Short: Sabrina's Nereid
Title" Sabrina's Nereid
Genre: Urban fantasy, mythology, fantasy
Warnings: Some violence
Summary: During a summer of caring for a billionaire's rare fish collection, Sabrina discovers a secret in an outbuilding that changes her life forever.
The moment she entered the previously secret building on the edge of the property, Sabrina knew she’d uncovered something she probably ought to have left alone.
Recalling what killed the cat, she set the wayward one that led her from the mansion on its feet, peering into the short corridor lit by fluorescents.
There stood a cart, just down the corridor, eerily similar to the one back at the mansion, which contained all she needed for the rare fish collection she’d been hired to care for. Since it looked so similar, Sabrina did not move closer to inspect it.
Instead, she moved toward what looked like the largest indoor aquatic tank she had ever seen.
It soared above her head, which likely meant that it hit at least twenty feet from the clean, marble floors. But, Sabrina could see as she approached, it went even further below the tile she walked upon. The tank had obviously been built into the building, as though this was its entire purpose.
Within, Sabrina noted murky water and vibrant foliage. It reminded her of the Georgia Aquarium, the large Deep Sea exhibit that so often captured her attention.
Reefs of coral stretched up from that endless bottom, visible through the water that appeared to be moving.
Or…was something in the water moving?
Sabrina followed the motion of the water, easing around the wide curve of thick glass. It might have had an orca or Beluga inside of it, judging from the sheer size of the thing. Her gut, however, told her it would be something more. Why else would they have hidden it here when there were rooms in the mansion large enough to house the tank?
No, something else lurked in this water.
Around the edge of the tank Sabrina found what appeared to be an access ladder. As the fat cat she’d chased down the beach from the house to find this building wove around her feet, Sabrina grasped the metal rungs and hoisted herself up the ladder.
At the top, she found a small platform, large enough to stand or lie on. Her battered Nikes splashed in the water that lapped up a long, narrow ramp that led to the mesh-covered tank opening.
The ramp was mostly submerged into the tank, as though it were needed to move something in or out. Sabrina realized, staring down the ramp, that someone her size would never be able to walk down that ramp. One would be forced to crawl.
Murky water lapped at her feet, though there was no real access to the tank without the passcode. There sat a water-resistant panel to the side of the grated entrance, a blinking red light boasting that it would not open.
For several seconds, Sabrina merely stared at the mesh opening. What lay beyond? Why was it hidden so far from the mansion, from the other underwater creatures she had been taking care of while the owner was out of the country? What was the billionaire hiding?
Beyond the mesh, something flicked through the water. Sabrina lurched forward, wanting a better look.
She thought she saw the flicker of a large tail, but another appendage startled her so that she crouched into the water beneath her.
Was that…an arm?
Surely, she had imagined that.
Just as the thought finished forming in her head, the creature occupying the tank swam forward, splitting the murky water effortlessly.
At first, Sabrina assumed it was a diver of some kind, perhaps cleaning the tank. It had a head and arms that were curiously human in appearance.
As the face pushed against the mesh, however, she noted that it was too angular to be human and no helmet or breathing apparatus covered the face. The edge of that bare face rose up in the fashion of a ridged fin.
Hands gripped the holes in the mesh guarding the entrance, those fingers webbed, the ends a sharpened talon.
A cascade of what might have been hair or a close facsimile of it, flattened to the skull as the head rose above the waterline. That skull, Sabrina noted with a sort of clinical calm, had a nearly conical shape.
The eyes peering at her over the waterline were over-large, with violet irises and vertical pupils. Sabrina could not make out a nose, but noted a fluttering of what appeared to be gills on either side of the long, lean neck.
Its mouth was small, pale lips in the shape of a rosebud.
It was a creature to be admired for its savage beauty, but the persona was too inhuman to not instill even a small amount of fear.
Sabrina’s voice broke the stillness between them with the effect of a shotgun blast. The creature pulled its head back toward the water, as though she had frightened it.
Fearing it might disappear more than she feared for her safety, Sabrina held up a hand as though to soothe it.
