"Aunt Vivian!" Lyann let out a shriek of joy as she leapt into a massive hug with Vivian, the latter letting out a choked cough as the former wrapped her arms around her.

It hadn't been easy escaping the requests of students and faculty alike at the college, but she had nonetheless managed to get away to welcome her new guest…even if a striking headache had found its way into her skull.

"G-Gak! It's…quite good to see you, Lyann." Regaining her composure with a mild cough, Vivian cleared her throat and smiled at her niece. Lyann Hawthorne was her niece by law, of course, though she did inherit her father's silvery Kane hair to pair with her mother's striking blue eyes. "How is your mother?"

"Oh, she's fine! Busier than ever with all these treaty renegotiations at the colleges, it's a real mess back home." Pulling back, Lyann beamed at Archibald as he appeared beside Vivian, bowing with a smile of his own. "Archie, it's been years! You look great!"

"It's a pleasure to see you again, Miss Hawthorne. I apologize about your recent misfortunes regarding your trip." With that, Vivian's eyes narrowed, the professor beckoning for Lyann to follow her inside, Archibald in tow as he retrieved her belongings, nothing more than a small suitcase.

"I've heard very little in regards to the incident, I admit. Are you alright?" Vivian asked, closing the door behind them and wincing at the sound, clutching at her head subtly.

"It was terrifying, I couldn't believe what was happening." Lyann's face fell for a moment, the normally bright and talkative girl's expression darkening. "What that woman in black did to that poor old man…"

"Thankfully it seems that this assailant had little interest in witnesses." Archibald commented, touching her shoulder comfortingly. "We are quite glad that you came out of it unharmed."

"Thank you, Archie…that means a lot. I just can't imagine what kind of artifact would be so important for someone to get killed over." Lyann shook her head, Vivian's eyes shooting wide open in attentive disbelief.

"…An artifact?" She asked, a lump forming in her throat.

"Yeah…I don't remember a whole lot, but I remember that lady asking him where it was."

"…Did you see it? Whatever she was looking for?"

"No, I kinda saw her pull something out of his coat..but I was too scared to do anything else." Lyann admitted shakily.

"…No, no, you did the right thing. If you'd done anything, this murderer might have hurt you too." Vivian shook her head quickly, hugging her niece. "I want you to feel safe here, until your mother is ready to take you back home. Archibald has readied one of our guest rooms for you. If I may excuse myself…it has been a rather long day."

"Of course, my lady. Let me know if you need anything." Archibald bowed his head, gesturing for her niece to follow.

Nodding at the butler, Vivian smiled encouragingly as Lyann was led upstairs, ready to be settled in…though as her guest disappeared, as did her smile.

"…Son of a bitch, what the hell have I gotten myself into?" She muttered angrily, stalking into her office and settling down her briefcase as she took a seat at her desk. There was no guarantee, no proof that the key was the artifact that had been unceremoniously looted from that old man's body…but her instincts were enough.

It wasn't the first time she had agreed to discreetly appraise artifacts whose acquisition was dubious at best in terms of legality, but this client of hers had merely implied it was stolen from the Drachma imperial scholarly authorities…and if the train theft was the source of the key, Vivian had put herself in a far more dangerous position than she'd initially assumed.

Worse, this was on top of the fact that the artifact was clearly a mind altering hazardous magical object, a threat that she had no clear way of determining the sheer extent of. A dull ringing sound had begun to root itself in her head from the moment she'd left herself alone with the key at the college. It was not a typical headache, nor even the beginnings of a dreadful migraine. No, it was something else.

There were few languages, even dead ones, that she was not at least familiar with enough to recognize. It was all the more concerning that she did not recognize the voice telling her to peel the skin off her right hand. Or did she?

*Drip*

"…Huh?" Vivian blinked as the familiar scent reached her nose. It wasn't normal blood. It was…hers.

Looking down, her stomach fell as she saw the small puddle of blood that had formed from her nosebleed.

"H…How long..?" She cleared her throat, her eyes widening as she glanced out the window, the sun having long set and given way to evening. Her arms felt sore from the sitting position she'd held for what must have been hours.

Her briefcase was no longer where she'd remembered placing it, now laid out on the floor, its contents dumped out…save for the key, which now sat in front of her, placed neatly on her desk aside the puddle of blood.

Vivian cleared her throat, calmly reaching into her desk and retrieving a handkerchief to wipe the blood off her face and desk. Her breath became shaky as she felt nausea building within her.

"Go fucking feed yourself." She angrily grabbed the key, throwing it across the room and cringing as it slammed against the wall, echoing throughout the room. Stumbling to her feet off her desk, Vivian stalked out of her office, snarling curses under her breath as she made her way towards the basement.

It had been a long day…and she was thirsty.