Sifonia Claire, eldest daughter of House Sifonia, level seventy-seven Knight, and personal bodyguard of the too adorable Princess Iris, could do nothing but stand there and watch. Her left eye twitched and her fingers opened and closed without conscious thought. More than anything she longed to step in and put an end to this travesty, but her charge, the Stylish Sword of Belzerg, had commanded her not to interfere. And no matter how it pained her heart Claire would do her duty and obey the orders of her mistress.

Even if she knew it was wrong.

With a triumphant smile on her lips, Princess Iris raised her hand and brought it down to deliver the final blow.

"My blue eyes white dragon breathes lightning for seventy-five points of damage!" Iris declared proudly as she slapped the card down.

Lane gave a rueful shake of her head and turned a card facedown. "You've defeated my doppelganger chief and used up my remaining life points."

Iris let out an adorable smile. "That's three wins in a row!"

"You're becoming quite good at this game."

The princess sighed and had a far-off look in her eyes. "Do you think I could beat onii-chan?"

"Yes, I'm sure you could."

"I don't know. Onii-chan is really amazing! When we played, he beat me so easily even though I had a stronger deck!"

"Well, he invented the game so it only stands to reason he would be the best at playing it. Even so, he's not unbeatable. Remember, Dustiness beat him."

"Only once."

Lane shrugged. "She still won, which proves the point. You're a far better player now than you were when you played him before. I'm sure you would give him a much better challenge now."

"Do you think he'll be attending nee-chan's birthday celebration?"

"Of course! How could he not?"

That produced a happy laugh. "Then I'll definitely challenge him to play me. I want to show onii-chan how much I've grown as a player. And maybe I can hear more of his stories!"

As Claire stood there witnessing this, she couldn't keep the scowl from her face. She also noticed that her hand was gripping her sword hilt so tight her knuckles were starting to ache. With a deliberate effort Claire pulled her hand back and forced a smile onto her face. Though she already knew it was pointless she approached the table.

"Iris-sama, would it really be appropriate to be seen playing this… game in public? It might damage your dignity as the kingdom's princess."

"Why would it?" Iris asked. "Lots of people play it, including onii-chan and nee-chan."

"Princess Iris is also the game's and Kazuma's patron," Lane piled on with a knowing smirk. "Wouldn't it just be seen as her supporting her artist?"

Claire struggled to keep her face steady and her tone calm. She knew Iris-sama wouldn't listen to her but couldn't keep from at least trying to get her to see reason.

"Calling that man an artist is a bit much, don't you think? He's just a money-grubbing merchant out to rake in as much eris as he can. The shops selling his goods have lines going out the door with parents whose sons are crying for new cards and daughters are begging for dolls. Even the gambling dens have grown men playing the game instead of poker. Everywhere you look can see his products!"

"But isn't that a good thing?" Iris asked looking and sounding a bit confused. "As his patron shouldn't I want people to love and enjoy the things he's made as much as I do?"

"The point is that man is not an artist but a common salesman just looking out for himself. Patronage is a noble and esteemed practice meant to allow genuine artists to practice their craft and so bring beauty and culture into the world. It shouldn't be used by a man like him to take advantage of Iris-sama's kindness."

"I don't see the problem though, Claire-san. The cards and dolls he creates make people happy. Why would that be a bad thing?"

"Iris-sama that man is using your name and image to make himself rich!"

Claire's eyes shot to a whole line of bookshelves on the opposite side of the room. On them were not books, but an endless collection of dolls and figures with the same face. Princess Iris Dragonslayer, Princess Iris Holy Saintess, Princess Iris Homemaker, Princess Iris Farmer, Princess Iris Ranger, Princess Iris Bridal (this one was Claire's personal favorite and she owned six but would never ever admit to it. No matter how kawaii it was.)

"He is shamelessly profiting from your name and image, my princess!"

Iris shrugged. "I told him he could. I love all of them and think they're very cute."

"Well... they are cute," a slight blush tinged Claire's cheeks. "They look like you after all. How could they not be? But that's not the issue."

"What is the issue?" Iris asked.

"The fact he is damaging the royal dignity for his own personal profit!"

Iris shrugged. "I don't mind."

Claire opened her mouth to explain why she should when Lane cut her off.

"Oh, by the way, Kazuma just sent us the new Princess Iris Dream Castle. It's made in pink and has a working draw bridge."

"Oh, I want to see it!"

The two of them eagerly left to play with the latest creation from that man as Claire was left standing there.


Having failed yet again to convince Iris-sama to abandon that man Claire had left the castle to do a little shopping and try to soothe her frayed nerves and quell the raging spirit that dwelt within her. The cause for all this distress could be summed up in just two words:

Satou Kazuma.

