Chapter One:

Buzzzzzzzz! sounded Nerissa Sanderson's alarm clock precisely at six a.m. on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, yanking her rather abruptly out of her peaceful slumber. Sitting straight up in bed, the teenage girl wiped the sleep from her dull blue-gray eyes and thought back wistfully at the strange yet idyllic dream she was so rudely awakened from. I was underwater, she recalled. But I was swimming like a fish and I didn't even have to hold my breath.

She made a mental note to ask her best friend, Vanessa Hogland, what her puzzling dream meant. As the daughter of a couple of the most successful psychiatrists in southern California, Vanessa's favorite hobby was perusing her parents' psychology books and sometimes even their classified patient files, and she loved quoting her knowledge of psychobabble back at Nerissa, whether she wanted to hear it or not. She'd probably say my subconscious mind is urging me to overcome my fear of drowning.

After climbing lazily out of bed, Nerissa flipped on her stereo full blast and soon the entire Sanderson condominium was filled with the energetic dance-pop sounds of Lady Gaga. "Just dance, gonna be okay" Nerissa sang along off-key while she quickly put on her wire-framed glasses, brushed her teeth, combed her frizzy brown hair, and dressed in her best jeans and most comfortable T-shirt.

Gazing at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she sullenly shook her head and frowned. I'm a year older today, yet I still look like the same sorry sight I was yesterday at age fourteen. Not that she seriously expected anything to change overnight, but she was practically a woman now, and it was therefore downright humiliating to have a bustline so pancake-flat that wearing a bra was optional at best, and reddish, blotchy acne that distorted her fine facial features like a carnival funhouse mirror.

"Rissie, honey, please turn the music down! You're waking up the whole neighborhood" her mother called from across the hallway. Nerissa reluctantly did as she was told, even though she was positive Melinda Sanderson was exaggerating at least a little bit. It was no secret than any style of music other than her collection of Relaxing Wave And Whale Sounds CDs wasn't quite Melinda's cup of tea. A professor of marine biology at the local University of California-Sunshine Valley campus, Melinda was hopelessly obsessed with anything and everything pertaining to the ocean and its inhabitants. The eating of seafood was taboo in the Sanderson household, and Melinda's beloved pet tropical fish were considered as members of the family. Over the years such idiosyncrasies had earned Nerissa's single mother quite a reputation as perhaps the most eccentric woman in Sunshine Valley, something she was well used to by now.

At the breakfast table, Nerissa couldn't help but notice her usually even-tempered Mom seemed tenser than usual, like she was holding back from saying something that was right on the tip of her tongue. While she served her daughter her traditional birthday breakfast of a freshly baked blueberry muffin with a single lit birthday candle in it, wished her "happy birthday", and instructed her to make a wish, Melinda's cloudy blue-gray eyes, so much like Nerissa's, kept studying her closely, as if she expected the 15-year-old to suddenly sprout a second head or something.

"Mom, is something wrong?" inquired Nerissa, her bushy eyebrows highly raised in suspicion.

"No" Melinda affirmed, her eyes all of a sudden firmly glued to the glossy black-and-white checked kitchen floor. "I'm, uh, fine. I just can't believe how fast you've grown up, Rissie. Why, it seems like yesterday you were just a tiny baby cradled in my arms". As an almost-adult, "Rissie", Nerissa's mother's cutesy pet name for her, which Vanessa also insisted on calling her, made the girl slightly cringe inwardly. Of course, her decidedly uncommon full name wasn't really much of an improvement on that diminutive nickname. Whenever Nerissa asked her Mom what inspired her to name her Nerissa Donnatella Sanderson, Melinda always explained that it was actually a pretty popular name at the time she was born, but, if that was true, how come there were plenty of Jessica's, Ashley's, Emily's, and Samantha's at Sunshine Valley High, but not one single other Nerissa?

"Vanessa's supposed to pick me up at right about, oh, now" announced Nerissa, checking her Mickey Mouse watch. She and Vanessa have walked to school together every day for just about as long as either of them could remember, and, sure enough, the doorbell rang urgently before Nerissa had a chance to stand up from her seat at the kitchen table. Since her longtime friend didn't answer the door within seconds, Vanessa helped herself to the house key hidden under the welcome mat and let herself in, as she too often did.

"Happy Birthday, dear Rissie!" Vanessa called out in her inimitable boisterous manner. "So, how does it feel to be the big 1-5?"

"Pretty much the same as the small 1-4" responded Nerissa truthfully, slipping her heavy pleather book-bag on her shoulder.

"What's with that attitude? I have a hunch this is going to be a defining year in your life, Rissie. Everything's gonna change!" "Yeah, right. What self-help manual did you get that from?" Nerissa questioned once the two girls were out the door. "Total Life Transformation by Joseph Olson" admitted Vanessa. "You should read it".

"Maybe" Nerissa uttered non-committally. "But I think it'll take more than some feel-good book to 'totally transform' my life".

"Ah, Rissie, why are you always so down in the dumps? You have so much going for you".

"Like what?"

"For one thing, a relationship with your mom so tight you could have your own weekly TV show. Remember last spring when she camped out in the pouring rain to get us those Lady Gaga concert tickets? Most teens would murder for a mother that thoughtful, even if she does act like she's from outer space at times".

Nerissa would normally defend her Mom when Vanessa said she was a "space case", yet that day in particular she felt it was a perfectly accurate label for Melinda's odd behavior.

Chapter Two:

The walk to school was a short one, not surprisingly, considering there was only roughly half a dozen blocks between the girls' condo community and the picturesque school grounds. Mr. Kidd, the principal of Sunshine Valley High, liked to brag that his all-brick, two-story school had the most aesthetically pleasing campus in all of Orange County, possibly even in the whole state of California, although the vast majority of SVH students couldn't care less about that.

Nerissa faced straight ahead as she marched through the glass double doors of her school's main entrance, hoping to avoid the catty teasing of Teagan Wakefield, the richest and most popular girl in the freshman class, and her clique of loyal admirers, cheerleaders, country club members, and fellow competitive swimmers. Sunshine Valley's girls' swim team was ranked third in the state, higher than any of the school's other sports programs, thus as a result, the swimmers were treated like royalty by their peers.

"Good morning, Nerina" Teagan greeted Nerissa in her trademark snarky tone. For years Teagan had driven the other girl insane by purposefully getting her unique name wrong. "Nice outfit" she commented, looking Nerissa's casual, simplistic choice of attire up and down. As usual, the swimming star was sophisticatedly overdressed in an expensive off-white raw-silk designer blouse with a faux autumn haze mink collar, form-fitting khaki slacks, and shiny gold ballet flats. Nerissa figured she could sooner afford an Italian sports car than a couture ensemble like Teagan's.

"At least Rissie's clothes don't make her look 40" retorted Vanessa. As striking as Teagan's clothing was, Nerissa had to agree they weren't particularly youthful in design.

"At least we don't wear a size 40!" Sandra Crawford, Teagan's faithful sidekick, shot back. Weighing in at over two hundred pounds at the modest height of 5'2", Vanessa was considerably plus-sized, but Nerissa loved how she never let her weight, or the fact that she happened to be African-American and some people were unfortunately prejudiced against her skin color, affect her unshakable self-confidence.

"I'm a 22/24, as a matter of fact" corrected Vanessa while walking away, her hands placed defiantly on her generous hips. "And I'm not ashamed! I'm fat and that's that". The innate loudness of Vanessa's booming voice prompted a few other students to stop and stare at her, but she didn't seem to mind one bit.

Vanessa and Nerissa had barely made it to the locker they shared when the first-period bell went off. It was just typically Nerissa's terrible luck that her first class of the day, Biology, was the furthest from her locker and hardly her favorite course, for science and mathematics tended to give her headaches, and Ms. Benson was fond of pop quizzes. Though running in the halls was against the rules, and she wasn't even a very fast sprinter, Nerissa nevertheless rushed through the crowded corridor and up the narrow steps leading to the second floor. She was almost halfway up the stairs when she tripped on someone else's untied shoelace and fell, face first, smack down on the steps.

