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The hospital was long abandoned. Or, rather, it was closed and existed more as a spectacle than anything. The name of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was one to evoke images of suffering, even in someone like Alessandro. But then, he'd spent more time in the asylums than many Lasombra. He stopped his car at the entrance and stepped out. His boots crunched on dried grass. The summer had been unusually hot, and though the air now carried a slight chill, no rain had come to bring relief to West Virginia yet. It made the entrance of the closed mental hospital look more sinister than usual.

Alessandro tucked his sunglasses away when he entered the dark of the asylum. It had been closed to the public for hours now. They'd made a valiant effort to restore the old hospital, and Alessandro couldn't really understand why. He ran a hand over a rich wood counter. What purpose did remembering the old horrors serve? Alessandro stuffed his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket and walked down the hallway and up a flight of steps. He almost felt as if he could sense the ghosts in the place. The Abyss was close to these places, the darkness lurked just below the faded and chipping paint.

Almost unconsciously, Alessandro slipped around light streaming in through the windows, past a hallway full of derelict hospital beds, and up another flight of stairs. He didn't know how far in he was going, but he heard the movement of the Kindred he was following. The Kindred and his companion, he amended, as he heard a deep growl ahead. This far into the old hospital, things had not been restored yet, and it had also grown into a sort of collecting place for the extra bits and boxes used elsewhere in the facility, so the hallway was a maze of rickety wooden wheelchairs, old hospital beds, sinister-looking slatted boxes like breathable coffins, and new boxes full of paint and building supplies. Alessandro made his way quietly, careful not to disturb anything but the barest bit of dust.

"I knew you would come. Couldn't resist, could you?" And suddenly as that, there was the vampire that Alessandro was looking for. Sitting on an old hospital bed with a huge German Shepard at his feet, swinging his legs as he looked at and through Alessandro, the Malkavian looked more mad than usual. His usually neat suit was rumpled and stained from his explorations of the hospital. His hair stuck out wildly.
The German Shepard growled softly as Alessandro approached and the Malkavian rapped him on the nose lightly. "Enough of that, you know our friend."

"Edmund Deyncourt, you look like hell." Alessandro pulled one of the sturdier-looking wheelchairs over and dusted it off before sitting down. He crossed his hands in his lap, taking up a polite stance, but hidden from view, the sharp-taloned ring pricked his finger and a drop of blood formed. He closed his eyes briefly. The blood turned dark, black as night, black as the Abyss that pushed against the walls around them, and a new shadow joined the others around them. It lay flat at Alessandro's feet, hidden in his very real shadow. The German Shepard watched as if it knew what Alessandro did, but the Malkavian stared straight through him without seeing at all. Alessandro said softly, "Is that Wolf? He looks bigger than I remember."

The Malkavian chuckled and just like that, his attention was back on Alessandro. "The Blood does that. He's a good boy, isn't he?" The last bit was said in a lighter tone to the dog, who wagged his tail and gave a bark in acknowledgement. Edmund looked back at Alessandro and frowned. "My, you have been bad. And what's this? I thought we were friends, Alex."

Alessandro raised his eyebrows in confusion. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You're all lightning and deep water at midnight. The Abyss. We're friends, there's no need for all that." He waved a hand at the hallway. "No one here but us ghosts."

"You aren't a ghost, Edmund. And I'm suspicious of everyone, you know that. Friendship has nothing to do with it. Your attempts to teach me dementation might." He did, however, recall the shadow at his feet. Clearly, Edmund had seen more than he thought. A sentient, amorphous patch of darkness fled up his leg, across his chest, and hid in the shadows around his neck and shoulders.

"The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet." Edmund smiled and scratched Wolf behind his ears. The dog's tongue lolled out and his tail wagged happily. "Aristotle. You used to enjoy our talks, you know."

"I still do, even when I'm dragged out to West Virginia at a moment's notice in the middle of the night." He leaned forward, offering his hand to the dog to sniff. "You want to tell me what's going on?"

Edmund frowned and leaned back in the old hospital bed. Wolf, forsaken for the moment, was happy to let the Lasombra continue petting him where his master left off. "I've heard things, and not just the ghosts."

"Like what?" Wolf moved to lean heavily against Alessandro's legs, tail wagging.

The entire hallway shifted slightly, the shadows moved as if an unseen hand disturbed them, like a ripple in water. Edmund paid it no mind, but Alessandro frowned and sat up straighter, looking around himself more clearly for the first time. At the windows whose light didn't seem to penetrate into the hallway. "I hear whispers. Things no one should be repeating, of Alex the Roman. Stronger than he pretends to be."

Alessandro's shift in mood was enough to set Wolf to growling again. The Lasombra stood and moved away from the dog, pacing up and down the dark hallway. "Where did you hear that?" He hadn't told anyone, least of all Edmund. The Malkavian was trustworthy, but his madness made him too unpredictable to tell much of the truth.

Edmund sat up and watched Alessandro pace. "I told you. I heard whispers. Jealous whispers of the Roman and a puppet Cardinal." He watched Alessandro pace a moment, then said with a smile, "You really ought to have practiced, you know. You'd be able to see what I'm seeing. It's fascinating. This was a young woman's bed, you know. Charity. She came here because she enjoyed reading novels."

"I think I'm happier not knowing." His answer was automatic as he paced, worrying at his lower lip. "If they know I'm stronger than I pretend to be..."

"Oh, they know. And they're talking, which means they don't care if you know. I hope you have friends in the Courts."

The entire hallway seemed to ripple again, the darkness moving as if it were alive. "Edmund, if you're doing that, the darkness is appreciated, but it's distracting. Please stop."

The Malkavian gave him a wide smile. "I'm not doing anything. Why did you think I was all the way up here. The ghosts are talking. The renovations are disturbing them. And some of them are very disturbed to begin with."

Alessandro's blood ran cold as he looked down the dark hallway again. Full of darkness that wasn't his.

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Edmund Deyncourt

May 2017

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