“Of all the requests I’ve ever received, never in a million years have I heard one as foolish as this.” Artoria, King of Camelot and wielder of the great sword Excalibur, found herself returned to the moral realm for a most humiliating cause. Apparently, her Master for this Holy Grail War was little more than a loathsome, slovenly, grease-dripping otaku who ran from other servants and masters more often than he fought them. Heroic servants such as Artoria could not retain memories from their previous incarnations, but this iteration knew that she’d hardly hated a master as much as the flatulent hog before her.
“You asked me to take you to a burger restaurant,” Master snorted, “so I did. You said it would be a good place to scout the other teams from, right? We’re in Roppongi Hills; everyone comes through here.” He licked the ketchup from his red-stained fingers, then dried his hands with a napkin he would discard on the ground. “I’m just asking for something in return, Saber.”
“First of all,” Artoria said, “I demand you call me King, because accepting you as my ‘Master’ requires magnanimous levels humility. Second, I think I’ve performed to your liking well enough by dressing as a domestic maid.” She looked down at her torso–covered by a navy blue, form-fitting dress instead of the breastplate she usually donned–and frowned. “Look at these shimmering frocks, and this white apron. Behold this laced tiara!” She removed the headpiece from her blonde hair and rose from her seat in the booth. “I used to wear a crown! It was made of gold, and diamonds and…I-I don’t even know what this is!”
“Calm down!” Master hushed. “Do you want the other teams to find us?”
“Yes! I pray Merlin himself send these servants to me, so that I am slain before all my honor is gone.”
“You’re a terrible servant.”
“You think it possible for me to hide while parading around in this costume? If the enemy hasn’t spotted me, they’ve surely seen the lance in your pants each time you lay eyes upon me. I shan’t wield another phallic-shaped weapon again. Not Excalibur, not Rhongomyniad”—
Master raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, already! Just do me this favor and you can take the clothes off. Forever. I promise.”
“A promise? From a snake such as yourself?” Artoria scoffed. “I’ve read my Bible, Master.”
“I swear it with a command seal,” Master said as he revealed the mark emblazoned at the back of his hand. Separated into three aspects, Command Seals bound servants to their masters. For this man to throw one away not on a directive to his servant, but upon a personal promise, showed both incredible conviction and insufferable ignorance.
Artoria closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She set the tiara on the table, reaching instead for one of several cardboard paper crowns resting along the window ledge. There were other children seated in the restaurant who sported the ridiculous regalia. Now, at least Artoria would fit in.
“Keep your command seals, knave” she muttered. “Your King shall humble this nauseating request out of mercy. Leer til your cretinous desires are sated. ” Taking a seat once again, Artoria beheld the beautiful cheeseburger she originally came here to sample. Whenever she watched television, the commoners would smile and laugh while eating these meals in their commercials. Artoria’s antiquated English, feudal customs, and Germanic appearance allowed her no opportunity to blend in with the Japanese populace as a “normal person.” And normality, especially for a wayward king, was at times more valuable than riches and respect.
But Master would not allow this simple pleasure.
Artoria picked up the patty. Its oils dripped from the potato bun and onto her fingers. The smell of bacon warmed her body, bringing with it memories of pastoral life and royal feasts from over a thousand years ago. And then the taste, oh my! The fat of meat and dairy, the punch of sour pickle, the aromatic burn of onions…
“Mmm,” Artoria moaned. “This is quite good.”
“Yeah, just like that,” Master assented with his licentious eyes and slobbering lips. “Enjoy that burger. Breathe it in. Slosh the meat in your mouth. Swallow it just enough to cough it back up again.”
“Excuse me?” Artoria said through stuffed cheeks.
“Chew with your mouth open,” Master begged.
“Please?” he asked again.
“I’ve met barbarians with more dignity than you,” she said before resuming her meal. The burger now reduced to viscous brown matter, she embellished the smacking sounds as her tongue lapped the food in saliva. “Can I swallow now?”
Sweat dripped down her master’s brow. He wiped his hands against his pants.
“Hello?” Artoria repeated.
“Sip this,” Master said. In his hand was a vanilla shake. He had some of it already, but bequeathed the rest to his enticing servant. “There’s room for more in your mouth.”
“I doubt this, cur.” She sipped on the straw. Nothing came up, so she sucked harder until her lips puckered and cheeks seemed to hollow. “What is this sorcery? How does one drink this?”
“Let it fill your mouth until it drips out,” Master whispered.
Artoria sucked the straw until the delicious milkshake broke through. It was sweeter, colder, more savory than anything she had consumed before. If the burger was a symphony of succulence, the milkshake was a crescendo of comfort food. Together, they delivered flavor harmonious enough to make her cry. And, as Master wished, the abundance of milkshake dribbled from the corners of her mouth. Artoria motioned to wipe this before having her hand seized.
“Don’t!” Master said. “Let me watch.”
She cringed. The dribble became a stream. The food no longer fit in her mouth. She was forced to swallow the formless, masticated mush in parts. With each swallow went her pride. All that remained was a single desire: find that Holy Grail so she could die again.
The burger detour did have a secondary purpose of intercepting any wandering servants and masters, but no teams made their way to the Roppongi thoroughfare. At the moment, Artoria stood outside the restaurant while Master spent a considerable amount of time in the restroom. The cool night air soothed the heat of multiple costume layers—in that sense, her battle armor and this maid’s outfit were alike.
“Pardon me, young lady,” someone called to her from the shadows. “I saw your performance inside. Marvelous stuff. Your boyfriend doesn’t deserve your enormous talents.”
“Call that child my ‘boyfriend’ again and I’ll behead you where you stand.”
The person emerged from their corner. She was a statuesque woman in a white business suit. Her dark eyes seemed to absorb all the surrounding light. Artoria didn’t trust the woman–feared her, in fact. The woman reached for something in her jacket; Artoria manifested Excalibur in hand and readied to attack.
“I have a proposal, King Artoria,” the woman said. She wielded a single business card. The words “Maid May’s Cleaning Services” shone in silver letters under the white moon. “I’m a…special kind of servant for this Holy Grail War. It so happens that the masters this time around are all like the one you’re paired with.”
“Troglodytes, you mean?”
“Shut-ins and nerds. My maid business is the perfect means of infiltrating their ranks and removing them from the war, one by one.”
“This reeks of dishonor,” Artoria sneered. “And you reek of dark magic.”
“This is a simple choice, King. Stay with that man-child who is shitting his brains out, or follow me.”
The restaurant door swung open. Master, sweating from the Herculean task of evacuating his bowels, smiled at Artoria.
“You ready to go?” he asked before heading down the promenade. He reached into his pants to scratch his buttocks.
Artoria hesitated. In her hand was no longer the great sword, but that business card the woman shared. The woman was gone without a trace, vanished into the umbral night.