Heritage Avenged: Enchanted Bookstore Legend Two\
Lyra worried about Cullen on his flight home. Despite the fact he was over two hundred years old, it was only his second plane trip. The few wizards of Dragonspeir who visited the real world seldom traveled far and then not conventionally. He kept her safe in his world last summer. She intended to keep him safe in hers.
“Next!” the heavyset postmistress belted out.
“I’ve got to hang up,” Lyra quickly whispered into her cell phone. “Be sure you call me when you land in Sault Saint Marie. Love you.”
She sighed and maneuvered to the clerk at the far end of the counter. If only they could live together in one world. She needed to learn more magic first and hoped to make a start in a few weeks, when she took her winter break from teaching to attend his Solstice Festival. Unfortunately, her formal lessons would have to wait until next summer.
When Lyra approached the counter, the woman peered over the top of her reading glasses as she shuffled papers. “Yes?”
“I’m here to pick up my mail from a vacation hold.”
“Theme of my day,” the postmistress muttered and then barked, “Name and ID.”
“Adalyra McCauley. Just since the day before Thanksgiving.” She fumbled in her purse and pulled the driver’s license from her billfold.
The women sighed, slid off her stool, and shuffled into a back room. A few minutes later, she lumbered back, carrying a small stack of letters, glossy ads, and magazines. She scooted the mail across the counter.
Lyra stuffed it all into a tote bag, then scurried to her silver Subaru sport wagon and tossed it into the passenger seat. Driving Cullen to the Tampa International airport and this stop barely left enough time to make it to the university in time to teach her ten o’clock class. But the memory of those lingering goodbye kisses made it worth the consequences.
She stopped for a red light at a twelve-lane interchange, tapping the wheel impatiently. The edges of the mail peeked out of the sack, tempting her. She pulled it into her lap and riffled through the letters. The usual bills. The signal remained red.
Thumbing quickly through familiar envelopes, one unusual return address caught her eye, William T. Betts, M.D., Washaw, Michigan—the island village location of Aunt Jean’s cottage on Lake Huron. Although addressed to Lyra, it had been sent to where her aunt lived prior to passing away. She couldn’t place his name as one of Jean’s doctors. Multiple postmarks revealed a path of forwarding, the oldest dated last August, a few weeks after the funeral. She checked the traffic light—still red.
She ripped open the envelope and yanked out the letter.
Dear Ms. McCauley:
I am writing this correspondence in my capacity of Birch County coroner. Please accept my condolences for the recent loss of your aunt, Jean Perkins. Prior to delivery of her remains to the Michigan State crematorium, her attending physician, Dr. Everett Schultz, requested an autopsy. Dr. Schultz and I wish to meet with you to discuss my findings at your earliest convenience.
William T. Betts, M.D.
A horn honked from behind and jolted Lyra into a panic. Her limbs froze and her eyes returned for another glimpse of the letter. She wildly scanned the page, searching for additional information. Aunt Jean had died of cancer. What more could they tell her than that?
At the time of Jean’s death, the abrupt change in her symptoms puzzled Lyra and made her question the visiting nurse. Hours before, her aunt’s mind had been lucid. Her eyes were clear and her breathing soft and steady, not a raspy death rattle. Now those initial concerns seemed grounded.
The driver behind her laid on the horn.
The noise jarred Lyra to the present. She exhaled an arrested breath. To brace her shaking arms, her free hand clamped the steering wheel. Unable to coordinate, her foot slid off the clutch and stalled the car.
A chorus of horns blared.
After fumbling with the ignition, she restarted and herded her Subaru into the stream of traffic. She locked her eyes squarely ahead to avoid angry road-rage stares from passing motorists.
One car pulled alongside and tooted. Her eyes shifted onto the driver who flipped her off before speeding away.
Shaking, she gave up rushing to be on time. Keeping her car safely on the road was challenge enough. She hung back to allow other cars to pass.
Plodding in the slow lane, her thoughts drifted to the letter. What had the coroner found? In September, the funeral home wrote, indicating they stored her aunt’s ashes, as Lyra directed, until she returned to collect them. The director never mentioned any question about the cause of death.