Out of the blue, Nerissa felt a strong hand guiding her back to her feet. She sheepishly glanced into her savior's eyes, and was shocked to see it was none other than Adam Fonda, heir to the fortune of Sunshine Valley's top employer, The Fonda Seafood Company, and the very boy she had had an intense crush on since middle school. "Th—th-thank you" she stuttered, blushing a brilliant shade of crimson. Great! Nerissa lamented silently to herself. First time I speak more than one word to Adam's face, and I sound like Porky Pig!

"No problem. Be more careful from now on, 'k?" advised Adam with a subtle smile brightening his already handsome countenance.

"I, uh, will" Nerissa promised lamely.

"Good. See ya round" were Adam's last words to Nerissa before heading off hastily to his own first-period class.

Chapter Three:

Ms. Benson assigned one of her infamous pop quizzes that morning. When the class collectively groaned and slid down in their seats, the middle-aged teacher held up her palm to silence them. "Now, class, I'll have none of that whining from you. You never know, one day you kids just might be grateful you were lucky enough to receive such a good, thorough education, especially in a subject as important as biology, the study of life".

"That'll be the day!" Nerissa heard a boy behind her named Bruce snicker.

Vanessa would tell her it was all in her head, but from time to time Nerissa suspected that some other people, specifically school authority figures, detected a sort of weird aura around her, something that made them unnaturally repulsed by her, and she couldn't begin to comprehend why that was. After all, she was merely an average, ordinary high school student, wasn't she?

Because it was her birthday, Mrs. Cabot, the head cafeteria lady, gave Nerissa a free Dixie cup at lunch, as was customary at Sunshine Valley High. As she sat her tray down at her and Vanessa's usual picnic-style table in the back corner of the lunchroom, it dawned on Nerissa that the lunch lady was the only person to remember her birthday so far at school that day. "I'm really pathetic, aren't I?" she griped to her dearest friend.

Vanessa rolled her big brown eyes in response. "What were we talking about this morning?"

"I know, I know, I just need to believe in myself and everything will change, right?" half-heartedly recited Nerissa, whose cellular phone asudden started to ring. "Hello?"

"Rissie, honey, it's Mom. I want to remind you to please head straight home after school today. I have something to tell you, something…big".

This might explain why she was she was acting so funny at breakfast, Nerissa mused. "All right, Mom".

"What was that about?" Vanessa, nosy as ever, wanted to know once her friend had hung up. "Apparently, I'll find that out this afternoon at home, and, when I do, I promise I'll get back to you".

"Oh my goodness, Rissie!" blurted out Vanessa. "You wouldn't in a zillion years believe who's looking right at you at this moment". She lowered her voice down to a conspiratorial whisper. "Adam Fonda! You really should go over there and strike up a conversation with him".

Nerissa shook her head. "No, I don't think so. I already made a total fool of myself in front of him once today, and some how I doubt the second time would be the charm".

"Come on, Rissie" urged Vanessa. "We both know you've been admiring the guy from afar since you got braces. If you ask me, it's high time you did something about it".

"Like he'd even go for a girl like me. I mean, he's rich, gorgeous, smart, and popular, and I'm, well, none of those things".

"Joseph Olson says you never know anything in life until you give it a go".

"Thanks, but I think I'll give it a pass".

Chapter Four:

Nerissa was on such pins and needles for the rest of the school day, in connection with her mother's mysterious forthcoming announcement, that she could scarcely pay attention to her studies, no matter how hard she tried to. Needless to say, her teachers noticed her lack of concentration and reprimanded her on it multiple times. By the end of last period, she had an overwhelming stack of homework. Her only saving grace was that it was a Friday, hence she had the entire weekend to complete the assignments.

Vanessa had debate team meetings every Friday, which meant Nerissa had to trek home by her lonesome. "I suppose I should begin that work today, or I'll never get it all done on time" she sighed aloud prior to arriving home to find Melinda sitting with her legs crossed on the two-seater beige living room sofa.

"I believe probably the sooner I get this sea-monkey off my chest, the better" Nerissa's Mom stated tentatively. "Please, take a seat. I can pretty much guarantee what I'm about to tell you will be easier to swallow sitting down". Nerissa sat down to her mother's right on the couch. "OK, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. It's about your father".

"What about him?". Mr. Peter Sanderson had been in the US Navy, and he died before Nerissa was born. Curiously, Melinda never talked about him and struggled to answer when her daughter asked the most basic questions relating to what he was like. Nerissa didn't even know what he looked like, for Melinda claimed to have destroy every single photograph she had of him, as it pained her too much to look at him.

"Frankly, Rissie, I have been lying to you all these years, and I hate that I've had to do that. The thing is, my husband isn't really dead, and, furthermore, he isn't even human".

This bizarre revelation left Nerissa absolutely speechless. Not even human? Than just what was he, some sort of alien? Was Vanessa in fact correct in observing that Melinda was from outer space? Or had her unconventional mother finally lost her, some might say threadlike, grasp on reality?

"He's a merman" clarified Melinda.

"A what? You mean, a merman, as in a male mermaid? Mom, that can't be, that's crazy. Everybody knows there's no such thing!"usband isn't really dead, and, furthermore, he isn't even human".

"I know it sounds impossible, but, trust me, sweetie, I haven't lost my marbles. Think about it, doesn't it explain a lot? And it's not like I can't show you any proof. Your long-lost father is in the house right now, in my bedroom, but we both agreed that me initially breaking the news to you alone would lessen the shock".

"But if he's a-?"

"Of course, he's on human legs at the moment. You think you're ready to meet him now?"

"I don't think I have much choice in the matter, do I?". In all honesty, the idea of a strange man, human or otherwise, unexpectedly waltzing into her life out of nowhere made Nerissa feel deeply uncomfortable, and she could not, for the life of her, imagine anything "lessening the shock" of her discovering the quiet, normal life she'd always known was rapidly falling apart and a far-fetched modern-day fairy tale was taking its place, whether she wished it to or not. If her father really was a merman, what did that make her? Her, Nerissa Sanderson, a mermaid? Who ever heard anything so ridiculous, a mermaid who couldn't swim, and wore braces and glasses?

Once the presumed Mr. Sanderson emerged from Melinda's bedroom door, Nerissa found herself gawking at how ethereally good-looking he was, in spite of herself. Her supposed father was a tall, muscular man whose long, wavy, titian hair resembled spun gold and whose bright blue-green eyes were the exact tint of the Pacific Ocean itself on an exceptionally clear California morning. Even two-legged as he currently was, he definitely looked the part of a mystical creature, such as an enchanting merman. "My, it's been too long since I've seen you last, my dear daughter" he addressed Nerissa and swiftly threw his robust arms around the girl.

"Wait, you guys still have some explaining to do" Nerissa reminded her parents, pulling away from the merman's hug.

"Well, it's quite a long, complicated story," concurred Nerissa's newfound father figure "and you probably should hear it right from the beginning. You see, pearl, your mother and I first met when I was a young Prince of Pacifica—"

"Prince?" Nerissa echoed. "So not only am I a mermaid, I'm a mermaid princess?". As difficult as it was for Nerissa to picture herself with a fishtail, the thought of her with a tiara perched on her head seemed, in point of fact, even more incomprehensible to her.

"Yes, you are Crown Princess of Pacifica, and Keeper of the Kingdom's Enchanted Royal Aquamarine, but I'm kind of getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I was a young Sea Nymph Consort Prince, and your mother was…"

"I know you humans call us undersea magical creatures mermaids and mermen, but in our world those terms are actually considering somewhat derogatory. We prefer referring to ourselves as Sea Nymphs and their Consorts. So, your mother was a lovely young human marine biology student who literally got in over her head while conducting some kind of experiment at the beach, and I pulled her out. It was, as they say, love at first sight, and since your mother was an orphan with no known relatives, it was easy for her to leave her life on dry land behind and join me beneath the waves in Pacifica".

"That's so romantic" remarked Nerissa. "But, then, why did I grow up in the human world, away from you?"

