Laeni woke up in a spacious underwater cave, tied to columns of sandstone by means of braided seaweed.
Looking around, she caught sight of a tall young girl wearing starfishes and pearls in her hair.
She also had a bright orange tail.
A tail?
Then that meant….
She was a mermaid?

"Hey, girl, who are you?"
"You're awake! That's good, I was about to wake you myself. Prince Uraku is getting impatient."
"What? Prince? Where is this place? You didn't answer my first question, either!"

The girl turned around and laughed.

"You're in Oceana, of course. Don't tell me you've never heard of it."
"Then you're a mermaid, and– Hey, you still didn't tell me who you are."
"I'm Prince Uraku's sister, Princess Lia. And you are?"
"Laeni Kiroudai."

Lia began to do her work again, muttering now and then and picking beads up from her case.

"Hey, Lia, is this underwater, or does this cave have air?"
"It's underwater. Yes, you can breathe underwater. It's awakened."
"Cool. Wait, what?"

Lia laughed and shook her head, then put her needle down to look at Laeni.

"You heard me."
"Agh! I must be going crazy."

Laeni looked down and saw she was still wearing her clothes, but her hair was up in a bun, and starfishes and pearls and other things adorned her hair.

At least they didn't strip me.

Lia finally finished her sewing and held up the blue fabric-looking thing.

"This is now your dress. Put it on, brother will be coming soon."

She untied Laeni and handed her the dress, then showed her the dressing screen.

"Uh, thanks?"

Laeni sighed and hung up her bikini and sundress.
This was really strange.
Breathing underwater, mermaids….
But still she refused to believe.
As soon as she'd finished, she stepped out of behind the screen and looked around for Lia.
That girl!
She'd snuck out, leaving poor little Laeni all alone.
This stunk.
Laeni sat down on a blue-green chair, wondering why they'd taken her.
And what Kiku and Haku and Rayne were doing at the moment.
The thought of never seeing her family again made her tear up a bit, and she was surprised when a warm hand brushed away her tears.

"Don't cry, Miss Laeni. They only wanted to ask you a few questions."

Laeni looked up into the face of a young man with light brown hair.
He smiled and brushed a few stray curls out of her face.

"You remind me of Aizen. Who are you?"

He looked puzzled for a minute, then smiled.

"I'm Sakimi, your caretaker for a while. I'm also human, does that make a difference?"

He took her hand and led her to the door.

"Come, Miss Laeni. We're going to see the Prince."

Sakimi paused and looked at her.

"What is it, Miss Laeni?"
"Will they let me go back? I have to know!"

By now Laeni was almost crying again.
Sakimi pushed his brows together thoughtfully, then drew her closer.

"Miss Laeni, I don't know. Usually they just ask you things and then let you go. But sometimes you're invited to a dinner or something, but that's only if you want to stay. They can't really do anything to you, though. Humans are more powerful."

He smiled, trying to comfort her.

"That's fine, I guess. Oh, and one more thing."
"Yes, Miss Laeni?"
"Drop the 'Miss'. I don't like it."
"Yes, Mi– Laeni-chan."

They walked through the long halls in silence, broken only by the occasional splash.
Finally they came to a door.
Sakimi looked at her, then twirled her into his arms.
Laeni glared half-heartedly at him, but she had to admit she was blushing.

"We're going in."

And the doors swung open….