The ground shook violently, nearly knocking Anna off her feet. Another blast rocked the tent. The heavy canvas afforded no protection from the blinding flash of the nearby explosion. Anna shrieked, jumping out of the way, as one of the overhead lights banged against the support beam and shattered. Covering her head as glass rained down from the broken bulb, Anna darted across the tent. Another blast. The entire tent shook. Light flooded the dim interior of the makeshift hospital. The wounded soldier lying at the base of the wooden support screamed as the beam splintered with a loud crack, impaling him. Blood gushed from the man's open mouth. Anna averted her eyes trying not to gag.
"Entreri!" The head nurse's harsh shout broke through Anna's panic. Skirting the growing pool of blood Anna rushed over.
"Coming!" She shouted, trying not to trip over the countless bodies of injured soldiers lying on the dirt floor. Gertrude, the head nurse, gave her a disgusted look.
"We need to move him." Gertrude shouted over the thunderous explosions, pointing to one of the injured soldiers. Anna nodded and grabbed the man's feet. A groan was wrung from the soldier's blistered lips as they lifted him off the floor.
"He's still alive!" Anna exclaimed, staring at the head nurse.
Gertrude's lips formed a hard line. "He breathed in mustard gas. He won't survive." She said, shoving the soldier over to the side of the tent. The soldier opened his blood encrusted eyes and stared at Anna. He had heard what Gertrude had said. He knew they were leaving him to die.
Anna dropped his feet and fled. Gertrude called after her but she didn't care. The look of desperation in the soldier's eyes haunted her. No more! She couldn't take any more of this. Pushing past the other nurses Anna ran out of the tent and headed towards her quarters. Throwing back the canvas door she collapsed on her cot and sobbed.
Having been raised in a wealthy family Anna had led a life of privilege. The kind of life any normal girl would dream of having, but Anna wasn't a normal girl. It might be the year 1917, but women didn't have a whole lot of choices. The best she could hope for was to marry well and run a successful household. It wasn't enough. All her life Anna had been told what to do and when to do it. Marriage wouldn't be any different. She wanted more. Then the Great War had started and she had an opportunity to do something that had meaning, or so she thought. Only, instead of glory and adventure, she had seen only blood and death.
There were many ways a man could die and Anna had seen far too many of them. Soldiers, little more than boys, had come in twisted and broken. The amount of pain a person could endure was shocking. She had seen arms and legs amputated without the use of ether. She would carry the sound of those screams to her grave. She had never known how much someone could suffer. The wounds weren't all physical either. She had seen soldiers so badly traumatized that they would shake uncontrollably at the slightest sound. It was more than her heart could take.
"Miss?" A soft voice called from the doorway. Anna lifted her tear streaked face from the bed. Wiping her eyes she turned towards the doorway. One of the orderlies stood uncertainly in the entrance holding a package in his hands.
"I have a package for you." He said, looking away.
Anna got up and took the package. Wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine, it was heavy for its size. Anna wondered what it was. The boy tipped his hat and scurried away. Evidently weeping women made him uncomfortable.
Smiling a little she sat on the edge of the bed and gently pulled back the paper revealing a leather bound book. She flipped it over and looked at the back. It didn't look like any book she had ever seen. The leather was ancient and the binding was dried and cracked. It almost looked like it had been hand sewn by someone. Picking up the wrapping she looked for an address. Nothing. Anna frowned. That was strange. Carefully opening the front cover she found an inscription on the inside. It was hand written in an elegant, but unreadable, script. She studied the flowing script for a long moment then her eyes widened in surprise.
"Artemis Entreri." She read, running her finger under the familiar name. There had been tales about an ancestor by that name.
