"Master, it's time for you to perform the summoning ritual, as you arranged." A maid unceremoniously flung open the blinds on Adolf's room, sending sunlight over his closed eyes.
"Aah!" He sat up in bed suddenly, flailing his arms wildly. "Okay, okay, I'm going, I'm going! Just turn down the lights, it's too bright!"
"You'll get used to it, Master." The black-haired maid pushed her spectacles up her nose with one finger and sniffed. "New girl, I'll forgive it since you are new, but don't let Master grab on to you and fall asleep. He won't let go until he's awake again. Unfortunately for you, we still need you to do your housekeeping, so do try to finish your tasks before you fall asleep as well."
The prim maid marched over to Adolf's bed and threw the covers off with one elegant swipe, revealing the naked forms of both Adolf and the latest homunculus.
"Eep!" Both Adolf and the new maid quickly grabbed a large pillow and covered themselves hastily, Adolf moving slightly slower due to his prosthetics and age.
"Come now, get dressed." The bespectacled maid was merciless.
"Hey, maybe you could cut her some slack, Agatha." Adolf mumbled as he yawned. "She is new, after all."
Adolf glanced over at the new maid, only a few days old. She had short black hair, was very petite, and possessed unmistakable Japanese features. Her design was deliberate: Adolf was not fond of the Justica-type, and prefered much more variety in his diet, so to speak. He also didn't speak a word of Japanese, whereas his new maid, Emiko, had been born with it as standard vocabulary. That, combined with her Oriental features, would allow her to function as his translator and spy.
"Or maybe you could do your job properly for once, Master." Agatha sniffed. "You get dressed as well. If you are to summon a Servant, we can't have you looking like you were scraped off the roads." She glared at her Master until he began to put his clothes on.
"And as for you." Agatha looked at Emiko, who was still blushing and looking everywhere but her superior's eyes. "Get your uniform on and report to Anne for your next assignment. She'll walk you through the ropes." The older maid handed her junior a fresh uniform, and the naked girl quickly ran into the next room to change.
"...why do I even keep you around?" Adolf yawned again, fully clothed after a minute of fumbling around.
"Because without me your house would fall to ruins within a week, Master," Agatha said. "That'll do. Follow me. I've had Kani set up the circle already, so all you need to do is say the lines to summon your Servant." She opened the door once more and led her half-asleep Master through the mansion.
When Adolf finally opened his eyes properly, he found himself in his workshop. It looked the same as it always did, but this time a large space had been cleared in the middle, where a complex magic circle was drawn.
A dark-skinned maid stood nearby, and she bowed slightly as her Master entered the room. "The circle is complete." She said softly. "You only need say the words."
"Ah, yes, the words..." Adolf mumbled as he desperately tried to force his tired mind to remember the correct invocation.
"You did practice as I told you to, didn't you?" Agatha asked sharply. Adolf shivered as he felt her cold gaze upon him.
"O-of course! I'm just warming up, that's all!"
Adolf force himself to straighten his back, and spoke clearly and solidly.
"Silver and iron..."
And then he mumbled some stuff about gates and kingdoms and shutting and oaths.
"and... um... O keeper of the balance!"
The circle glowed. A bright blue light sprang from the magic design. The prana of a creature beyond mortality materializing.
The glow of a Servant being summoned.
Adolf was almost blown back, and it was only Agatha's hand on his back that kept the man from falling. For what seemed like an endless moment the sharp wind blew, but then it abruptly stopped almost as quickly as it had started.
There, in the centre of the circle, knelt a figure. A Servant.
His first thought was disappointment.
The dark cloak and lack of any sort of armor or blade made it painfully obvious that whatever he had summoned was most definitely not a Saber. Judging from the hidden face and lean muscles, the Servant was... an Assassin.
An Assassin, the lowliest of classes. Weakest of the Servants, unable to even fight on par with its opponents most of the time. A sneaking coward that could only strike from the shadows at defenceless Masters. In short, a disappointment.
For five full minutes Adolf looked over his Servant, shame and disappointment colouring his mind. Still, his face was set in a stony frown, and his eyes remained fixed on the form of his Servant.
Adolf's disappointment only lasted until his Servant opened its mouth.
That voice... Adolf had seen battle. For an Einzbern, he was the most experienced magus when it came to fighting in general. He'd won battles, and lost them. He'd borne the pain of losing limbs, and of killing his first human being. He'd steeled his heart and walked with death in the road to being a magus.