Lyra shifted before engaging the clutch. Grinding gears vibrated the car. White-knuckling the wheel, she gratefully turned at the sign for Southern University. Finally in her assigned parking spot, she slumped into the seat.
Before getting out, she reread the letter to search for clues between the phrases. She found none, but the words “earliest convenience” loomed. The doctor wrote the letter three months ago. Would that lost time make a difference?
Was it possible someone harmed Jean? Hundreds in the village visited the funeral and expressed sorrow. What about that strange man, Revelin? He came to Jean’s home, supposedly working as an aide from the home care division of the local clinic. He acted suspicious, trying to read Lyra’s computer screen, open to her draft of the new version of the Book of Dragonspeir. Maybe a person from Dragonspeir? A few supporters of the evil Black Dragon could enter her world. But who? His alchemist, Tarom, possessed enough power and talent. A chill ran down her spine, thinking of his glowing red eyes and crimson cloak with moving tentacles at its hem. She sighed. No obvious evidence linked either man.
Sun rays reflected light through her windshield from the modern glass and concrete English building. This alerted her to pull herself together and go inside. After sucking in a deep breath to steady her nerves, she opened the car door and stepped out. Her legs shook under her weight. Her shoulders sagged under the load of the briefcase and bags. With an awkward gait, she ambled toward her building.
She stopped cold. Students raced around her to make their classes. What about Eburscon? Alchemist for the Imperial Dragon’s Alliance. She clenched a fist, recalling his haughty, antagonistic manner. He openly disapproved of Lyra’s influence on anyone in Dragonspeir.
Opening a side door off the parking lot, she checked her watch. Five minutes past the start of class time. She braced herself, rearranged her bags, and climbed two flights—a short cut to the classroom that avoided the department offices.
Three minutes later, she arrived in the room, out-of-breath and shaking, in no shape to teach. But, the chairman kept careful tabs on all his non-tenured professors, including Lyra.
Thankfully, the lesson was an easy one, reviewing short story reading assignments. The students in her American Lit course, just returned from a long Thanksgiving weekend, didn’t want to hear a rigorous talk about Emerson and Thoreau. Most eyed her with groggy stares, heads propped on elbows. A handful of alert and prepared students vied to contribute, snapping out responses to Lyra’s discussion questions. Usually she enjoyed pitting them against each other, but today she merely appreciated their participation.
Her mind wandered two thousand miles away. She watched the clock, counting the minutes until she could talk with Cullen during his layover in Detroit.
The lesson ended too soon, so she prompted students to use the remaining class time to discuss their current essay outlines and drafts. Most chatted, but a few approached her for input. She sat at the instructor’s desk to look over the pages, and within minutes her legs cramped. Excusing herself to get a drink, she walked off the knotted muscles. Going back inside, she accepted papers while standing at the classroom’s lectern until the hour ended.
After taking the stairs to stretch her legs, she sneaked past the office door of the department chair. She needed to talk to someone to sort out her thoughts, but not her boss. Although she considered a few colleagues close friends, only Cullen knew about her involvement in Dragonspeir. With nearly an hour until his layover, she fidgeted, getting coffee, reading email, moving stacks of papers from one side of her desk to the other. She left him a message to call as soon as he landed.
Finally, she pulled the cell phone from her pocket and dialed the number for Dr. Betts indicated in the letter. The receptionist answered, and Lyra stammered, “The doctor sent a letter about…about an autopsy on my aunt in August. It just reached me today, lost in forwarding. May I speak to him, please?”
“I’m sorry. The doctor is away and won’t be in the office for three weeks. Let me take your number, and I’ll relay your message. He’ll return your call once he’s back.”
“I’ll be up at Washaw that week, so let’s set an appointment.”
“Certainly. When can you come in?”
Lyra supplied her contact information and asked for a meeting the morning of December 21st, the day of the Solstice Festival and her first day back at the island.
Lyra hung up just as Meredith strolled into her office. Her friend quickly spat out, “I swear I wasn’t eavesdropping, but when I walked by your door to refill my mug, I heard you say something about Jean’s autopsy.” She spoke in a hushed voice and took a step closer. “Is everything all right?” The plump Women’s Lit professor was a gritty feminist with a no-nonsense supermom attitude. Although in her mid-forties and only ten years older than Lyra, she was a full professor and mother of two pre-teen boys. Divorced, childless, and an assistant professor, Lyra often looked to Meredith for advice about life and career.