"I was getting to that. Shortly after my beloved sister, your Aunt Thalassa, transformed your mother into a Sea Nymph, we were married, and you were born, the Cursed Black Pearls, possibly the strongest source of dark magic in the known universe, were released on accident by an overly curious pair of little twin Sea Nymphs named Mirabella and Della who had disobeyed their elders by entering the Forbidden Cavern, where the Pearls had been safely stored away for countless centuries. The evil energy contained in the Cursed Black Pearls is enough to turn any Sea Nymph, other than a Crown Princess mature enough to properly wield her Enchanted Royal Aquamarine, into a deadly Sea Siren, a being so heartless and cruel some call her 'the vampire of the sea'. A Siren, who derives her great power from the first Black Pearl she touched, causes a leg-walker fatal illness with a simple smile or song, and is out to recruit other Sea Nymphs to join her side against her will. Within mere minutes of their unleashing, the dreaded Cursed Black Pearls changed our generally peaceful realm of Pacifica into a place of chaos and destruction. Thalassa, Sea-God bless her heart, valiantly strived to channel the magic of what was then her Enchanted Royal Aquamarine and what it is now yours, to recreate the bubble-shaped force field around the Cavern that those naughty five-year-old twins had some how managed to penetrate, but alas her attempts were ultimately in vain. The best my new Queen Melinda and I could do was issue a binding Royal Proclamation banishing all Sea Sirens from re-entering not only Pacifica, but from ever again setting fluke in all twenty of the enchanted Sea Nymph Kingdoms in the oceans of the world. However, the remaining several sea-dozen were still left unguarded, meaning there were more Sirens to be created. You, my precious pearl and heir to the throne of Pacifica, were but an infant, so it was no longer safe for your mother and you to remain in the sea. With a heavy heart, I returned you two to the world of air-breathers. It wasn't a perfect plan, I admit, but my intention was, with you gone, to reluctantly allow new Sea Sirens to be born, because, you see, they take their bonded Cursed Black Pearls when they leave the Sea Nymph world that banished them and migrate to either the Unenchanted Zones or, most commonly, this harsh, dry world in which you were raised. There are many Sea Sirens in human form living among regular land-dwellers as we speak, spreading pain and disease everywhere they go. It is now your mission, Rissie, as Keeper of the Enchanted Royal Aquamarine Pendant of Pacifica to help restore peace and harmony in our world by keeping on the lookout for Sirens in disguise and utilizing your mighty Aquamarine to turn them back".

"Whoa!" Nerissa exclaimed, and popped up from the sofa not unlike a Pop-Tart in a toaster. "Now I'm not only a princess and a mermaid, or half-mermaid or whatever, but I'm also like a heroine in a magical girl manga with a mission to save some other world I don't even remember ever being a part of?"

"You will become a part of it once again" Melinda assured. "There's so much for you to discover down in Pacifica. Think of it as an adventure, an exciting opportunity! Here, this necklace and ring…". She indicated two beautiful and unusual pieces of jewelry Nerissa had been too overcome with emotion to notice her mother was wearing. "Is your Enchanted Royal Aquamarine Pendant and your Enchanted Personal Aquamarine Ring, which, like all Sea Nymphs, you were born with. A Sea Nymph's Enchanted Personal Aquamarine gives her the ability to transform herself and others from mermaid to human form and vice versa, as well as to defend herself from harm by projecting magical bubble barriers around you. Some Sea Nymphs have even been able to unlock other rare powers from within their Aquamarines, like the ability to turn into other sea creatures. As a Princess, your Enchanted Royal Aquamarine has all the same functions as your Personal Aquamarine, only it works faster, in addition to what Poseidon, your dad, told you about transforming Sea Sirens back".

"Princess" Nerissa realized that nobody had mentioned her father's real name before then. So he was called King Poseidon, like the Greek mythological god of the sea. That figures.

"I understand this transition must be hard for you, Rissie. Perhaps we should have held off telling you the truth till after your birthday, but your father insisted we could not hesitate, not even for just one day, for the fate of his world might be at stake, and his, I mean, our, subjects are simply dying to be reunited with their future ruler who, like your father, haven't seen you in almost fifteen years". Melinda took off the special jewelry and handed them to their rightful owner. "Go on" she encouraged. "Take these and try out your new pretty mermaid tail in the bathtub. In time, you'll feel comfortable in your new skin".

"I don't think I ever will, Mom" insisted Nerissa, shaking her head. "I never asked to be a mermaid, oh I mean, Sea Nip".

"That's Sea Nymph" Poseidon corrected. "And there's no real need to 'try out' your true form, dear Rissie, because I have made arrangements for the three of us to spend the weekend in Pacifica!"

Nerissa eyed the Sea King in dismay. "I can't go to your Sea Kingdom this weekend!" she declared. "I have mountains of homework to do for school. Besides, I don't want to go. I've never liked the water and I don't think I ever will".

"Don't like the water?!" gasped King Poseidon. "But Rissie, the sea is your home, your true home!"

"No, Poseidon, this…". Nerissa gestured around the Sanderson living room. "Is my true home, not some fishy place!" the half-Sea Nymph proclaimed, her blood pressure speedily rising, before racing into the only bathroom in the Sandersons' rambler.

Chapter Five:

Crown Princess Nerissa closed the bathroom door behind her. As much as she desired to distance herself from the new, otherworldly life that had been suddenly forced upon her, she couldn't deny her overpowering curiosity to explore her alternative self. She ardently stripped off her clothes, stepped in the bathtub and filled the water all the way up to the nape of her neck. Grasping both Enchanted Aquamarines in the palm of her left hand, she squeezed the unearthly gemstones roughly, and hoped the friction would be enough to trigger her metamorphosis.

Sure enough, a sparkly mystic energy immediately enveloped Nerissa from head to toe. For a number of seconds, her body tingled slightly as she was wholly transformed. She could feel her hair briskly growing from a sensible shoulder-length bob to far past her waist, her upper torso shifting into a much more feminine and curvier shape reminiscent of a Barbie doll, and, eventually, her legs and lower torso molding together into the fishlike tail of a mermaid.

Once her transfiguration was finished, Nerissa grabbed the hand-mirror her mother kept on the side of the tub to get a better look of her brand-new physique. She could not resist gasping out loud when she observed the dramatic change in her previously humdrum physical appearance. Her Sea Nymph form's long hair fell in cascading auburn waves and was topped by a dignified princess tiara constructed of pearls and shells. Nerissa's wide, long-lashed eyes were a bold turquoise hue which complimented her creamy complexion, and there wasn't a single blemish, mole, or even visible vein to be found on her new, flawless skin. A pale pink, pearl-trimmed brassiere top covered her approximately C-cup chest. She truly looked like her royal father's daughter.

Her tail turned out to be far more beautiful than she could've ever imagined it. Humans tend to describe merfolk as being literally half-person, half-fish, but Princess Nerissa's mertail was more elegant than any fish's fins she'd ever seen. It began right below her belly button, and was blanketed in delicate aqua, lavender, and pastel pink scales that shimmered in the fluorescent bathroom light. Instead of a single, broad tailfin like so many aquatic animals possessed, Nerissa's Sea Nymph appendage ended in a pair of semi-translucent flukes which seemed almost too silky and billowing to be adequately hydrodynamic. Only their vaguely ribbed texture suggested that there were some kind of bone or vein inside.

Experimentally, Nerissa flicked her tail upwards, splashing drops of water all over the tile bathroom floor. The sensation of having no legs was astoundingly not an unpleasant one for Nerissa. In fact, her body had never felt more whole, strong, and solid, and naturally she enjoyed being so inhumanly stunning. Still, some aspects of her identity as a magical being unsettled her. How did she use the restroom like this? Her tail was clearly lacking in both a visible anus and a urethra. Perhaps supernatural creatures don't function naturally. Or do they secrete excess nutrients out of their scales like she vaguely remembered learning that reptiles do in biology class? How could she breathe underwater? Her fingers gingerly searched her neck for gills, and she was relieved to discern infinitesimal gill slits on the back of her neck, which were mostly obscured by her luxurious head of hair. She slouched down in the tub to test out her Sea Nymph respiratory system, and found the tiny gills to be in perfect working order.

"Rissie, honey, may I come in?" Queen Melinda requested from outside the door.

"I guess so". While still understandably in a state of shock, Nerissa's feelings of resentment and anger towards her parents for keeping such an enormous secret from her were beginning to cool down.

Melinda smiled at seeing Nerissa in her true mermaid form for the first time since she was a baby. "Oh Rissie, you make a very pretty young Sea Nymph Princess. I'm sorry if we ruined your fifteenth birthday for you, but, listen, your father has a huge birthday/welcome back gala ball planned in your honor in Pacifica. Please, sweetie, come to our kingdom with us tonight. I know you'll like it down there if you just give it a fair chance. I can't begin to describe the feeling of absolute freedom of soaring under the sea without a care".