His name was spoken of in whispers. Artemis Entrerihad been the most fearsome of assassins; a man whose very name was associated with death. She had thought he was a myth, yet here in her hand was a book that had belonged to him. She turned the page. Inside was filled with the same elegant script. She couldn't read it. A wave of disappointment washed over her. It would have been nice to escape this nightmare for a time. Shutting the book she tossed it on the bed beside her. A white piece of paper fell out. Picking it up Anna noticed that it looked far different from the rest of the book. The paper was incredibly white and smooth. She had never seen anything quite like it. There was writing on it; in English.
"Anna Entreri!" Gertrude bellowed from outside her tent. "Get back out here NOW!"
Anna dropped the sheet of paper as she bolted from the bed. Reaching down she snatched up the paper and the book and stuffed them into her apron as she hurried outside.
Anna skidded to a halt in front of Gertrude and nervously straightened the blue wool of her uniform. The head nurse did not look happy.
"Because of you a man just died." Gertrude informed her. The head nurse's pale blue eyes were like ice. "How many more must die because of your incompetence?" Gertrude demanded.
Anna sucked in a breath. "Someone died? Because of me?" She asked in a small voice. The head nurse nodded. "There aren't enough of us as it is. The surgeon needed a nurse to assist him. Since you weren't available I had to assist. While I was assisting the surgeon the soldier I had been attending bled to death." Gertrude's cold blue eyes swept over Anna's small frame. "If we weren't in such desperate need of nurses I would have you transferred out of here." Spinning on her heels the head nurse turned her back on Anna. "Today you work a double shift." Gertrude called over her shoulder as she marched back to the hospital.
Covering her face with her hand Anna commanded herself to be calm. Taking a few deep breaths she lowered her hand, squared her shoulders, and started after Gertrude. She could do this. She was here of her own free will. Maybe life wasn't as neat or as pleasant as the one she had left behind, but here her life had meaning. She could make a difference. Her presence here determined if someone lived or died.
She was not just a pretty face whose only meaning in life was to marry well. It didn't matter to Anna that the only thing women were good for was bearing children and running a household. She was not helpless and she was not worthless.
Like her ancestor, Artemis Entreri, Anna would make a difference. Artemis Entreri may have been remembered as an angel of darkness, but Anna Entreri would be remembered as an angel of light.
Chaos greeted Anna as she stepped into the tent serving as a hospital. A sea of injured men covered the floor. A group of orderlies worked on replacing the broken support while one of the nurses moved the impaled soldier out of the way. Anna flinched as a bomb exploded nearby, shaking the ground.
A hand grabbed her ankle. Gasping in surprise Anna jerked her foot back and spun around. A soldier lay at her feet. Blood poured from his mouth, nose, ears and eyes. He coughed; it was a strange quacking sound. Blackish fluid spurted from his mouth, staining her apron and uniform. Quickly kneeling beside the man Anna checked him for injuries. He didn't have any. Baffled, she sat back on her heels studying him. There had been a flu going through the troops, but this didn't look like any flu she had ever seen. Leaning forward she tilted the man's face towards her. He coughed, spitting up more of the blackish fluid. His entire body contracted violently as he coughed. He cried out in pain then coughed some more.
Lowering her head to his chest Anna listened to his breathing. It sounded watery, as though there was fluid in his lungs. Another violent cough caused the man's entire body to spasm. Blackish blood sprayed across Anna's cheek. Jerking away she wiped the blood from her face with the back of her hand. A flash of light followed by a deafening boom knocked Anna backwards. Fire exploded through the tent. Getting to her feet Anna threw her arms over her head and tried to run.
Time stood still. Anna watched in horror as flames engulfed the tent. Beside her a support beam gave way and the burning tent fell on the helpless soldiers beneath. The smell of burning flesh seared Anna's nostrils. She covered her ears, trying to blot out the screams of the dying soldiers. The overhead lights exploded as the center beam cracked under the weight of the canvas. The entire tent was coming down. In that moment Anna knew she was going to die. The roaring of the fire surrounded her. Closing her eyes Anna fell to her knees and prayed. She heard a loud boom, felt a burst of heat, and then nothing.