But all of that paled to the sheer killing history of the man before him.
Murder. Slaughter. Evisceration. Poisoning. Paralyzation. Suffocation. Asphyxiation. Decapitation. Defenestration. Annihilation. Destruction. Termination. Extermination. Eradication. Massacre. Terrorism. Butchery. Killing. Death.
Before Adolf stood a killer. One who had lived a life of bringing death to others. If a magus walked beside death, then an Assassin danced with it. The man before Adolf was no weakling. He was a hardened destroyer of lives, one who had transformed killing into an art form. One who had perfected it. Assassin's height and size only served to strengthen his image as a dangerous killer, as if it had been calculated to strike fear into people.
The shrouded figure's right hand moved up, adjusting his hood slightly to reveal a grinning skull mask, and the voice once again broke the silence.
"Thou... art my Master?"
The only emotions one could feel when facing such a person were fear, or respect.
"Aye." He said. "I'm your Master, Assassin. You have been summoned by Adolf von Einzbern to fight a War for the Holy Grail. For the chance to make your deepest wish come true. For the chance to capture a miracle."
He stretched out his right, good arm towards the dark man. "Will you serve as my blade, Assassin? Will you strike down our enemies? Will you seek the Grail alongside me?"
"Shall we win this war, my Servant?"
Assassin did not move. Finally, the Servant extended his right arm reached grasped Adolf's good hand and shook it firmly.
"My failures in life number zero. A war such as this will not affect that count."
The Servant withdrew back into himself and studied his surroundings, a good assassin to his core. "...Master, how many non-combatants are here with you?"
"If you are speaking of those who are incapable of fighting..." Adolf began. "Then none. Of all the people here, however, I would be called the weakest in terms of combat ability, if such a thing matters."
It was a hesitation that came out without hesitation. It wouldn't do to lie to his Servant, and it was true. Despite Adolf's prestigious heritage, the Einzbern were not combat magi. The Einzbern fought by having others battle for them.
"However, if you speak of those who are capable of fighting, but, barring extreme circumstances, shall not..." Adolf said once more. "Then half a dozen altogether. This is actually a good time to introduce you." He snapped his fingers loudly. "You can come in!" he said with a smile. "I know Agatha ordered you to wait at the door for us."
The door to Adolf's workshop flung open, and four bodies daintily made their ways inside, taking care not to step on anything valuable, joining the two others at Adolf's side. Within seconds all six maids had lined up next to Adolf, facing Assassin. Simultaneously, they all bowed.
Adolf began the introductions.
"This is Agatha." Adolf pointed to the stern maid that resembled a strict school teacher more than anything else. "She's been with me for almost twenty years now, and she's the most senior of my maids. Her orders should hold the same value as mine." Agatha showed no reaction to the compliment save a slight blush, and a readjustment of her glasses with a shaky hand.
"Here's Anne." Adolf walked to the redhead and patted her lightly on the head. Unlike Agatha, who stood almost as tall as Adolf himself, Anne was at least a head shorter. "Despite her looks, she's the second oldest of my maids. I was graced with her service fifteen years ago." Anne was even more stoic than Agatha, but gave a nervous curtsy anyway.
"These two are Genevieve and Isabella." Adolf introduced the next pair of maids together, and it was plain to see why. The two were almost identical busty brunettes, and could easily have been mistaken for twins. Genevieve smiled and gave a small wave, while Isabella tried for impassivity, though couldn't resist a slight upturning of the corner of her mouth.
"This is Kani." Adolf moved on to the dark-skinned maid, who didn't smile, but gave a stiff bow instead. "Don't mind her, she just gets nervous when meeting people for the first time," Adolf explained. Kani just blushed at the sentence, but didn't otherwise react .
"And finally, my newest maid, Emiko." Adolf saved the flustered new girl for last. She was blushing and trembling slightly. "In terms of seniority, she outranks you by only a few days!" Adolf chuckled. "But she'll serve as my translator for the duration of my stay here, since I can't understand the local language."
Having finished introducing his maids, Adolf stepped before them, and they all bowed together once more. "Each one of them is a homunculus, created by Einzbern family magecraft to be many times more powerful than a human being." Adolf continued. "Even one of these beautiful ladies possesses more prana in one hand than I do in my entire body. Each one can easily lift a carriage, destroy a castle wall, and tear a human body apart with her bare hands. They also frequently help me with my magecraft, and getting ready for battle."