"But, Mom, haven't your forgotten something? I can't swim very well and you know it" objected Nerissa.

"As a human, yes, but when you're a Sea Nymph, you'll be swimming gracefully underwater in no time flat" Melinda reassured. "Believe me, I went from almost drowning to a maximum speed of eighty miles per hour".

"Eighty miles an hour?" repeated a skeptical Princess Nerissa. "Even Teagan Wakefield couldn't beat that with a head start".

"And I'm something of a slowpoke by Sea Nymph standards! And, unlike me, you're directly descended from a long line of powerful Sea Nymph royalty. You have a large extended Pacifican family who loves and misses you very much".

Nerissa threw her hands up in surrender. "Alright, you've convinced me, Mom. Take me down to the sea".

Melinda affectionately patted her half-mermaid daughter on the tail. "That's my girl, or should I say mergirl".

Chapter Six:

The town of Sunshine Valley was only a quick five-minute drive away from the beach. After Melinda parked her silver hybrid vehicle, the Royal Family of Pacifica traversed to the edge of the most secluded corner of the beach, and Princess Nerissa instinctively knew to rub her Enchanted Royal Aquamarine pendant, which she wore around her neck, to transmogrify her parents and herself into merpeople. In a flash, the three of them dove into the deep, salty ocean.

Just as Queen Melinda, who was presently a classy Sea Nymph with a sea-gold crown, light blue shell top, and a blue-and-green tail, had said, swimming with her new mermaid tail came effortlessly to Nerissa. Taking her turquoise-tailed father's lead, Nerissa detected that mer-swimming motions were noticeably different from human swimming techniques as Sea Nymphs and Consorts held their arms primarily to their sides and let their flukes propel them forward in feathery, dolphin-like movements.

Nerissa studied the watery environment that surrounded her, and completed how it varied emphatically from what she had always perceived life under the sea to be like. It was much brighter and warmer than she expected; everywhere she looked there were colorful sea plants and grinning schools of fishes. "Welcome back, Your Highness!" hollered a dolphin in fluent English as it darted past her.

"I never knew marine animals could talk" murmured Pacifica's Crown Princess. How odd it felt to be able to talk underwater!

"Not to humans they don't! The truth is, sweet daughter, here, within the boundaries of the kingdom of Pacifica, we live lives of comfort, where us and our animal neighbors never have to suffer through the disgusting, merciless, and inconvenient indignities of natural life, such as the so-called 'food chain' and different species being unable to communicate with one another. Of course, humans are immune to this Enchantment, so they behold the illusion of a realm where the horrible natural laws are abided by, as in the Unenchanted Zones, when they attempt to make contact with our world".

"That's amazing!" Nerissa bellowed, though she wasn't sure she fully understood what her father had just explained. The world of supernatural creatures was so complex!

Before long, they reached their destination: the undersea city of Pacifica. The kingdom was proximately the size of a small town on land, but, composed of fancy architecture of rocks, shells, pearls, and corals, it was much more majestic than any place Princess Nerissa had ever been. But even more exquisite than Pacifica's buildings were its native inhabitants. Sea Nymphs and their Consorts of various shapes and sizes, and with every hair, eye, skin, and tail color imaginable swam around, some minding their own business, others laughing and socializing with friends. Unlike in the human world, everybody was unnaturally alluring, and no one appeared to be elderly.

"There it is" proclaimed Poseidon. "Home sweet home, the Royal Palace of Pacifica!" The Pacifican Palace was unquestionably the grandest structure in the kingdom. The gleaming sea-gold and ivory pearl walls and spires of the castle were visible from every inch of downtown Pacifica, almost as if the estate itself was benevolently keeping watch over its subjects. Intriguingly, the pearl-covered front entrance was guarded not by a brawny merman wielding a formidable trident, but a beautiful, unarmed, blonde Sea Nymph.

"Good evening, Lady Adrianna" Poseidon acknowledged formally with a curt nod of his head. "May I re-introduce you to my lovely daughter, Crown Princess Nerissa Donnatella Sanderson?"

"Call me Nerissa" the Keeper of the Enchanted Royal Aquamarine appealed as the golden-haired Sea Nymph waved them inside. If she had to choose one aspect of her new life as mermaid royalty Nerissa was sure she would never adjust to, it would be being addressed as "Your Highness". She was in nature an expressly humble and down-to-earth person, so being treated like she was some how innately superior to virtually all her fellow Pacificans was quite cringeworthy for her.

Chapter Seven:

Nerissa was shown to her royal bedchamber by Lady Nixie, one of King Poseidon's many servants, while her parents made the last-minute preparations for the Ball to be given in her honor. They passed through winding hallway after hallway(for obvious reasons, there were no staircases anywhere in Pacifica), which were lined with endless rows of sea-oil portraits of comely Sea Nymphs and their Consorts, presumably Crown Princess Nerissa's aristocratic ancestors. To the left of her chamber door, there hung a wonderful painting of Poseidon, Queen Melinda, and Nerissa as an adorable newborn baby mermaid.

Inside her bedchamber, Princess Nerissa found two other Sea Nymphs her age tidying up. One of the maidens was voluptuous and Hispanic in appearance, with an orange-and-pink tail; the other one was petite and had long jet-black hair, eyes the color of polished amethysts, and a striking mertail in warm shades of purple.

"I beg your pardon, Your Highness" apologized the coral-tailed girl. "We didn't expect you so soon. My name is Lady Coral LaMarr, by the way, and this is Lady Violet Nanami".

"It's nice to meet you two. Now, would you mind telling me what you guys are doing in my room?"

"We're your Ladies-in-Waiting" Lady Violet explained. "It's quite an honor, you know, for two young noblenymphs like ourselves to be assigned as companions to the Crown Princess of Pacifica. You have no idea how much I'd looked forward to meeting you, Your Highness! I'd been thinking, considering you're a halfsie and all, you could teach me all about the human world and their fabulous fashion sense. I've gotta show you my collection of leg-walker fashion artifacts later!". She began counting on her fingers, her bright purple eyes shining. "I've got several pairs of chews, a couple of leg-covers, and a big ol' cavern full of fashionable stuff, which nobody I know can tell me what it is".

"Vi!" scolded Lady Coral. "Mind your manners. Is it really proper court decorum to talk our poor Crown Princess's ear off like that, especially when she just got here? Please forgive her, Your Highness"

"That's OK" Nerissa assured them. "And please, I'm Nerissa, not 'Your Highness'".

"Very well, Your High-, oops, I mean, Nerissa" Coral acceded.

"We've got to get you, Nerissa, ready for your ball" said Lady Violet. "Anybody who's anybody in Pacifica and their fifth cousin's sister-in-law's Sea Familiars will be there, dahling, and that includes schools of yummy potential Consorts. You'll be the sea-belle of the ball, or else watashi no namae wa Vairetto ja nai yo!

"You can speak Japanese?" Pacifica's Princess asked, trying not to sound too surprised.

"Why, of course, dahling!" Violet confirmed. "My grandmother came from Japonia, the Sea Nymph kingdom in the Sea of Japan". She then threw open Nerissa's sea-wood wardrobe and laid out piles of shell bras and halter tops, stacks of sheer sea-silk overskirts, and oodles of opulent pearl and sea-flower hair accessories on her soft, queen-sized, sea-sponge bed. "As you no doubt have noticed, no Sea Nymph in this Kingdom has apparel sense like I do!". Lady Violetenergetically whirled, twirled and flipped around the room so Nerissa could admire her iridescent lilac bustier and matching tail-sash, a pronounced contrast to Coral's simple salmon-toned shells and jaunty orange hair flower, from every possible angle.

At Violet's insistence, Crown Princess Nerissa tried on a sea-dozen different outfits before ultimately deciding on an aqua sea-satin midriff-bearing top and a coordinating tulle overskirt which reached the middle of her gorgeous, pastel tail. In her waving titian tresses, Lady Coral fastened miniature snowy-white sea lilies by both her pale ears. Teagan Wakefield, eat your heart out!, Nerissa brooded as she smiled at her dolled-up reflection in her wardrobe mirror.