Anna groaned and rubbed her head. What had hit her? She couldn't remember. Carefully moving first her legs and then arms Anna took stock of her injuries. Everything seemed to work. Slowly opening her eyes against the bright light Anna shaded her eyes and looked down at herself. There was a lot of blood on her uniform but most of it wasn't hers. It was amazing that she didn't have any serious injuries. Tentatively sitting up she looked around to see how much damage had been done.
The hospital was gone. Anna blinked and painfully got to her feet. She might not be seriously injured but she had some nasty bruises. Rubbing the dirt and grime out of her eyes Anna took a closer look at her surroundings.
"Where am I?" She whispered. Not only was the hospital gone, but the entire army was gone! How could two entire armies disappear? Could she still be unconscious? Anna pinched herself. "Ouch!" She exclaimed, rubbing her arm. "I'm awake alright." She muttered to herself.
Lush green forest surrounded her. Sun filtered through soft white clouds, bathing her in warmth. From somewhere above her a bird began to sing. It was beautiful, like paradise.
"Oh no …" Anna cried. "I'm dead!"
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did it rain in heaven? Taking a step forward she squinted, trying to see what was making the noise. Something was approaching. Fast. Maybe God had sent an angel to fetch her. Anna tried futilely to straighten her uniform. It seemed strange that the Almighty would take her into paradise in a blood stained uniform. The thunder neared, making the ground tremble. The angel crested the hill and Anna's mouth dropped open in horror. Angels were supposed to be beautiful, bright creatures, with large white wings.
Racing towards her was a creature straight out of a nightmare. It looked similar to a horse, but no horse looked like this thing. Fire blazed from beneath the plates of armor that covered its face and neck. Even from a distance Anna could tell that it had flames instead of eyes. Smoke rose from the ground as its hooves scorched the earth. It screamed as it closed in on her; a terrible, unearthly sound. Anna knew she couldn't outrun it. Shaking uncontrollably she closed her eyes and waited.
Fiery breath washed over her. Anna didn't need to look up to know that the nightmare had stopped directly in front of her. She heard movement, like the swishing of cloth. A voice came from above her. The voice was soft and far too musical to be human. Something touched her face. Anna's eyes flew open.
A creature from the pits of hell stared back at her. It was evilly beautiful, with skin black as night and long elegantly pointed ears. It cocked its head, studying her. In a flash Anna realized where she was and it wasn't heaven. No! It couldn't be! How could she be in hell? There must be some mistake! The demonic creature reached out for her. Scrambling frantically out of its grasp Anna screamed. "God! You've made a mistake!" The demon said something in a soothing tone and reached for her again.
Jumping to her feet Anna shouted at the demon. "You're not taking me with you! I'm not even supposed to be here!" The demon scowled, its beautiful black face twisting evilly. It said something in its infernal language. Anna spun around and slammed into a hard chest. She looked up into what looked like a human face but she wasn't fooled. It was another demon posing as a man. He grabbed her.
Anna struggled violently. The man shook her and spoke sharp words but she was beyond caring. The man spun her around so that she was facing the black demon.
Reaching inside its long cloak the black demon pulled out a small crystal orb.
Anna wondered what nefarious purpose the demon kept the orb for. She couldn't be quite sure what came over her but Anna found herself noticing the demon's clothing. Underneath his long cloak the demon wore thigh-high leather boots and a red cut-off vest. Perched on his head at a rakish angle was a gigantic purple hat. He also wore an astounding amount of jewelry. Rings adorned every finger and gold earrings ran the entire length of his pointed ears.
Looking at the ridiculous hat sitting on the demon's head she remarked. "Whatever did you do to anger your infernal master that he would dress you so?"
"I beg your pardon?" The demon asked in perfect English.
Authors Note: Hi everyone! I am trying something new. Suspense! I am always trying to improve, so any suggestions you might have are appreciated. Did you like this first chapter? Are you curious to see where I am going to take this? Let me know, I would love to hear from you!