-8:45 PM September 23rd, 2017
Albert yawned audibly, the corners of his mouth stretching under the mighty exhalation. Flying. He hated
flying. Whether it be Touko Travel or Virgin Atlantic, it always seemed like the least comfortable way to travel. No view, no leg-room, no bloody way to stop and take a shit in peace without stuffing yourself into a sardine can and spreading your cheeks wide above the cold, open air. And the jet lag. By plane or by broom, there was no avoiding the jet-lag. He felt like he'd been up for hours.
But that was impossible. It wasn't even a long flight to Edinburgh! They weren't even in a different timezone for crying out loud! This had to all be in his head. Stress-induced circadian dysrhythmia. That's it. Had to be it...
Albert sighed, glancing out the tinted window of the Greyhound tour bus. He really, really
The young magus glanced back at the twenty-odd extra students who'd volunteered to come with them on this trip. They'd all been deemed unfit to be Masters, but they all wanted revenge on Ayondale, just like he did. Some of them even more
than he did. He found that hard to wrap his head around, but seeing them all gathered here together along with the seven of them who had
been chosen to be Masters, it really started to sink in, and Albert found himself taking stock.
Seven months. It had taken them seven months to plan and execute this heist, and just a day to see it nearly to its fruition. And they couldn't have done it all without the help of these people. Their accomplices. Their allies of justice.
The bubble-wrapped fabric in his backpack felt very unusual to him now. A weight he'd carried forever yet which still felt new to him. It was a possession he'd had for no more than a day, yet it felt like he would never be able to bear parting with it. Like a prize, or a curse. He slapped his cheeks.Everyzing rides on zis now. Ze most important part of ze plan is not yet done. You must summon Claudius.
Lights flashed on above them as the radio intercomm blared, announcing that they'd arrived at their destination. The ruins of Urquhart Castle, one of the most spiritually-charged sites in the Highlands. The trees parted outside the window, and revealed to them the magnificent twilight visage of a castle whose once grand parapets had stood tall over the waters of the loch for centuries. The keep was little more than walls and towers now, but the dark blue sky and shimmering light reflected off the loch had a way of filling in the blanks in one's mind. They summoned forth images of a proud and mighty heritage, a bastion of the Highlands that stood just as tall today as it did five hundred years ago.
Albert studied it intensely, picking out the best spot to hold their ritual. There. In the courtyard, in full contact with the earth. The opening was surrounded on all sides by trees and decaying stone walls, hidden from sight if they could just clear out the rubber-neckers. He turned to his roommate and partner-in-crime Leon, who sat in the seat beside him.
"It's almost time. You ready for zis, Leon?"
"The whole world may change because of what we're about to do Albert, can anyone really say they're ready for this?"
Leon retorted calmly as he fidgeted in place slightly.
Summoning a person from the distant past was the entire basis of their plans. If that failed then everything up until now was complete folly. What Leon worried about the most were two separate things: Not being able to control the summoned individual, and the Grail itself possibly rejecting them. Saying that Leon himself regretted what was going on was not inaccurate but he didn't fold, he kept going. He just hoped that cards were good ones. "If you're asking if I am ready for this personally I'd say as ready as I'll ever be. I took the risks in joining up with this plan, but I won't suffer a life of mediocrity under that bastard anymore. I'll keep my end of the deal, come what may,"
Leon continued. He knew the statement was a bit redundant but he needed to get something off his chest. The young American boy had put his all into the plans so far...he just hoped that it held up.
Albert nodded. "Zat is good. 'Onestly, I cannot say I blame you for being nervous. Zis zing zat we're 'ere to do... it is no laughing matter. Not for us, and not for ze inevitable fate of ze Grail. It's public knowledge what 'appened ze last time someone tried to use zis zing to grant a wish."
The impish magus snorted. "Let us just 'ope zat pompous ass did as good a job cleansing zis zing as 'e claims. If zere's still some sort of 'ultimate evil'-type zing crawling around in zat Grail, it sure as 'ell isn't going to be my responsibility. Qui vivra verra
, I suppose."
The bus rolled to a halt, and they all piled out in single-file, Albert and Leon at the back of the line. Albert cleared his throat and prepared a basic hypnotism spell to use on the driver."Good work. You'll be rewarded handsomely for this. The Highland Historical Preservation Society thanks you for your time tonight."