Chapter Eight:

A high school dance could not in a billion tides even begin to compare to the grandeur of a Pacifican Royal Ball. The splendor of the Palace's ballroom, the largest room in the castle, was enhanced by a sandy, patterned dance floor and an awe-inspiring bubble chandelier, which was poised in the center of a high cathedral ceiling. On either side of the chandelier, there were two medium-sized holes in the roof, known as "sea-lights", so the party-goers could get an eyeful of the ocean above them while dancing and mingling.

As Crown Princess Nerissa made her grand, fashionably late entrance, an all-invertebrate Royal Orchestra struck up a slow march number, which she, a fan of upbeat electronic dance music, personally thought to be rather frankly the dullest piece of music she had ever heard, though she would dare not say so. Everyone, which included not only hundreds of Sea Nymphs and their Consorts in their finest accoutrements(which in the perpetually shirtless mermen's case, essentially amounted to the occasional shiny golden or silver bracelet or chain), but lots of brightly colored fishes in various shapes and sizes, leggy octopi and squids, imposing whales, playful dolphins, delightful sea turtles, and, most astonishingly, seahorses as big and strong as terrestrial horses. King Poseidon and Queen Melinda looked appropriately regal resting on their giant seashell-shaped thrones near the front of the spacious ballroom with sea-gold-and-pearl scepters in their hands, and on the wall, directly above the monarchs of Pacifica's heads, a "Welcome Home And Happy Birthday Princess Nerissa" banner fashioned of seaweed paper was pinned up.

"My dearest subjects" Poseidon addressed his guests. "As you undoubtedly know, today is a very special day, for after fifteen long years, your Crown Princess, and Keeper of your Kingdom's Enchanted Royal Aquamarine, has returned to us to assume her responsibilities as your future Queen and defender of our great Kingdom of Pacifica".

As her father continued to deliver his flowery keynote speech, Nerissa shyly hid herself away from much of the bustle, hovering over by the buffet table set up in the back of the room. The assortment of bland underwater refreshments, which consisted primarily of crystal bowls filled to the brims with seaweed and sea-berries, didn't strike her as terribly appetizing. To the right of the food, there sat an overflowing mound of mainly unwrapped birthday presents for the Princess from the citizens of Pacifica, most of which were rare shells and boringly similar-looking strings of pearls. Only the six-layer, candleless seaweed birthday cake in the middle of the low sea-wooden table was marginally appealing to Nerissa.

A firm hand tapped Crown Princess Nerissa on her left shoulder, startling her. She turned around, her own turquoises irises meeting the stranger's devastatingly handsome chocolate-brown eyes. "Happy birthday, Your Highness" uttered the most dazzling male being Nerissa had seen in her entire lifetime thus far. The Sea Nymph Consort's hair was long, dark, and wavy, his face chiseled to perfection, his olive-skinned upper body comprised of muscled arms, impeccable washboard abs, and impressive pecs, and his powerful mertail sparkled with fittingly masculine tones of dark green and silver. Next to him, Adam Fonda is almost ugly!

"It's Nerissa" corrected the Princess of Pacifica.

"Very well, Nerissa. Royal titles are rather old-fashioned, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are" Nerissa replied, nodding in agreement.

"Anyway, I saw you floating over here, looking so lonely, and I though I'd swim over and introduce myself. I know you've probably been through a lot lately. Let me tell you, if my mother broke the news to me on my fifteenth b-day that my father had legs, I'd be pretty weirded out too, even though, in all actuality, I do have some distant human relatives".

"Thanks".

Zale grabbed Princess Nerissa by the hand. "May I have this dance?"

Nerissa giggled. "I'm afraid I have two left feet, I mean, flukes".

"Just follow me" compelled Lord Zale. "Sea-dancing is easy! You'll be gliding 'round the floor with ease before you know it".

And, just like Zale had reassured her, he and Nerissa spent the rest of the evening spinning agilely across the dance floor and getting helplessly lost inside each other's gleaming eyes. I feel like Cinderella…Cinderella and Ariel all at once.

Chapter Nine:

After all the guests of her Royal Ball had gone home, Nerissa joined her parents in their Throne Room, as they had wanted to present her with their birthday gift to her in private. "It's not another seashell or strand of pearls, I hope" Pacifica's Crown Princess griped.

For the very first time since they had met, King Poseidon laughed. His laughter was a merry, tinkling sound that well-nigh seemed to, for a brief yet magical moment, illuminate every square mile of the Pacific Ocean. "I'm sorry about that. Most Sea Nymphs can never have enough pearls and shells, but I suppose you, my dear angelfish, are not like most Sea Nymphs".

"Oh my!" breathed Princess Nerissa after untying the silky blue ribbon and greedily peeling off the leafy green seaweed gift wrap. "I couldn't have asked for a prettier present". It was a small rectangular jewelry box fabricated from teeny multicolored pearls that, when opened, if one listened carefully, you could hear the gentle rhythm of lapping waves, irregardless of whether one was up on dry land or deep beneath the sea.

"It's for you to keep your Enchanted Aquamarines in" Queen Melinda construed. "Moreover, this way you could carry a little piece of home with you wherever you go".

"Thanks so much!" burst out Nerissa. "This is the best birthday present I've ever received".

Later that night, Crown Princess Nerissa excitedly showed off her new jewel case to her Ladies-in-Waiting, who helped her prepare for her first night in the Royal Palace of Pacifica. "It's absolutely splashtacular, dahling!" raved Lady Violet.

"Do you know where different-colored pearls like those really come from?" Coral queried.

"Oysters?" guessed Nerissa with a shrug of her shoulders.

"No, actually here in the kingdom of Pacifica, these types of pearls are acutely hard to find, as they're truly solidified Sea Nymph tears, and you know that us Sea Nymphs seldom have reason to cry. Pink pearls are tears of joy, yellow pearls are tears of sorrow, and blue pearls are tears of fear. When a Sea Nymph or her Consort sheds tears, the tears fall to the sandy bottom of the ocean floor, where some eventually turn into colored pearls".

Nerissa could vaguely recall hearing of a myth concerning mermaids crying pearl tears, but she never imagined it would turn out to be the Gospel truth. "Is it also true that Sea Nymphs and our Consorts become sea foam when we die?" the Princess inquired, remembering the original version of the "Little Mermaid" story by Hans Christian Anderson, in which the titular mermaid earned an immortal soul by sacrificing herself, unlike in the more popular Disney version, where she lived happily ever after with her human prince.

"Natch, that's true" attested Lady Violet. "You haven't seen any cemeteries around here have you? Plus, with an average life expectancy of one thousand years, we tend to pass on far less frequently than Smelly Humans do".

"Unless, of course, one of our Sea Familiars are killed before their time" Coral specified.

"Excuse me, what exactly is a Sea Familiar?" Nerissa wanted to know.

"They're like special animal friends who keep a Sea Nymph company and help her out" explained Lady Coral. "Each Sea Nymph has a total of three Familiars: a fish, a seahorse, and a dolphin. The relationship between a Nymph and her Sea Familiars is so tight, that if one dies before its time, the Sea Nymph foams, because her heart is broken without it".

"Where can I find myself some Sea Familiars? If I'm a Sea Nymph, then I should have some, right?"

"No, you don't find them, Nerissa" Violet made plain. "They find you".

Chapter Ten:

Waking up the following Saturday morning deep down in the Kingdom of Pacifica was distinctly dissimilar to awakening in the balmy California sunshine of the land above. For one thing, there weren't any annoying alarm clocks in the underwater realm; the closest thing to modern electronic conveniences anywhere in the world of Sea Nymphs and their devoted Consorts were the ubiquitous electric eel lamps. And, unlike back home in Sunshine Valley, Nerissa Sanderson had her eternally attentive Ladies-in-Waiting, Coral and Violet, to assist her in all her mundane chores. Lady Violet combed some bed-head out of her mistress's lustrous copper locks, and Coral aided her Crown Princess in slipping back into the pink shell bra and pearly tiara she had been wearing when she first arrived in Pacifica.

"Rissie, can I tell you a secret?" Violet asked.

"Uh, sure" Nerissa responded. "What is it?"

"I know you probably would never guess by just looking at me, dahling, but when I was first spawned, I had the body of a Sea Nymph Consort."

