A sound came from Ivan’s right. He turned, and started when he saw a young woman standing next to him. How had she gotten in? He didn’t recognize her – he had never seen anyone dressed as she was. She wore pants instead of larrons, and a long-sleeved shirt with a gray and green pattern that made him dizzy when he looked closely.
“Who are you?” he asked, jumping to his feet.
She took a deep breath. “Wow. I finally get to meet you. My name is Mary – I wrote you.”
“You – what?”
“I wrote you. I’m the one telling your story.”
Ivan had no idea what this girl was talking about. “My story…?”
“You’re my favorite character, Ivan. But I have to tell you that I’m really irritated at you right now.”
Ivan was even more confused – if he had never even seen this girl, how and why should she be irritated at him? He strongly suspected that she was crazy, but she had caught his curiosity, so he ventured to ask “Why?”
“Because you won’t stop feeling sorry for yourself!” she said, startling Ivan with the volume at which she spoke.
“Quiet! I don’t know where you came from, but if anyone hears you they’ll want an explanation.”
“They won’t hear me,” the girl said wearily.
“How do you know?”
Mary shrugged. “Because I said. I can do that. I can say there’s a tree growing in your tent and there will be. See?”
This girl must have been insane. “There is no tree in here.”
Mary stared at a point behind the table. Ivan turned to look – there was a tree growing in the tent!
“How did –“
“Like I said, I’m the one telling the story here. I can do that. But the tree in the tent isn’t the point. The point is that I want to know why you won’t stop feeling sorry for yourself!”
“Feeling sorry for myself…”
“Yes, feeling sorry for yourself! Look, all this stuff that's happened isn't your fault. It was the way the story had to go, and I didn’t have any choice about it either. I don’t like it any more than you do – well, I might, but I’d have to think about it – anyway, the point is it’s not your fault. But you just keep on and on gloomifying all of these otherwise good scenes with your self-pity and I want to know why!”
“Self pity! Young lady, I—“
“Look Ivan,” the girl had softened her voice and her expression. “Look, I know you’ve been through a lot. I know about Lynessa.”
Ivan’s confusion and curiosity grew with everything the girl said. How did she know about Lynessa?
“Ivan, I know how much you loved her, and I know how much you miss her. Really. I do. But you’re not accomplishing anything by feeling sorry for yourself about it! You’re letting what’s happened to you bog you down and damage your usefulness in The Shield’s service!”
“You know of The Shield too?”
Mary nodded. “I serve Him just like you do. Only where I come from He has a different name.”
That made sense, Ivan supposed. The first thing this Mary character had said since showing up that made sense!
“Look,” Mary said, “Ivan I could stay here and talk to you for hours – there are so many things I’d love to ask you. But I’ll figure them out on my own eventually, and I’ve got to go and get on with the story. The main thing I had to say was – sit down first. You’re too much taller than me.”
Ivan was somewhat startled when he actually obeyed the order. He hadn’t intended to at all.
The girl smiled. “I love having that power. Okay, here’s what I wanted to say, and then I’ll be going:”
Ivan jumped when the girl grabbed him by his shirt collar and shook him.
“Adelphia needs you, Ivan, so stop feeling sorry for yourself! There’s a lot that has to be done in this novel before December 31 and your gloom and doom isn’t helping me get it done! I can’t meet this goal without your cooperation, so get your act together and let’s do this, alright?!”
Ivan was completely incapable of speaking.
Mary let go and smoothed out Ivan’s collar, then straightened and took a deep breath. “Good,” she said, smiling, “I think this has been a great help. Thanks for your time. I’ll see you around. Oh – and that message from Reylan on the table? – you’ll want to open that pretty quickly. It’s from the commander, about troops in the north end of the valley. Tell Gabriel ‘Hey’ for me.”
Mary was gone.
Ivan didn’t move for a minute, looking warily around in case she showed up again. But she didn’t.
Well, he thought, taking a deep breath and shaking his head, he couldn’t waste time wondering about it. After all, there was a lot to be done before December 31 … what in Reyem was December 31?