“I’m sorry,” Sabrina said in a much more gentle tone. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
It continued to watch her for several moments, the violet gaze wary but curious. The webbed hands flexed against the mesh opening, as though trying to be comfortable when everything in it urged caution.
Sabrina remained still, even as her knees began to ache. She’d never seen anything like the creature in the tank. Even the extensive collection of rare and exotic fish she cared for at the mansion was mundane compared to this.
After a moment of quiet contemplation, the creature lifted itself onto the edge of the ramp, in a half-seated position. The slick torso, now revealed by the recession of water, had barely the hint of human anatomy, green-tinged flesh with a sweep of pearlescent, emerald scales down both sides. Thin arms boasted another ridged fin, this one from shoulder to below the elbow.
Where the torso ought to give way to hips, Sabrina noted the flesh was covered in the same shimmering green scales. The creature shifted, bringing up the wide expanse of tail that resembled a shark’s, but in the iridescent jade hue as well.
“Who are you?”
Startled that the creature had spoken, Sabrina found her jeans soaked as she lost her balance and ended up ass-first in the water. Unable to help it, she let out a low bark of laughter at her own ridiculousness.
Her splash was chased by the silvery peal of laughter from the creature in the tank. Sabrina grinned, hearing something so human from a creature that did not look it.
The creature moved again, resting her weight on one hand perched upon the lip of the ramp. Her heavy fin splashed lightly in the water, a second set of gills flaring just under the waterline.
“You work here?” The creature’s voice was low and melodic, though the words were ill-shaped, as if she had not used them much before.
“I take care of the fish at the big house.” Sabrina tried to calm her thundering heart, shifting her legs – complete with wet denim – so she could sit more comfortably on the water-logged ramp.
“Who are you?”
The creature blinked, as though startled by the question. Its head tilted to the side, the way a cat might have regarded something unexpected.
“You do not know?” Those wide eyes blinked slowly. “The man who captured me tells all who visit who I am, they say my name as they tap on my glass.”
This surprised her. Sabrina thought of the eccentric billionaire she had met once, whom had hired her to care for the hundreds of rare, delicate fish he kept in the mansion on the shores of Georgia. He had seemed terse, unfriendly, his icy exterior enhance by a youthful, handsome face. Did he really bring people into this secret place to see this creature? Did he show her off, a prize he had found by some nefarious means?
“How did you get here?” Sabrina asked.
The creature turned, revealing a long, jagged scar a much darker shade of green than her scales on the lowest part of her abdomen.
“I lived deep in the ocean, swimming with a pod of whales.” The creature’s voice was soft, melancholy in remembrance. “There was a hook and a boat and then I was bade to live here, in this small, dark water.”
The emptiness in those words brought a fist of pain to clench around her heart. Sabrina blinked quickly, keeping her tears at bay.
“I miss the ocean,” the creature continued. “I miss my sisters and the animals. I miss the scent of it, the feel of the fresh, crisp water. I can scarcely recall it.”
Recalling her walk along the beach that sent her on the chase for the cat whom led her here, Sabrina reached into the wet pocket of her jeans. She fumbled for the knobbed whelk shell she’d found, reaching out to show it to the creature.
Its eyes lit with wonder as it beheld the shell. Spying a small gap beneath the mesh, Sabrina leaned forward, dropping the shell into the water. She pushed at the water, making waves to carry the little piece of the creature’s home to it.
The creature took the shell from the water, held it as though it were the most delicate of glass between both hands. It leaned forward, as though to inhale the scent or taste of the ocean still clinging to the shell.
Sabrina felt a small smile curve her lips, her heart swelling with happiness at the emotion on that preternatural face.
“My name is Eoine.” The creature said, finally. “Thank you, Sabrina.”
The chill of autumn had descended by the time Sabrina learned her employer would be returning from Europe. Though she went into a mild panic, she knew what they had to do. They had planned for it, Sabrina and Eoine, for the time when the bastard would return.
Over the last three months, Sabrina slipped away to see her friend at least once a day. She brought fresh fish from the ocean, shells and stones and anything she could find that might remind Eoine of home. They talked and talked and talked about anything that came to mind. Sabrina had even brought books, reading to her new friend from the ramp leading into her tank.