"Huh? You mean like Caitlyn Jenner?"

Violet's eyes widened due to her lack of comprehension. "Who?"

The Crown Princess of Pacifica smiled. "Of course you wouldn't know who that was! What I meant was, you mean you're what humans call transgendered. It means that someone is born one gender biologically, but inside you're truly another gender".

Violet nodded. "Yep! As some as I knew how to speak, I told my mother that I'm not a Sea Nymph Consort, I'm a Sea Nymph".

"How did she react?" Nerissa inquired, then placed a mouth to her mouth. "No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that"

"That's perfectly OK, Rissie. My mother went on a long quest to find the Goddess of the Sea so that she can could change me into my correct gender. When she finally found her, the Goddess apologized to her for making a mistake and gladly corrected her error, which surprised my mother since she had been raised to believe that the Goddess of the Sea doesn't make mistakes. When she returned from the quest, my family threw a re-christening party to welcome me, the new Sea Nymph into the world. My mother asked what I wished to be named, and I said Violet, due to the color of my tail". Violet swished her tail around. "You don't...mind...that I'm trans-whatchamacallit, do you?" she then said, her face and voice suddenly serious.

"No, not at all!" Nerissa said, warmly embracing her new friend.

After eating a surprisingly delicious breakfast of seaweed pancakes in the Palace dining room with her father, mother, five of King Poseidon's six sisters: Marina, Oceana, Naida, Mariah, and Aquaria, and some of the Royal Family's servants, Nerissa set out with Violet and Coral to further explore their ocean domain. Tagging along on the excursion were the Ladies-in-Waiting's Sea Familiars.

"My oh my, you are as pretty as a sea-petunia!" drawled Miley, Lady Coral's dolphin, in a charming Southern accent, shortly after being formally introduced to the formerly exiled Keeper of Pacifica's Enchanted Royal Aquamarine. "Why dontcha jump on Caballo De La Mar's back, Princess? We'll give you the grand tour of our lil neck of the reefs". Nerissa mounted(sidesaddle-style, obviously) Coral's gray oversized seahorse Familiar prudently, for the last time she had ridden an equine beast was when she had fallen off a rented Shetland pony at Vanessa's sixth birthday party.

As the intrepid party of nine ventured out into the rampantly overgrown outskirts of Pacifica, Fishbourne, Coral's Familiar goldfish who spoke in a clipped, genteel English dialect, launched into a long-winded, pretentious spiel of sometimes moderately interesting, but other times boring and useless, facts regarding Pacifica, and the Kingdom's history and geography. "Pacifica, with an estimated population of 7,500 Sea Nymphs and their Consorts, is the seventh most populous Sea Nymph Kingdom on the planet, and is bordered by MexiSea to the South and the Forbidden Zones in the North. We enjoy a remarkably high standard of living, are known interkindomally for our rich local culture and mild climate, and our coral reefs and plant life is second to none in the Central Northern Pacific. However, due to the Sea Siren and Cursed Black Pearls upheaval more than a decade age, we are also arguably the most politically unstable region in the Sea Nymph world".

Fishbourne was so passionately involved in playing tour guide that he didn't appear to notice when Nerissa dismounted from Caballo De La Mar and spontaneously broke away from the group once she spied an all-too-familiar dark-haired merman seated on a round, burnished rock beside an orange coral tunnel. Leaning right next to him was a magnificently sinewy coal-black sea-stallion whom the young mermaid princess was positively sure that she had never seen around before.

"Hello again, sweet Princess!" Lord Zale declared with a lighthearted bow, and patted the stone to his right, inviting the 15-year-old girl to sit down by his side. "Fancy seeing you again so soon, Nerissa. I want you to meet somebody very important to me". He pointed to his massive seahorse. "This is Stormer, my steadfast and cherished steed. He was quite the wild one when I first found him inexplicably abandoned not far from here, near the edge of the wilderness which separates the refuge of Pacifica from the dangers of the Unenchanted Zones, but in time, I was able to tame him, although he still insists on communicating only in neighs and nudges, for some reason".

"That's cool. He's such a beauty" flattered Nerissa as she took her seat next to Zale.

"I'm glad you think so. I love him more than words can say. But, that's enough about me. What about you? Are you liking Pacifica so far?". Nerissa's heartbeat quickened and her flukes tingled as Zale's steady yet velvetly soft tan hand discreetly brushed her dainty fingers.

"It's nice" she answered. "Everybody's been so kind to me, and I've made some really great new friends already".

"Good. Nerissa, listen, I don't want you to think me too forward, but last night was the best night of my life. When I danced with you, when I held you in my arms, I felt all these new emotions, that I've never felt for a Sea Nymph before".

Nerissa was startled by the sudden turn their conversation was taking, but not unpleasantly so, for Lord Zale inspired in her, too, new, incredible feelings. Never before had she felt so safe, so comfortable around a member of the opposite gender. She'd only met him the previous evening, yet it seemed to Nerissa that she had known him for forever and a day. "I had a very good time too".

It was as if time itself had temporarily stood still as Zale suddenly put his well-toned arm around Crown Princess Nerissa's shoulders and began to stroke her soft, satiny hair. Strange as it may sound to some nowadays, this was as physically intimate as Nerissa had ever been with a boy, and part of her wondered if she was allowing herself to become too carried away, too quickly, with Lord Zale, especially after pining for Adam for so long, but she couldn't object when he finally kissed her. Always the gentleman, Zale wouldn't dream of giving Nerissa anything more than an innocent peck on the cheek without her making the first move towards his mouth, which, despite her somewhat shy disposition and initial doubting thoughts, she did. Lord Zale's perfectly formed lips were sweeter and softer against Nerissa's than the finest and fluffiest of cotton candy. Unfortunately, their superbly romantic moment was discourteously interrupted by childlike singsong shouts of "Fishy-Lips! Fishy-Lips!" coming from the nearby sea-bushes.

"Who said that?" demanded an indignant and humiliated Princess of Pacifica.

Tenshiko, Violet's angelfish Sea Familiar, swam out of the bushes. "Me! Heehee, you two are so busted! We saw everything!"

"We?" Zale questioned. "May I ask who else was spying on us?". Out from the surrounding foliage crept Violet's yellow seahorse called Seashine and blue dolphin named Donald, and all three of Lady Coral's Familiars.

"Where's Coral and Violet?" canvassed Nerissa.

"Over in some shaded grotto a few sea-meters away" Donald revealed. "They said they wanted to give you guys a little privacy, but we thought it'd be funner to see if you were gonna make Fishy-Lips, and you did!"

"My cousin sure has some inquisitive Sea Familiars" commented Lord Zale, full of good humor as always.

"Hey! I didn't know you were Coral's cousin" Nerissa stated. There was still so much about Zale she didn't know!

"Oh yes, I am. I can't believe she hasn't told you by now! Coral and I were very close as little tails. She's an only child, which is pretty uncommon in our world, so I guess we've always been more like brother and sister than first cousins".

Next time Coral and I are alone, I just gotta ask her what Zale was like as a kid! noted Nerissa to herself.

Chapter Eleven:

That evening at dinner, Nerissa at last had the opportunity to meet Aunt Thalassa, King Poseidon's youngest sister and the previous Keeper of the Enchanted Royal Aquamarine of Pacifica, her husband, Prince Neptune, and their three daughters, Neptina, Aqua, and Maya, and two sons, Adrian and Dylan. "I'm sorry we had to miss your coming-out ball, Nerissa" Princess Thalassa, a lovely blonde-haired, sapphire-tailed Sea Nymph, expressed. "We were visiting some relatives of your Uncle Neptune's in the beautiful, tropical Kingdom of Atlantis, which is off the coast of what I believe the humans call the state of Florida".

"Florida, that's an interesting name" remarked Lady Coral, who was seated to Nerissa's left.

"All human names are weird" Dylan, a bright-eyed six-year-old Consort-to be, asserted. "I heard the Smelly Humans call our coast Caulifloweronia!"

"California" Nerissa corrected her pint-sized nephew. "Cauliflower is a vegetable that grows on land".

"Dylan!" admonished Aunt Thalassa. "It's not nice to call the land folks smelly humans".

