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World of Darkness: Attrition - A Cold Wind [Complete]

z-August Turner

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The snow blew sideways, creating a curtain of white and locking away sights and sounds. The moaning wind was the only thing she could hear - but then that shout broke through the veiling snow. She was supposed to obey that voice, but it was mean and gutteral, frightening. Choaking on her own fear, she turned and ran.

"This way!"

She wasn't sure who was whispering, but they were insistant, and that howling cry behind her wasn't good. She wasn't sure why - Tyla? - but she knew she had to run from it.

The snow parted and she realized that she was at the ravine. Whimpering in fear, she started to turn back. But the cry was closer than before, and she turned back to the edge. Logs had fallen across it at some point making a safe bridge, and the logs she had played on just days ago were covered in a treacherous sheen of ice.

"Quick! Crawl over!"

She wasn't sure who said that, but she listened. Getting down on her hands and knees, she crawled over, her fingers digging into the slippery surface. Halfway over, she glanced over her shoulder and shrieked when she saw the dark form at the end of the logs. He was there, and she made soft noises and began to move faster.

She slipped twice, tearing her hands and pants on the jagged bits of ice and wood. But she made it over and she turned to see him starting over, balancing on his feet. The machete in his hands swung in circles as he struggled to keep his balance. She watched, crying, torn between her desire for the bad man to go away, and for him to be safe.

He slipped, his foot sliding out into the air; she screamed his name-

"August, wake up, we're there." Byron's voice dragged her out of sleep, and the woman lifted her head to peer around sleepily. She was alone on the back seat of the van, sprawled on her side, so all she saw where her co-stars disembarking. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up, and took her first look at the abandoned California State Prison of Los Angeles County.

August felt her eyes widen as she saw the derelict buildings for the first time. Paint peeled and iron rusted, while the only thing that looked to be maintained was the fence. It was very creepy. Come on, she chided herself. What did you expect? Flowers and puppies? It is an abandoned prison - one that supposed to be haunted.

"Move it," Cyrus barked, his sunglasses picking up a reflection from the sun as he leaned into the van to glare at her. "You're here to work, princess."

August rolled her eyes. Cyrus was the head technician, and he was surly because 'non-professionals' were going to be holding his cameras. August had tried to tell him she'd done her fair share of work on the back side of the camera, but he hadn't cared. She'd decided he was a jerk just to be a jerk. "I just woke up," she growled, sliding across the seat and wiggling out of the van. She joined the others in unloading, trying to be helpful, but all too aware that every other actor here was trying for the same part she was fighting for today. For all that she was trying to think of them as co-workers; they weren't. They were competitors.

There was only an hour of daylight left when Donny started the tour. He said he'd delayed it until last so that it would be fresh in their memories, but August personally thought he just liked walking them through the already-dark buildings. He pointed out hot spots that they would want to concentrate on for the best results. August listened closely and felt the same tension in her 'co-stars.' Results was the goal of tonight, and even though the producers had said otherwise, everyone here believed that those who got the shots got the job.

As darkness fell, everyone was issued gear. There were two four-person teams: Bryon was made team lead of Kyle, Mica and Lori's team, while August found herself with Joel, Jesus and Tristan. Joel was tall and black; he looked like someone had taken him from the streets and dropped him in a polo shirt and jeans for the show. Jesus was average, but he was handsome, with features that reminded August of Mayan temple carvings. They made him rather unforgettable. Tristan was as white as she, but where she was raven-haired, he was fair and brown-eyed where she was blue.

"Alright, gather around," Donny called as everyone finished fidgeting with their cameras. "Remember, you're here to hunt ghosts. I don't want you guys to get artistic. Just get the shots we need. Don't try to hog the spotlight, either. Cal's going to be the star of this thing when we get to the actual plot, so don't start thinking you're Tom Cruise - or Madonna," he added with a nod to Lori and August.

"You have three hours. On a real episode, you'd be in there all night, but this is just a test run. Remember your safety instructions; remember to take the cap off the damn cameras before you try to shot something." August saw several people fumble their covers off immediately. "We'll meet back at the van in three hours. Try not to get lost; you're paying for the overtime if I have to send someone in to find you." He grinned, and it was a little sadistic. "Good luck, ghost hunters."

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Donny swung the gates wide and waved them through, then shut them after. Her skin began to crawl the second she crossed the fence. August jumped as the chain links rattled back into place and the padlocked was applied. She wondered, irrationally, if Donny would let them out again. Rubbing her arms, she joined the others in their consideration of the building.