Now. Now was the time.
Sabrina keyed into the hidden building swiftly, quietly. She was not sure when Mr. Yates would return, so she had to be quick. He might stroll onto the grounds at any time, decide to pay a visit to the creature of myth he had captured as a living ornament.
As she jogged on silent feet toward the tank, she found her friend pressed against the freshly-cleaned glass, waving frantically. Sabrina strolled to a stop, ducking into an electrical alcove situated just before the room opened up to show the tank.
Eoine pressed her hands against the glass, shaking her glorious head. Sabrina gave her a quick thumbs up, and her friend swam away toward the ramp.
She knew the message for what it was: He’s here.
Almost less than a beat later, voices drifted toward her, as though coming around the side of the tank. Using Eoine’s little prison as cover, Sabrina edged around it, listening as her heart thundered in her ears.
“It’s just marvelous, John! Such a find, however did you catch it?”
The nasal female voice sent a shiver down her spine. Sabrina pressed her back into the glass of Eoine’s tank, willing her ragged breathing to slow.
“A lucky catch, I assure you.” The oily voice of her employer echoed as the heavy footfalls brought them closer. “I’d been concerned someone might discover her while we were away, but she actually looks better than I last saw her.”
“Yes, her skin is brighter, her scales more brilliant. I do wonder what Thomas has been feeding her.”
“Oh, John!” The woman laughed, the sound akin to nails raking down an old chalkboard. “You speak as though the thing is human.”
“Not human, no, pumpkin.” John continued. “But she does have agency of her own.”
“Well,” the woman sighed as they eased toward the corridor leading to the door. “I still think you ought to have it studied. Think about it! It might hold the key to something remarkable!”
Mr. Yates gave a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat, but the woman continued pressing. Sabrina had no memory of her employer having a spouse or girlfriend, so why was this woman pressing him so much?
I have to get her out of here.
The heavy iron door slammed as Yates and his companion headed for the beach, likely a long, meandering stroll up to the main house. He would find that Sabrina had already packed and ‘returned home’ according to the housekeeper, expecting her final pay to be wired when he finished his inspection of her work.
Before she could actually leave, however, Sabrina would right this terrible wrong. Eoine had to be returned to the ocean.
Sabrina raced around the side of the massive tank, listening as the water lapped against the covered rim. Eoine must have been racing toward the entrance, looking for her.
As Sabrina climbed the ladder to the ramp, she heard Eoine splash onto the edge, as though waiting.
“We have to go.”
“It is too dangerous!” Eoine shot back. “He’s here!”
“Which gives us more time,” Sabrina replied as she shuffled into the water toward the electric lock. “He won’t come back to check on you for a while.”
Taking the little device her brilliant sister had sent with hardly any questions, Sabrina pressed it into the keypad before reaching for her phone. She executed the command from her mobile, watching as the little passcode screen scrolled through numbers and letters until it landed on the appropriate code.
The indicator on the lock glowed green. Sabrina snatched the device and shoved it back into her pocket.
Eoine did as Sabrina asked, allowing the human to shove the unlocked metal grate aside.
For the first time, nothing kept her and Eoine apart.
As though the thought had occurred to her as well Eoine used her taloned-hands to shimmy up the ramp.
Sabrina embraced her friend quickly, admiring the cool, slick feel of her flesh, the strength in those arms around her.
Mr. Yates was not wrong: Eoine’s health and strength that improved markedly over the months of their friendship. She would have the strength to swim away, back into the ocean, to freedom.
“You are taking a risk, friend.” Eoine whispered, her arms still clasped tightly around Sabrina.
“It’s worth it.” Sabrina replied, pulling back. “Come on.”
They had discussed the plan over and over, until both of them could recite each part from memory. Sabrina shimmied back down the ladder, yanking the feeding cart over toward the tank. Quick and quiet, Sabrina removed the buckets and coolers from the top of the cart, the human sent a whistle to her mythical friend.
Her fin appeared over the edge of the access area. Already, the nereid could be heard gasping for breath. Sabrina tapped on her watch, activating the timer that would give them the limit with which Eoine could be out of the water.