Lyra shrugged and clenched the edge of her desk to hold herself together. “I…I honestly don’t know. I got this letter…” She pulled the envelope from her briefcase and held it out. “I called the doctor, but learned nothing. Set a date to meet over break.”
Meredith stared at the page and finally looked up at her. “Honey, I know she was your last close relative. If you want some time to follow-up, I’ll be glad to take some of your class load. The students I’m working with this year on independent study are great, so I have some extra time.”
“Thanks. I haven’t decided what to do. I might. Should I call the sheriff or wait until I meet with the doctors? If I had some idea…”
“You can try, but small town law enforcement is usually tight-lipped.” She eased her weight onto the front edge of Lyra’s desk. “Anyone else who might know something? People who were around during her last days?”
“The visiting nurse, Nancy.” Lyra leaned back and ran a hand through her hair. “I do have her number.”
“If nothing else, she can help recount some details of symptoms from her perspective. I’d give that a try.”
“I’ll make those calls. Thanks.”
On her way out the door, Meredith called over her shoulder, “No problem, hon. Remember, I’ll help if you need time off. I’m here for you.”
Immediately, Lyra called information and got the Birch County sheriff’s number.
After stating her request and waiting at least five minutes on hold, the secretary replied, “Ma’am, I’m sorry. Those records are confidential. You must sign for them in person, presenting picture ID.”
Expecting no real help, Lyra thanked her and found the nurse’s number in her contacts. Should she tell Nancy about the coroner’s letter? She’d worry. It would seem strange to ask specifics about Jean’s death now, after over three months passed. Best not to mention it.
An idea came to her. Locating paper and pen, she dialed. After Nancy answered and they exchanged cordial hellos, Lyra asked, “I’m writing a creative story as a tribute to my aunt. It’s about her life, told through flashbacks from images during her last days. I talked with her the night before she died. Can you tell me what you remember about those last few hours?” Sounded convincing.
“Why yes, I’d be glad to help you, and I can remember those moments clearly like they were the back of my hand since I stayed the night at her cottage and got up in the crisp pre-dawn air for an invigorating run and stopped in her room where I saw all her monitors were flat-lined, but feeling of her skin I thought she hadn’t died long before since she was still oddly warm. However, all the devices read she passed three hours earlier, which I couldn’t explain, especially because the window in her room stood wide open with the chill lake breeze coming in that would have dropped her body temperature faster than that since it was so swift it swept in leaves on the rug and a black butterfly I had to shoo out. After that, I went up to get you from your room and when we returned, oddly, her body had cooled, like I’d expect for a body dead over three hours, which I wrote up in my notes, but everyone dies differently as I’ve learned over the years serving hundreds of cancer patients, like the case of one man who—”
“Thank you, Nancy,” Lyra interrupted the nurse’s run-on speech. “You’ve given me what I needed for my tribute. I’ll be coming back to visit over the holidays. Maybe we can have lunch.” She felt she owed the nurse some favor for her help, and perhaps while eating Nancy wouldn’t talk so much.
“Yes. That would be great, and I know of some good places with homemade pumpkin bread and fried chicken that melts in your mouth if you—”
Suddenly, Lyra’s phone beeped with an incoming call—Cullen’s number. “Got to take another call. I’ll be in touch when I get back. Thank you again.” She eagerly pressed to exchange calls. “I’m glad to hear from you.”
“Your message sounded urgent and tense. What’s the matter?” Cullen asked.
While pacing the length of her office, she related the contents of the letter and details from Nancy.
“That doesn’t sound good at all. I can’t imagine…”
“That large black butterfly with purple spots, the one always chasing me. I think it caused my aunt’s death. Who is that? Why was it in her room when she died?”
“I saw it once when we sat on the cottage porch and tried to determine its identity, but it detected me and slipped away. Will you wait to deal with this until you return, or come now?” he asked.