"Let's go," Tristan said, breaking the mood and slinging his camera up. "I don't intend to let the others get all the good shots." The rest of them jerked into motion, following with various degrees of enthusiasm. August was one of the least enthused. She wanted this job; it would be good, steady work for her. But she didn't want to be here. It suddenly didn't seem worth it. She could do another B-movie; they were short-term jobs but they didn't leave you in a haunted prison with nothing more protecting than a movie camera.

The place was creepy, even without the approaching darkness and Donny's ghost stories. As they paused in the room where a guard claimed he'd had his hair pulled, August noticed she was shivering, as if cold. The hair on her arms were standing up, raised by goosebumps. "Is it cold in here?" she asked nervously.

Joel had the thermometer, and he checked it. "It's a down a degree from the last room," he said, "so in a word, no."

"Go over by her," Tristan ordered. He'd been bossing everyone around, so far, it had been tolerated. But it was wearing thin.

Joel did, then said, "Get a camera over here! It's about ten degrees colder around August!" She twisted to see it, and blinked as it lost another five degrees.

"What does that mean?" August asked, shivering.

"It means they like you," Tristan said, smirking. "The ghosts, that is. Guys, keep an eye on her. In fact, Jesus, keep your camera on her. She might show us something fun. August, talk to them."

"What?" she asked, her eyes going wide.

"Taunt them," he said, "draw them out." He turned from her and raised his voice. "Hey, ghosts! Do you like August? If so, show her a trick or something. Give her a kiss."

"Tristan!" she said, seconds before something touched her cheek. August shrieked and jumped away from the cold touch, nearly bowling Joel over. As they shouted questions, she yelped, "Something touched me!"

"Did anyone get that on camera?" Tristan asked urgently.

"No," Jesus said, "it was on the other side of her. I think there's an orb here, though. You can kinda see it before it moves behind her." Everyone was disappointed, but hopeful for more.

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An hour and a half later, they'd had little success. Joel was clearly frustrated, but it was Tristan who was the worst, starting to snap irritably at the others. So much was riding on this, and the stress was starting to show, especially from working in dark building. But August was rapidly getting to the point where she didn't care. She walked in a cloud of cold, and she couldn't get the goosebumps to stop. Nothing touched her again, but it didn't help calm her. Something had touched her back there; she knew it and nothing would ever convince her otherwise.

"We're getting nowhere," Tristan said suddenly, letting the camera drop. They were in one of the cells, the one in which Howie Fairchild, a serial rapist and murderer, had been housed until a group of prisoners had broken in and killed him. The temperature wasn't just cold anymore; it was painful. No one remained close to her anymore; she was shivering too hard to use the camera. "We need to cover more ground. Joel, Jesus go up that corridor for about twenty minutes, and we'll stay here, trying to scare something up."

The other two turned and left the room; Tristan was right behind them. As August moved to follow him, shivering, he turned and pushed the cell door shut. She froze for a second, then lunged for the bars, dropping the camera altogether. "Tristan... Tristan! Let me out!"

He ignored her. "Hey Howie, look what I got you! You have a little gift. She's really pretty - her name is August."

"Tristan!" August shouted, rattling the door as hard as she could.

He set up a camera outside the door. "Five minutes, August, and we'll have the job. Just talk to the nice ghosts, get them to do something. I'm going to give you and Howie some privacy."

Something touched her hair, and she whirled and screamed, her eyes wide as she peered into the near total darkness. She fumbled out her flashlight and held it before her, trying to see what had touched her. Behind her, Tristan was walking away, fading into the darkness. "Tristan! Tristan! Don't leave me in here!"

There was no answer, and for a second, all was silent. Then something whispered her name.

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"Did you hear that?" Jesus asked, putting out an arm to halt Joel.

Joel listened for a second before getting excited. "Yeah... that's a woman screaming!" He pointed the camera around, trying to catch something besides on the audio. Then he paused. "Wait... that sounds like she's yelling Tristan's name..."

"And it sounds like August," Jesus said, turning back toward where they'd last seen her. Joel moved with him, and together they raced back. They ran into Tristan before they got there; her screams and pleadings were much clearer now, but Tristan was unmoved by them. Leaning against a wall, he held up a hand. "Give her a few more moments, boys, and she'll make all our dreams come true."

"It sounds like someone's hurting her!" Jesus said, pointing.

"Just a ghost, and it's not hurting her," Tristan said. "Not really."

Her screams cut off suddenly and Joel said, "That doesn't sound like 'not really' to me." He took off at a run, Jesus right behind him, while Tristan yelled at them to stop.