Sabrina adjusted the cart to be sure Eoine would land on it, holding it steady as her friend shifted down the ledge. Their guess had been correct, Eoine’s fin almost reached the cart.
On command, without hesitation, Eoine released her hold on the ledge, dropped with a wet thwack onto the cart. Sabrina pushed her body weight into the cart, ensuring the wheels did not shift and throw her friend onto the floor.
Eoine’s color had already shifted from the warm, emerald shades toward grey. Sabrina patted her friend’s shoulder, throwing her weight into the cart to get it moving toward the exit.
They had one shot at this. For Eoine to survive long enough to get to the ocean, she had to be quick and accurate. If they were caught, Sabrina shuddered to think what might happen. To Eoine and herself.
She pushed the iron door open with the cart, sidling around it to check the outer area for pursuit.
The sky had darkened in the last few minutes, the bright autumn day giving way to twilight. Beyond the building and sand, Sabrina noted a thick, turbulent bank of clouds rolling over the ocean.
Eoine choked a gasp. Sabrina pushed the cart toward the sidewalk, where she had ten feet of help before she’d have to push it over the sand.
They raced toward the ocean, the salty air suddenly thick, as though calling Eoine home. Tears stung the backs of her eyes. Once Eoine was in the ocean, they were unlikely to see one another again.
That didn’t matter. Her friend’s freedom was all she cared about.
But, she wanted to be sure Eoine knew what their friendship had meant to her.
As the cart rumbled over the concrete, Sabrina whispered.
“I’ve never had a friend like you,” Sabrina said as she shoved the cart onto the sand. The weight of it sank the wheels, but Sabrina poured her desperation into the inertia, succeeding in keeping the cart moving. “I’m so happy I can help you now. Please, don’t worry about me. Just go home. We’ll find one another again, if the Fates allow it.”
Eoine could not speak, holding her breath as long as possible. Her friend reached up to pat her hand with her own, her flesh far too warm.
“Almost there, Eio. Almost home.”
But the sea was still much too far when she heard the voices. Sabrina’s heart slammed in her chest, breath catching as she turned to look over her shoulder.
John Yates was rushing down the long, winding staircase from the main house, the unknown woman beside him. Sabrina cried out as they shouted to her to stop!
They would never make it over the sand, not with the cart. Sabrina looked back to Eoine, tears in her eyes.
“GO.” Sabrina commanded, choking on the word. “You have to crawl for it. Go.”
Eoine nodded once, her own gaze traveling toward their pursuers. Sabrina switched her grip on the cart to underhand and heaved. The cart flipped onto its side, dumping the too-dry nereid onto the cooling sands.
Her friend immediately rose onto her hands, clawing her way down the sand for the final fifteen yards that would take her home.
Was Sabrina imagining it, or did the sea seem to swell, as though reaching for its lost daughter?
Sabrina remained where she stood, glancing over her shoulder toward where Yates and his companion closed in on the out building.
The sky turned unnaturally dark, a chill wind whipping through from the surface of the ocean. Sabrina’s hair danced with it, finding a zing of something like joy and rage on that strange gale. The wind pushed at her back, toward the ocean. Sabrina followed the instinct as Eoine’s taloned hands reached the ocean for the first time since her capture.
The crack echoed over the wind. Pain bit into Sabrina’s back, confusion racing through her body. Eoine turned from the ocean, her face dissolving into a mask of pain and fear. She reached for Sabrina as the human still standing on the sand lost breath, fell to her knees.
One shaking hand reached up toward the sting in her chest, finding the space between her breasts filled with wet warmth. Looking over her shoulder, Sabrina found Yates had pulled up short, gaping in a sort of terrified shock at the woman standing before him.
Yates’ companion stood at the end of the sidewalk leading from Eoine’s prison, a gun held out before her. Sabrina did not bother to even register the satisfied smirk on her killer’s face.
She turned back to the water, where Eoine had turned as though to return to her.