He kept the suggestion simple, telling him to politely get lost then dropping a well-known name and implying a reward as incentive. The man had been brainwashed once already today into driving a group of some thirty-odd kids out to Urquhart Castle after-hours, and it would help him sleep better tonight if he didn't incur any long-term brain damage from this.
The driver nodded dumbly, like a man just coming home from the bar, and then said simply, "Thank you for your business."
The doors rolled shut with a pneumatic hiss, and the bus driver departed, leaving them alone at the historical site with nothing but the illumination of the orange sodium lamps and the distant chatting of the night staff left working the graveyard shift. They snuck quietly past the guards and into the shadows, maneuvering about as stealthily as thirty teenagers and adolescents could until they reached the courtyard. Alone at last.
Albert dumped his backpack, and many others did the same, the loaded packs dropping to the ground with a coordinated thump. Nodding curtly at the assembly of students they'd put in charge of designing the summoning circles, they got to work painting seven large circles on the wet grass of the castle grounds, like field markings in a massive stadium. Quite an apropos metaphor, considering what they were here to do. The Holy Grail War was a competition grander than any sport or arena that had come before it. They had to get this right, and adequately setting the stage was just part of that.
Albert thumbed through his pack for the heavy cloth bundle he'd kept protected in plastic throughout the flight into Scotland. The priceless artifact was Emperor Claudius' own cape or paludamentum
, stained with the emperor's own blood and vomit when he died. As far as catalysts went, you couldn't get much more specific than this.
Albert frowned. It was certain that any Roman Emperor would make a formidable Servant by merit of age alone, and the Roman practice of deifying their dead emperors could only help matters. Still, he wished the Roman Empire had just annexed Scotland too instead of stopping at Britain. Then his Servant might have gotten a fame boost from being here. And could someone like Ayondale really have not found artifacts for any emperor more impressive than Claudius? An emperor was an emperor certainly, but by all historical accounts, Claudius had not been a warrior or even an effective military commander. As a matter of fact, most sources had portrayed him as sickly and a coward, perhaps even a victim of cerebral palsy. Would a Servant like that truly serve him well in the Grail War to come?
He shook his head. It didn't matter. Revenge was what they were here for, not grandstanding. They'd all agreed that they'd conduct their Grail War fairly, and that the wish would be decided by group vote should it come to that. He only needed to worry about the strength of any potential Servants should their plans fail
He gulped. Bollocks. Thinking of it like that when they'd come so far already, it really felt like they were on a time limit here.
Finally however, it was ready. Seven circles, arrayed facing each other. The rite of the Masters.
He turned to Leon and the five other students they'd chosen to represent them as Masters. Sonja Tiedeman. No one he knew was better at spiritual healing than she was, and they'd spent many an afternoon discussing the finer points of summoning and controlling familiars together. Olympia Whitehall. While he couldn't say he knew the girl, she had rather impressive eyes, and compensated for her abnormal lack of magical talent with literal firepower. Morgana Ironholdt. Heir to the minor noble house of Ironholdt, another Mystic Eye user, and their resident information expert. Ilse Koenig. An expert in the field of Alchemy and their "in" on Professor Ayondale. She'd been the one who'd helped organize the heist. And of course Leon, an American magus and accomplished duelist who'd been his roommate for the past two, going on three years now. That left him, Albert Prelati. Genetic freak and Lord of the Squid who very much wanted Arieh Ayondale dead and humiliated, in either order.
The students, finished with their work, gathered around the Masters. Their eyes were hungry with anticipation and curiosity. His chest tightening, Albert forced calm upon himself, shunting his anxiety into a separate room of his mind. Clearing his throat, he prepared to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, nodding to each of his attending co-conspirators in turn. "It is good to 'ave you 'ere tonight. Truly, it is. Now I know we're all excited to see ze summoning take place, so I'll keep zis brief. No one came 'ere to listen to a speech, I know. Especially not one from me."
He laughed nervously, then quickly composed himself again.
"I just wanted to zank all of you from ze bottom of my 'eart for what you 'ave done. You've taken what were once private revenge fantasies and turned zem into a banner, somezing we can all stand behind. Our 'atred of Arieh Ayondale unites us. 'E 'as stood atop us and trampled us underfoot for far too long. It is about time someone shows 'im zat zose 'e oppresses will not lie down and take it forever. Tonight, we bring Arieh Ayondale ze death or dishonor crisis 'e so richly deserves."
Albert looked back and nodded at his fellow six.
"It's time to begin. Gather your catalysts and head to ze nearest circle."