"So," he grinned as he retrieved a bottle of a certain liquid from one of the cabinets nearby. "You'll find that while they are non-combatants, they are still capable of being incredibly useful when the time calls for it."
He held the bottle out to Assassin. "Brandy? Or would you prefer something stronger?"
Assassin nodded at each woman in turn as they were introduced. The tall Servant bowed slightly in return to their respect and addressed the small group as a whole.
"I have underestimated you all, then. I apologize. Now, Master..." Perhaps Assassin was frowning under his mask, or perhaps not. The one thing that was definite was the Servant's tone of disapproval, slight but noticeable. "I did not partake of alcohol in life, and I have no desire to start now. Do you insist?"
"Heh." Adolf chuckled weakly and withdrew the bottle. With his free hand he motioned towards his maids, who nodded and withdrew from the room, with the exception of Agatha, who silently stood to the side. "I suppose an Assassin that got drunk before a mission wouldn't be a very good one," he mused. "Very well then, to each his own. Let's get down to business."
Adolf marched to his desk and swept the whole mess of papers off the side. Even though they hit the floor with a cloud of dust, the older man didn't care. He merely set down the bottle of brandy on one corner of the desk, and removed a long scroll from within one of the drawers. He spread the parchment, and the scroll ended up covering the entire desk. He used the bottle of brandy as a paperweight on one side, and a smooth rock on the other.
"This is a map of Fuyuki City, our battleground." Adolf explained. "No doubt you've got a much more detailed map in your head thanks to the circumstances of your summoning, but for now we'll be using this to make our plans." The man tapped one of the figures on the map with his living finger, and the ink on the paper reconfigured into a rough outline of his estate. In flowing script the word Einzbern appeared there.
"This is our base." Adolf tapped two more places on the map, and the words Makiri and Tohsaka appeared as well. "These are the known homes of two of the enemy Masters, the Tohsaka and Makiri, the two other Great Families. In this war, they'll be our biggest threat."
He paused a moment to let it sink in. While this war may have been a War between seven Servants and Masters, in reality it was a battle between the Three Families that created the Grail. Any outsiders would be of little threat.
Adolf grabbed the bottle of brandy as well as a small glass. However, as he moved to pour himself a cup, Agatha's hand lightly stopped his. "Master, you shouldn't," she said.
"...not even a little? It's a bit stuffy in here," he protested weakly. "And it's not like drinking wine ever killed anyone."
Agatha was undeterred. "If you are planning something, it would be best to keep your mind sharp, not dulled by alcohol. You may drink when this War is over." She yanked the bottle away and replaced it with another paperweight.
Adolf grumbled, but didn't order her to return the bottle. Instead, he simply looked at Assassin and shrugged.
"So." He grinned suddenly. "How about we go take a look at how the Tohsaka Master is doing?"
Assassin glanced up from his examination of the map and nodded his agreement to the suggestion. "I have no objections, although taking some time to examine the town in more detail would be preferable as a first action. The Tohsaka Master can come second."
"Oh, we'll do that for sure." Adolf said absentmindedly as he eyed the map. "We can explore before we get there. Right now it's afternoon, and a good time to take a look around the city without being attacked. After all, it's easier to keep a war secret under the cover of darkness, so there's a smaller chance of hostilities if we wander around and meet the Tohsaka while the sun's up. Of course, knowing them, even that might not keep a fight from breaking out..."
He motioned with one hand, and Agatha approached.
"Have Anne and Kani prepare the bounded fields and traps." Adolf said, for once serious. "I want the mansion secure by the time we return. Tell Genevieve to get my equipment ready. Shields, armaments, one shot spells, the works. Get Isabelle to prepare my battle prosthetics. The ones specially enchanted by our top alchemists, if we have them." He paused, and deliberated for a moment. Unlike before, his eyes were sharp and full of purpose. "Have Emiko ready to travel within ten minutes. I'm taking her with us."
Agatha nodded. "As you wish, Master. It's nice to see you taking this seriously for once." She exited the room silently, leaving Assassin and Adolf alone.
As his maid left, Adolf let out his breath and slumped in his seat. He looked like an old man once more, instead of a magus ready to fight and die. "I'm getting too old for this." He sighed, and glanced at Assassin. "I do apologize if I slow you down. I'm not exactly the man I was 30 years ago. But for this war..." He forced a smile. "This me will be more than enough!"