Sabrina opened her mouth to scream, to stop Eoine from throwing her freedom, her life away. But when she tried to speak, only copper-flavored blood came out. It sprayed over her lips as she shook her head, praying that something, someone, save her friend.
As though in answer, the waves rose up to tower over the beach, crashing back down to swallow Eoine. Sabrina fell to sand, dimly noting Yates screaming at her, his hands pressing something warm to the hole in her chest.
Sabrina’s eyes did not leave the ocean, where her friend had vanished seconds before.
They’d done it.
Eoine was free.
Sabrina gave herself to darkness and feared no more.
She woke again, but something was different. Before she opened her eyes, Sabrina wondered if she was about to ‘meet her maker’ as her grandmamma always said.
Wherever she was, the pain had gone. Her flesh was strangely cool, comfortable. Weightlessness replaced the heavy feeling she’d had while dying on the beach, though her heart delighted at the knowledge that her friend had lived.
As she lifted a hand to rub at her eyes, Sabrina felt as though she were moving through water.
Sabrina opened her eyes, finding herself not at the gates of heaven or on the sandy beach, but underwater. She turned her up, finding the surface nowhere near. Indeed, it was dark this far below the crashing of waves, but she could see with perfect clarity, as though her eyes had adjusted. Cool ocean water drifted around her, through her flesh. She felt no need to breathe.
Before she could panic, a familiar visage appeared before her.
Eoine had tears in her eyes as she reached for her friend. Sabrina wrapped her arms around the nereid, astonished to find her friend was no longer cool to the touch. She felt, to Sabrina’s astonishment, as though they were the same temperature.
“Don’t panic.” Eoine said, not releasing Sabrina from the embrace. “But my father could not allow you to die, not after what you had done for me.”
Confused, Sabrina pulled back just slightly. She could feel the presence of someone else close by and turned to the left, where a large male floated, joy shining on his unnaturally beautiful face.
“You gave your life for my child, to return her to her home.” The male’s voice was deep, melodic. “I caught you in my waves and granted my daughter her wish.”
“He could not save you as a human, the damage to your strong heart was too much,” Eoine continued. “But he could make you one of us.”
Heart filling to the point of bursting, Sabrina looked down at herself. She had lost some of her human features, replaced by a thick tail fin in a shade of deep violet, the scales shimmering in the same way as Eoine’s did. She flicked that tail lightly, succeeding in pushing back from her friend, whom grinned.
Her hands now boasted webbed fingers, ending in sharp talons. Sabrina touched her face, finding that ridge of fin she so often admired in Eoine attached to her own, her hair floating in the seawater around it.
“I’m a nereid?” Sabrina asked. “Really?”
Poseidon, for Eoine had told her all about her father, offered another grin. His aged face took on a look of quiet calm, of warm love when he held Eoine close. Her friend practically glowed with joy.
“For your sacrifice, I have made you into one of my daughters, Sabrina. You will now spend your life with us, among the waves.”
“With me.” Eoine whispered, swimming toward her again.
Sabrina held her strange arms out, embracing her friend again to marvel at how similar they were now. Eoine pulled back, just enough so they could face one another.
“Is that alright?” Unable to help it, Sabrina nodded. A lump had formed in her throat, so her voice croaked when she spoke to the King of Oceans.
“Thank you, for saving me.” Sabrina said with a bow of her head. Poseidon bowed in return, silver lining his deep blue eyes.
“I’m so happy,” Sabrina continued. Eoine hugged her again, tightly. “We get to stay together.”
“Always.” Eoine said as a tear leaked from her eyes, lost on the water surrounding them.
“Always.” Sabrina returned, squeezing her friend’s hand.
“Come.” Eoine swam back a few feet. Poseidon had already moved away, swimming lazily toward the bottom of the ocean. “Let me show you your new home.”
Sabrina grinned, taking Eoine’s hand and shifting her body flat so she could swim. Her tail-fin flicked expertly in the water, propelling her forward with ease. She flattened her free hand to her side, keeping up with Eoine as they headed toward the King’s castle beneath the waves.
For the first time in her life, Sabrina felt as though she were home. Her human life had ended, but she would live with her friend in the kingdom beneath the waves forever.