Joel almost ran past the door; had the glow from the camera been more muted, he would have passed her by. But he caught sight of an almost ethereal glow from through the window on a closed door, and he paused to look into the room. He saw something he thought, standing right in front of August. But it was gone so quickly he was sure he was dreaming, and August drew his immediate attention when she tumbled to the floor of the cell. Her camera was lying on the ground, pointing away from the door.

Cursing, Joel yanked the door open, half-sure she was dead. When he touched her throat, he was sure; she was very cold. But his fingers found a pulse. He looked over his shoulder and yelled at Jesus, "Get Donny! We need to get her out of here!"

Jesus was staring at her, his face shocked. As he turned and hurried away, Joel took another look, gasping when he saw the bruising already rising on her pale skin. It looked like someone had laid into her, and a horrible suspicion settled over him as Tristan came into the room. He didn't even stop to check on August, but hurried to her camera and snatched it up. Joel watched, disgusted, as he started to check the footage.

There was no doubt in his mind that the rat-bastard had set all of this up. And he'd make sure that Donny knew that too.

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Donny sighed again as he shifted in the chair in the waiting room. Mr. Hollis' secretary glanced at him, then went back to whatever imaginary work she was pretending to complete. The entire studio knew that she was there to answer the phones and polish Mr. Hollis' knob. He stared at her, studying her too-big head and noting that her rack was uneven. No wonder she couldn't make it in the movies.

Her phone buzzed, and Donny prepared to rise as he recognized the sound of the intercom. The secretary picked it up, listened then said, "Yes, sir." Her massive cranium - now that he'd seen it, he couldn't stop seeing it - swung around to him and she said, "He'll see you now."

"Thanks," he said, fighting the urge to give her the number of an awesome plastic surgeon he knew. Instead, he picked up his bag and headed into the lion's den.

The lion was a heavy-set older man, dressed in casual slacks and a shirt. His graying hair was cut in the newest style, while $500 sunglass were pushing into that artfully disheveled do. Brown eyes managed to feign a lack of intellect that Donny knew to be a lie; Mr. Hollis had earned his position in the studio. Right now, he was smiling and extending his hand to Donny, but the man didn't relax. Relaxing wouldn't be an option until he knew that Mr. Hollis wasn't canning his show. "Donny," Mr. Hollis said, rising to shake his hand before waving him into a seat. It wasn't one of the chairs in front of the desk; instead it was the couch in his 'comfort' grouping off to the side. Donny hid a frown. Mr. Hollis used the comfortable seats to either have informal chats or to liberally apply the ax to bad shows. "Will Calvin be here?"

"No, sir," Donny replied, blinking. "No one told me he should come, so I didn't inform him."

"Oh, well. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about this... incident before things happen."

He'd already had the nightmares about possible lawsuits, so Mr. Hollis didn't need to elaborate. "Yes, sir," Donny agreed. "Right now, here's what we know. Tristan apparently locked August in a cell, where she was attacked by someone." As he spoke, he got out the photos he'd taken of August in her hospital room, passing them to his boss. Mr. Hollis' face screwed up in dismay as he saw the bruises, clearly made by fists. "We're not sure who it was, but he was scared away by the other two members of her team before things got too bad."

"Define 'too bad'," Mr. Hollis ordered, his brown eyes flicking up and showing a spark of his carefully-hidden intellect.

"She wasn't sexually assaulted," Donny said, watching the relief that crossed Mr. Hollis' face. That would have been a nightmare. "Tristan didn't go that far. But now we have to figure out what to do before she starts thinking about what she can do." He still couldn't believe that the man had gone as far as he did.

"She's not a big artist," Mr. Hollis mused, his lips twitching. "But she's cute, and the media would eat up a story about some actor beating up another the make it seem like she'd been attacked by a freakin' ghost. She'd get her face splashed all over, while we'd get bad publicity." He shook his head and studied the pictures for a while. After a moment, he said, "She's had experience working cameras, right?"

Donny nodded, wondering why that was relevant. "Yeah, she was pulled into her first bit part because she got noticed doing Second Unit work."

"Offer her a position on the show." As Donny blinked, Mr. Hollis said, "And tell Cal to stuff it. This way, she gets a job, and has less inclination to sue us. She's pretty, she won't break a camera, and if she does sue, I'm cutting Ghost Investigations loose."

"Right," Donny sighed, already working on how to break it to Cal. Cal probably wouldn't have had a problem with hiring her, but if he was ordered to do it by the studio, he was likely to balk just from pure stubbornness. But he'd convince Cal to do it; it was his job. "What about Tristan?"

"Oh, he's done," Mr. Hollis said, smiling unpleasantly. And Donny didn't doubt that Mr. Hollis could make sure he'd never work in this town again. He had other concerns to deal with now.

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