Characters: Stella, Cynthia
: Meetings in the seconds between life and death.
: None
Author's Note
: Since Stella and Cynthia are technically sisters, having been adopted by the same woman, I thought it important that they should meet at least once. That and the fact that I like to play around with Cynthia's character.
: I don't own Record of a Fallen Vampire.

"This isn't really… what I speculated dying would feel like."

Stella doubted that the girl who had become the Black Swan's first host was addressing her or even knew she was there, but still she smiled, shifting her sleeping daughter in her arms. "Well, how did you expect to find it?"

If Cynthia was at all surprised by the sudden appearance of Stella beside her in this watery world, she didn't shot it. Instead, she propped herself up on the palms of her hands, white linen robes draping over her slight frame. "I always thought that dying would be like floating, but instead I jut felt so heavy," she confessed. "I have to admit, I'm a bit disappointed."

Stella laughed softly. "That was my experience as well. Come on, get up."

Standing, Cynthia was tall, much taller than Stella herself. Like our mother, Stella noted, and if not for the extreme difference in feature and their mother's present age, Stella would have thought Cynthia to be Saverhagen's blood daughter. Saverhagen had had bright copper red hair and gray eyes as pale and smooth as glass; her slightly broad shoulders and tall stature lent greatly to her stern, regal bearing. Stella had always found her to stand on her dignity a great deal.

Instead, this girl was dark and slender. Her hair was so dark it gleamed blue, and her solemn dark eyes were liquid and would have reflected starlight had there been any available. Cynthia stood straight and tall, her perfectly poised, level demeanor glistening around her. Her robes rustled, her small palms and small fingers were callused and Stella was sure her body was scarred underneath. Spiritual energy sang, it was so intense about her.

Mother finally seems to have found a daughter she can be proud of, Stella pondered wistfully. She could see the signs of Saverhagen's brutal conditioning in the careful detachment of Cynthia's oval-shaped, dignified face and wondered how much of a personality Saverhagen had left her.

If age had softened the woman and given her kindness, maybe more than the last student she took an especial interest to.

They stared at each other for a moment before Cynthia's dark brown eyes broke from Stella's hazel gaze and she started to stare hard at her brown leather boots; she seemed to be somewhat shy. Stella only shot another kind smile at her, trying to make Cynthia feel welcome.

Finally, the young girl looked up and the light of curiosity burned in her luminous eyes. "Forgive me if I'm rude, but who exactly are you? And where are we?"

Stella smiled and shifted her baby in her arms to stretch out a hand towards Cynthia. "Well, I suppose you could say I'm your big sister. I'm much older than you, though. It's why we never met; I probably left home before you were even born."

Again, Cynthia's face registered only dull surprise, emotions no longer truly surfacing on her pale, chiseled face. "Oh… You're one of Mother's foundlings too, then?"

The chiming laugh that fluttered from Stella's mouth was no rueful; her daughter squirmed in her arms, but soon fell back to quiet, untroubled sleep. "Yes… Mother was never really very happy with me, though. I was never cut out to be a warrior. I just wanted to settle down, marry a good man and have children I could love."

From the perplexed look on Cynthia's face Stella could see plainly that this was a concept to her as alien as the dark side of the moon. Under Saverhagen's tutelage, Cynthia doubtless had never thought of a life beyond battling the Kingdom of the Night. She wasn't an innocent, not by any means; she was just… repressed, and had never really lived at all. She had given over her entire life to their mother's cause.

Cynthia was extremely tentative as she took a single step forwards and gestured towards the baby in Stella's arm, with one alabaster hand whose fingernails were chipped much the same way Stella's were. "Forgive me…" Her voice was hushed, unsure "…what is your child's name?"

A soft humming sound that could have been a warm laugh vibrated in Stella's throat. "She's called Mariana." Stella was sure Cynthia noticed the similarity to their mother's name Maria, when her face contorted oddly.

But what Cynthia muttered wasn't what Stella had expected to hear. "Odd." Her brown eyes scanned the water. "My name was Mariska, before Mother found me and named me Cynthia. They're very similar names."

Yes, they were.

"Where are we now?" It was that question again.

Stella took in a deep breath to cleanse her lungs. "This is the core of the Black Swan's being, hidden deep beneath protective spells and seals and—" at this point she shot a sad look at Cynthia "—in future, hidden by the layers of the souls and memories of its hosts."

At this, a look of alarm affixed itself to Cynthia's pale face. "But…But what are you and your child doing here?"

"Well, we're dead, obviously."

"Yes, I gathered that, but…" Cynthia broke off, and the landscape of her face transformed as a look of dawning horror shadowed her bones. "No." Her voice was dissonantly calm, but the look in her eyes said it all, as she began to comprehend the truth of the whole sordid affair.

"I am sorry, Cynthia." Stella's sad voice was gentle. It was always a horrible thing to have illusions about the one respected most in one's life shattered.

Stella knew Saverhagen had cared about her and that she had most likely cared for Cynthia too, but that wasn't enough to stop her from using them both to her own ends. The core of Saverhagen's being spoke that some must be sacrificed for peace, and would not ask others to give of themselves before she did.

Then, Cynthia's whole stance changed again, tense and frightened. "Everything's going dark," she stammered, and Stella realized with a twinge of sympathy that for all her cool poise she was very young indeed, no older than sixteen. She wondered how Strauss had felt, sending her here. It would have been deeply ironic for him to have known that he was killing his sister-in-law.

"You're nearly dead now. The Black Swan will free itself from your body and find a new host in which to shelter."

"What will happen to me?"

"Your soul will grow dormant. You will still see the world and your experiences will assist the next host."

"…I…I will not rest?"

"None of us will, until the curse is broken."

"I can't see you anymore."

"…Goodbye, Cynthia."