"That's right" Poseidon chimed in. "Not all human beings are malodorous. My Melinda was a human before she married me, and I never detected any putrid scent from her at all".

"Smelly or not, I'd love to see the human world some day" rendered Violet.

"Me too" Coral agreed.

King Poseidon appeared to be deep in thought for a moment, then he announced "You Sea Nymphs have just given me an idea. You know that your Crown Princess will be forced to spend plenty of time up above among the air-breathers until at least a plurality of Sea Sirens are purified by her, right?"

Nerissa's Ladies-in-Waiting bobbed their pretty heads "yes" in unison.

"Keeping her eyes open for Sirens will be quite a difficult task to be sure, especially considering the circumstances, so it go without saying that my dear daughter will need all the help and support she could get, don't you think?"

"Why, yes, Your Majesty" replied Lady Coral.

"And, of course, who better to help and support her than very own Ladies-in-Waiting?"

"You mean you want Violet and Coral to go back to Sunshine Valley tomorrow with me?" Princess Nerissa asked her father.

"Yes, Daughter, in a seashell, that's exactly what I mean. You enjoy their company and assistance, do you not?"

"Sure I do, but are you sure Mom will be OK with having two more mouths to feed on land, for the time being".

"That shouldn't be too much of a problem" affirmed Queen Melinda. "How much trouble could two teenage Sea Nymphs be?"

"Knowing it's strictly official Kingdom business, the young ladies' parents should pose no objection either" Poseidon added.

"So, what do you Nymphs say, do you wish to accompany your royal mistress to the birthplace of your Queen?"

"You bet!" enthused Lady Violet.

"It will be so fascinating" Lady Coral consented.

"All right, now it's settled then" proclaimed Poseidon. "Since neither of you has assumed human form before, you'll have to stop by the Pacifican Department Transformation tomorrow morning for a brief overview of human cultural customs and bodily functions, as well as the Vault of Human Clothing".

"What's the Vault of Human Clothing?" Nerissa pried.

"It's an amazing place where Sea Nymphs and their Consorts choosing to pose as landlubbers can rent the proper attire, which is preserved and kept dry by magic, for the human world, so they won't end up buck naked or bottomless on the beach like some of our unfortunate ancestors did" explained the King of Pacifica.

"So that's where you got the slacks and dress shirt you had on when I met you at home!" Pacifica's Crown Princess realized.

"Some of the stuff in there is really out of date though" put in Melinda. "It's practically become a museum on the history of human fashion. You should see it for yourself some time".

Chapter Twelve:

Nerissa, Violet, Coral, and Melinda departed from the Kingdom of Pacifica on the subsequent afternoon. The foursome had just about arrived at the shoreline when they spotted a little human girl gasping for air and floating lifelessly several feet below the ocean's surface.

"The poor thing!" Queen Melinda figured. "She can't be any more than four years old. She must've gotten dragged under by some heavy current. Come on, girls, if we have any chance of saving this child's life, we must act quickly".

With four Sea Nymphs forcing the drowning young girl upward, it was a matter of seconds before she was gently laid down on the sandy beach. "She is…still alive, isn't she?" questioned Crown Princess Nerissa.

"She's not moving!" Lady Violet panicked. "If she's dead, does that make us her killers? But Sea Nymphs aren't supposed to kill anybody or anything, ever! That's what those nasty Sea Sirens do, and goodness knows we're no Sirens".

Slowly but surely, the little girl started to stir. Soon enough, her green eyes fluttered open and her tiny mouth spat out a large portion of the salty, bitter-tasting seawater she had swallowed. "You're mermaids!" the child exclaimed. "I've been rescued by four pretty mermaids!"

Nerissa didn't even think about transforming herself, her mother, and her Ladies-in-Waiting into humans once they and the girl were above the water. After all, another living creature's very life had hung in the balance, and that fatal situation greatly overshadowed any sort of self-preservation or secrecy instinct on her and her three fellow Sea Nymphs' part. "Yes, you were" Nerissa confirmed. "What's your name, little one, and what were you doing swimming out in the sea without some grown-up supervision?"

"My name is Alyssa, and I was trying to hold my breath and swim underwater like you mermaids do when I got a little in over my head".

"Nice to meet you, Alyssa, but where's your parents?" inquired Melinda.

"My mommy's at home watching TV and my daddy's over there, across the beach".

"Please, go to him" Princess Nerissa requested. "He must be worried sick about you".

"OK. Bye-bye, mermaids!" called Alyssa, running towards her father.

Unbeknownst to them, Alyssa and her father, the Sunshine Valley Chief of Police Rodney Greenbaum, who wished to thank those who had saved his daughter's life, watched with disbelieving enthrallment as Nerissa clutched the Enchanted Royal Aquamarine Pendant around her neck and, in a flash of bright and sparkling light, turned herself, two others girls precisely her age, and a woman he recognized as Dr. Melinda Sanderson, the renowned marine biology professor and laughingstock of Sunshine Valley, from magical mermaids into normal human beings with legs and feet. Then they hid themselves behind some rocks and threw on some clothes that they strangely just happened to have right with them. The wheels in Rodney's head began to spin like wooden tops. If he could some how convince this intriguing quartet of apparently part-time mermaids to help him with his environmental research, he could easily blow the proverbial lid off of the notorious, but influential, Fonda Seafood Company and their hazardous, destructive, and sometimes illegal fishing practices! But the question was, how does one go about approaching a group of people to let them know that not only do you know they're not like everybody else, but that you want them to join forces with you because of their unique, superhuman nature and all that it entails?

Chapter Thirteen:

"It's certainly a lot smaller than the Royal Palace in Pacifica" Lady Violet commented as Melinda's hybrid pulled into the carport of the Sandersons' condo.

"Don't be a snob, Vi. I think it looks rather cozy" countered Coral. "It should be a nice change of pace".

"I know it doesn't seem like much" Melinda admitted. "But Orange County, California is the second most expensive real estate market in the United States, after Manhattan, so this is considered to be a pretty nice neighborhood, as a matter of fact".

Melinda and the girls had just begun to settle in when the doorbell sounded.

"That's probably Vanessa" said Crown Princess Nerissa. "She'll be wanting to know where in God's creation I've been all weekend".

But, as it turned out, it was not Vanessa Hogland, but Sunshine Valley's Police Chief Rodney Greenbaum. "Mr. Greenbaum!" Melinda bellowed. "What are you doing here? Please come in".

"Sorry to barge in like this, Dr. Sanderson, but, first of all, I must thank you for saving my daughter's life and I'd just like to say that you ladies' secret is completely safe with me" promised Rodney. The Sea Nymphs didn't realize little Alyssa was related to someone so prominent.

"You're welcome, sir, but secret? What secret?" Violet denied, twirling a lock of her glossy black hair around her left index finger nervously. "I can assure you that all of us here are nothing but run-of-the-krill, lung-breathing, two-footed, Smelly Humans".

Rodney raised an eyebrow at Lady Violet. "Right. I have a proposition for you 'run-of-the-krill, lung-breathing, two-footed, Smelly Humans'. You see, for many years I have been horribly concerned about the careless environmental damages down to our local aquatic ecosystems by this greedy multi-million-dollar corporation known as the Fonda Seafood Company. For all we know, Christian Fonda and his employees are casting out sinister drift nets which kill everything in their path and bottom trawling on the sea floor as we speak".

"Fonda Seafood does that?" asked a floored Nerissa. Although Nerissa and her mother were hardly fans of both commercial and recreational fishing in general, for reasons that should be quite obvious, she had always assumed that Adam, her longtime crush's father was a decent, hard-working man and a law-abiding citizen.

"I know they love to tell whoever will listen that they use adequately ethical and environmentally sustainable methods, but, the cold hard truth is that the words 'ethical' and 'sustainable' are simply not in Mr. Fonda's vocabulary. The only reason why there hasn't much of a public outcry as of yet is that Fonda Seafood has what is most likely the best public relations department in the whole world, and they're most definitely not above telling little and not-so-little white lies, for the good of their own profit. The idealist in me has sometimes wondered what the world would be like if humanity would altogether stop tampering with nature for their own gain, but I think what's most important is that we put the worst offenders to task for their misdeeds, and that's where you could come in".

"I'm not sure I understand" Nerissa stated.