“I’ll wait. I need to finish the quarter. It’d be too hard to leave now. Meredith wondered if I should take a leave of absence next term.” Lyra absently bent a paperclip out of shape. “What do you think? I’m so confused.”
“I agree. If someone in Dragonspeir brought about her death, it’ll take a while to sort through and bring justice since the evil factions remain strong and on the attack. If it was someone in your world, working with the sheriff will prove equally—”
“I can’t imagine that…she was so well-liked in town.” Lyra interrupted him. “You saw the hundreds of people at her funeral.”
“True, and I agree. The presence of that butterfly is curious, but there might be a simple explanation. Perhaps, he or she acted to stay some suffering. Hopefully, that’s the case. Then you can spend the remainder of your leave beginning magic studies as you intended.”
“Oh, didn’t think of that. I hope you’re right. Maybe it was an act of kindness. Yes, please make arrangements for my lessons.” Her tone brightened, and she relaxed into her desk chair. “But who do you think that butterfly is?”
“Well, it could be many, some I don’t even know. Tarom possesses enough power, but I don’t see any obvious reason for him to gain from helping or harming your aunt. Perhaps the Qumeli nomads, like Glisla, our deceptive guide into the Dark Realm. I’ll never trust her again. Some of them might be capable of transformation.”
“It could be her. What about Eburscon?” she asked.
“Well, he certainly has enough power. Like Tarom, he walks to his own beat, no matter whether good or evil. Alchemists seem oriented that way. I’ll do some checking on him during my work for the Imperial Dragon’s High Council. In the meantime, try to think it was as you say…an act of kindness. You need to get through the next few weeks and be safe on that long drive.”
“You’re right. I have a lot to do and need a clear head. I wish I was there now.”
“I wish you were here too.”
Lyra melted hearing the warmth in his words. “Miss you already. We had a fun vacation.”
“We did, but I want us to be in one world. That will only come to pass once dark forces in Dragonspeir are overthrown. You must strengthen your magic, enabling the Alliance.” Cullen’s voice resonated with determination.
“I’m eager to learn. Drive safely, and give me a call once you get to your bookstore.”
“I will. Although I’ll be in Dragonspeir a lot in the coming days and won’t be able to call. I’ll return to the store each night in case you need to contact me.”
“Thanks. Take care. Love you.”
“And I love you.” His low, masculine tone comforted her.
She took a deep breath, finally relaxed enough to fill her lungs.
Later that afternoon, Lyra met with her department chair and presented him a brief, formal letter requesting leave of absence.
His bushy eyebrows collided above his thick framed glasses when he read the date beginning next term. “I don’t have time to hire a new instructor. Not sure I can even get staff to cover your classes with this short notice.” He laid the paper down. “Although, I do understand your concern.”
“Meredith volunteered to take some of my load.” She nervously fingered her earring, anxious for his decision. He could deny her request, making the choice hers—to remain or go without pay and most likely face non-renewal on her contract at the end of the school year.
He stroked his chin and eyed her, weighing the possibilities. “She’s capable for your American Lit course, but what about the two specialty Fantasy courses? I’ll ask Andrew if he’ll take the one examining Tolkien’s world, but the class on myths and folklore…”
Lyra held her breath. Darned that one course she’d been so eager to propose.
“…would you consider teaching that one online? You might send lessons two or three times per week and be available to help with assignments.”
Exhaling the breath into a sigh, she replied, “I could do that, certainly.” His request seemed easy enough because she knew that content inside out. Surely, she could leave Dragonspeir long enough to be online and meet those responsibilities.
“Fine then.” He leaned forward onto his elbows and peered at her above his glasses. “Be certain you get teaching materials to Meredith and Andrew. Whether you’re renewed or not will depend on how well you work with them.”
Although his caution made her tremble, she smiled, grateful for his decision. “Thank you.”
The days of the next three weeks slipped past as Lyra worked feverishly to prepare her colleagues and her home. She planned to be gone until, perhaps, the end of next summer. Both fear and determination pulsed through her veins as she drove off, car loaded to the roof, after her last class on the Friday before Christmas.
© Copyright 2012 Marsha A. Moore. All rights reserved.