look, I'd better get on with this or I will be going with you." She turned and forged on, moving against the current.

Susan swam after her. "You're going to drown!"

"Not a problem," Marie-Suzette answered, craning her neck. "I can breath water. A little present from my brother's father-in-law."


"King Proetes of the Circle Sea," Marie-Suzette explained patiently, head still barely above water. "I did mention I was related to a mermaid didn't I?

Susan bubbled, trying to tread water and wondering if she could breath it too. She did still need to breath didn't she?

"Look," said Marie-Suzette. "It's wet and nasty and there's no reason for you to stick around and be uncomfortable while I sort this out. Why not continue your rounds? The lifetimer will tell you if you have to come back for me."

"Uh." Susan's head bumped against the stone ceiling. "All right, if you don't mind."

"Not at all," Marie-Suzette assured her. "Good luck and I hope that your Grandad gets back real soon."

"Thanks. Good luck to you too."

"It is due for a turn," Marie-Suzette said quite cheerfully for a woman trapped in a coal black, water filled tunnel. "Here's to not seeing you later!" She ducked under and shot away, swimming briskly against the tide, her drawn sword glimmering through the heavy black water.

Susan passed gratefully through the ceiling and several miles of earth back to the surface to stand wet and bedraggled under the cold stars. She took out the lifetimer. The sand was still flowing backward, in fact the upper bulb was refilling at a notable rate. "I guess she makes it." Susan shrugged and whistled for Binky. Maybe she'd be in time for the Music With Rocks In Free Concert inna Park after all.