"You mermaids could work for me. I'll pay you for conducting missions related to environmental atrocities in our waters. You could cut drift nets, film the effects of Fonda's destruction with hidden underwater cameras, maybe even interview the animal victims of oil spills".

"But that sounds dangerous!" objected the Queen of Pacifica. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, of course, but these girls are still very young, and I'm not so sure I want them getting mixed up in all of this, for their own safety. Besides, I believe they have enough on their plates as it is without taking on a corrupt Fortune 500 corporation".

"But he's gonna pay us!" Lady Violet whined.

"This Christian Fonda could kill an awful lot of Sea Familiars unintentionally, Your Majesty, and you know what that means, don't you?" appealed Coral.

"Yes, that's right" Melinda reluctantly acceded. "If this is something you really want to do, girls, I suppose you could do a lot of good for your Kingdom, but please, please promise that you'll be careful".

"We'll do our best, Mom" reassured Nerissa.

"I just hope your father approves" Melinda sighed.

Chapter Fourteen:

When Vanessa showed up on her best friend's doorstep on Monday morning, she found there had been some changes in the Sanderson household. A black-haired teenage girl whom she'd never seen before answered the door. "Oh, you must be Vanessa Hogland!" she gushed. "You look exactly as I pictured you".

"Uh, thanks, but who the freaking heck are you?"

"Why, I'm Lad-, I mean, Violet Van Der Zee, an exchange student from Berlin, Germany" was the strange girl's response, suddenly putting on a phony accent, where before she sounded typically American.

"Riiiiiiiight. So you'll be coming to school with us today?"

"No, I don't think so. Her Maj-, I mean, Melinda said she needed to get our paperwork in order before we can enroll in the human, I mean, the American school".

Vanessa could not quite place her finger on it, but there was clearly something extremely fishy about Violet. Nothing that flew out of her mouth made any sense to her, and she was determined to find out just what it was this supposed German exchange student was hiding. "Where's Nerissa?

"She's in her bedchamber, trying to get at least some of her housework, I mean, homework done on time".

Vanessa burst into Nerissa's bedroom, only to find her friend spread out on the floor, surrounded by her textbooks, with yet another mysterious stranger by her side. "I'm Coral de la Mar, and I'm an exchange student from Mexico".

At least this chick's accent sounds authentic, Vanessa observed. "Rissie, where were you and what have you been up to, girl? I couldn't get a hold of you all weekend".

"She was with us" Coral responded on behalf of her Crown Princess. "Picking Violet and I are up from the, how you say, airport?"

"But Rissie never mentioned that you two were coming, and we tell each other everything!" protested Vanessa.

"Not everything, I hope" Coral remarked.

"Yes, everything" assured Vanessa. "Everything, the kitchen sink, and then some".

Vanessa more or less gave Nerissa the third degree throughout the entirety of their walk to school. "How was the rest of your birthday?" she interrogated. "You didn't seem to have a party, and your mom is usually so great about that sort of thing? Not to sound totally shallow and materialistic, but what presents did you get? Is that a new necklace, and a new ring? Did you-?"

"One question at a time, please, Vanessa!" contended Nerissa. She had already decided not to let Vanessa in on her secrets, not because she didn't trust her, but if there was one thing she felt she needed in her increasingly complicated life right then, it was somebody who treated her as if nothing had changed, as impossible as that may seem, especially now that her Ladies-in-Waiting had come to stay with her in Sunshine Valley and she had agreed to become a kind of vigilante environmental crusader, perhaps her mother would turn out to be right about the latter being too much for her hectic schedule at the moment. "My birthday was fine. Mom took me out for a nice little family dinner, just the two of us, at my favorite restaurant" she lied. "She gave me this Aquamarine necklace and the matching ring, along with a pretty jewelry case to keep them in".

"Wow, those look really expensive!" Vanessa asserted. "You've gotta show them off to Teagan. I guarantee they'll make her positively green with envy. Now she's sure to shut up about her stupid genuine faux rabbit fur stole, that ugly brown Louis Vuitton purse everyone but her knows is a cheap imitation, and those tacky dangling half-carat diamond earrings!"

Chapter Fifteen:

After school on Monday afternoon, Rodney Greenbaum rang up Nerissa's cell phone and put forward his first mission for her and her Ladies-in-Waiting, whom he had codenamed "The Part-Time Mermaid" and and her two sidekicks, the Coral-Tailed Mermaid and The Violet-Tailed Mermaid. "I'll look into getting you girls some equipment to aid you in your quests in the near future, but today what I want you do is very simple and all you'll need is your eyes and ears. As high-profile corporate executives go, our good friend Christian Fonda is exceedingly hands-on, and I've heard it through the grapevine that he's conducting one of his impromptu, unofficial inspections on the largest craft in his fishing fleet, The Prince Adam".

"So you want us to eavesdrop on him and his inspection?"

"Exactly. Pay attention to what he tells him fishermen, and how he treats them. Rumor has it that in addition to his abysmal conservation record, Christian is downright abusive and unfair to his hordes of employees, and, regardless of how many hours they put in for his company, barely pays them above minimum wage. A lieutenant here at the police station told me that a considerable number of his fishing crew are undocumented immigrants with forged work visas, and Christian delights in threatening them with deportation if they don't catch enough fish for his liking".

"That's terrible!" the Crown Princess of Pacifica blurted out indignantly, which provoked a questioning stare from Vanessa, who she was, as expected, walking home beside her.

"Rissie, what was that about?" demanded Vanessa. "What's this about eavesdropping and an inspection? What's so 'terrible'?"

"Just something at my mom's work" Nerissa fibbed. The half-mermaid didn't in the least enjoy constantly lying to her closest friend, but she wholeheartedly believed it was necessary if she wanted to preserve some remote bastion of normalcy in her abnormal existence.

The mission at first seemed to go off without a hitch. The Part-Time Mermaid and her companions alertly treaded water by the lower hull of The Prince Adam, where they were in perfect earshot of Christian Fonda, who barked orders at his staff members, sounding more like a crazed Third World dictator than a corporate figurehead. "You need to cast out twice as many nets!" beseeched the seafood tycoon.

"But, sir" pleaded an attractive young fisherman who appeared to be of Mexican descent. "If we catch all the fish in the ocean, they won't be any more for us to catch!"

"Don't contradict me, kid, and if you value your job, you'll do as I say. Remember, only I, and I alone, know what's best for my company".

Princess Nerissa craned her neck to see a cute little yellow-and-green fish break the surface. "You should stay away from here" she warned him. "It's dangerous".

"Danger? I, Pisces the Plucky Guppy, laugh in the face of danger! And, if it's so dangerous, what are you doing 'round here, Your Highness?"

"Spying on the arch-enemy of every Pacifican worth their sea-salt, Christian Fonda" whispered Lady Violet.

"Cool!" hollered Pisces. "Hey, can I be your Sea Familiar, Princess Nerissa?"

"Yes, but please keep your voice down. You don't want us to be found out about, do you?"

Ironically, it was the sound of Nerissa's, not Pisces's voice which captured Mr. Fonda's attention. "Did you hear something, men?" he inquired anxiously.

"Yes, sir. It sounded like a girl's voice, coming from the water outside the boat" answered a middle-aged, balding fisher by the name of Stan. "If you wanna know what I think, I reckon it's a mermaid".

"I don't have time for your crazy fish stories, Stan!" grumbled Christian.

"I caught a glimpse of some long hair and shiny scales a minute ago" Stan insisted. "But naturally I just thought it was my imagination running away with me".

"Now that you mention it, I think I saw that too!" another man claimed.

"That's it, fellas!" declared Fonda. "If there's something out there, we must trap it!"

"I don't like the sound of that" Violet stated. The trio of Sea Nymphs nimbly swam away from the trawler, but, unluckily, the rapid pumping of their swift yet graceful flukes could not escape the equally expeditive clicking of the lens of Christian Fonda's state-of-the-art digital camera, which was his high-tech trap of choice for his new adversaries, not a fishnet.

How will the world react when Christian reveals that mermaids are as real as you and me?

Will Coral and Violet fit right in at Sunshine Valley High?

Lord Zale or Adam Fonda…which wonderful boy does Nerissa's heart belong to?

Are there evil Sea Sirens hidden in plain sight in the idyllic small town of Sunshine Valley?