The man was nothing more or less than a common merchant who also had the hobby of being an Adventurer. Adventurer was the lowest and weakest class allowed to join an adventurer's guild. It was set aside for all those too inept or clumsy to qualify for a real class like knight, swordmaster, or mage. Normally, anyone with that class would be looked down upon and dismissed. Yet, somehow, he'd managed to worm his way into Dustiness-san's affection. And even worse, Iris-sama's! Dustiness herself had called him a scoundrel and Claire had no doubts that was being kind. But for some unfathomable reason, Dustiness-san not only tolerated him but was in an actual relationship with the man! That man had to have corrupted and manipulated her as there was absolutely no way someone of Lalatina Dustiness's noble birth and upbringing could possibly be interested in someone so far beneath her.

Claire recalled talk of cat ears and bowls of milk and a shudder of disgust ran through her. That absolutely had to be a result of that man's foul influence. There was just no other explanation.

And as bad as his being a mere Adventurer was, his talent as a merchant made him a hundred times more dangerous. Two years ago, no one had even heard of Kazuma Satou. Now he was one of the richest men in Belzerg and probably the continent. People all associated him and his business with the princess, which gave him unwarranted and undeserved fame. He'd hooked his claws into Iris-sama and was shamelessly using her sterling reputation to amass a fortune. He was obviously the sort of charming rogue whose smile and quick wits would empty out the purses of everyone he met. The kingdom's dungeons were filled with men of his ilk.

Yet, by some bizarre twist of fate not only had that man escaped justice he was prospering like few others ever had.

For the life of her Claire just couldn't understand why. From the moment she'd met that little weasel, she'd seen him for exactly what he was. But Dustiness-san, Iris-sama, and way too many others were taken in by his strange charm. And despite her best efforts, she couldn't get Iris-sama to see the truth. To call this situation frustrating was like calling the Axis cult slightly annoying.

And he'll definitely be at her birthday tomorrow," Claire muttered.

Claire imagined challenging that man to a duel and 'accidentally' skewering him.

"Tsk, it would never work. Dustiness-san would probably get in the way, and Iris-sama would never forgive me." The thought of her beloved princess hating her was more than Claire's heart could bear. So as much as she wanted to get rid of Kazuma she couldn't think of a method that would work. Frustrated as she was Claire would just shop and try and buy off her emotional turmoil. The knowledge she would have to see the man and smarmy smile tomorrow didn't help.

Walking past the shops of Gold street she spotted a familiar figure in one of the jewelry stores. She entered to find a tall, handsome man peering down at a piece of jewelry on the counter.

"Greetings, Walter-san."

The startled knight turned and gave her a polite bow. "Oh, how nice to see you again, Claire-san."

"I haven't seen you since the princess' birthday party. Have you been well?"

"Yes, just fine, and yourself?"

"I have no complaints." Other than a certain slimy merchant. She strolled up to the counter and glanced at what was sitting there. Seeing it, Claire couldn't help but smile. "Is this the birthday present you'll be bringing tomorrow?"

Walter's cheeks blushed and his eyes were suddenly investigating the floor. "Yes, it is. Uh… do you think it's a bit much?"

It was a necklace with a gold chain and a centerpiece made of diamonds and sapphires in the shape of a unicorn,

"It's exquisite," Claire said honestly. "Any woman would be thrilled to receive such a gift."

His eyes continued to avoid hers. "I know it's not a sword, but… well… a unicorn is a symbol of purity and virtue. Though I've only met her once, I can't help but feel it suits her."

Claire had a very different image in her mind one that involved cat ears, a bowl of milk, and a certain vile man watching on and drooling.

"I agree," Claire lied. "Nothing would fit her better. I think she'll like it more than any magical weapon."

He finally looked up and sighed. "I know it's inappropriate. Especially given she is in a relationship."

"Relationship is a very deceptive word. I have a relationship with the princess. I also have one with my tailor. I can assure you they are considerably different."

"Well, yes but-"

"Dustiness-san is not betrothed to Kazuma, and I sincerely doubt she ever will be. After all, he is a commoner no matter how rich. Why would Ignis-san ever agree to let such a weed into his garden?"

Walter frowned. "If he objected to the match, why would he allow them to date?"

"Who knows? Perhaps he is just spoiling her. Dating is very different from betrothal or marriage. The important thing to keep in mind is that Dustiness-san is still a maiden without a marriage partner. Only Eris knows who she will marry."

Walter paused and thought about it. "I suppose that's true."

Claire offered him a genuine smile. "I'm sure she will love your gift and you will shine more brightly in her eyes." A whole lot brighter than a certain someone.


"You look very lovely," Ignis Ford Dustiness said.

"Ugh," his daughter stood there and resisted the urge to tear her clothes off.

She was currently in a pink and lavender dress that included a wide-brimmed hat with a floral decoration atop it.

"Father, could I-"

"No, Lalatina you can't wear armor tomorrow."

"Ugh," her head dropped.

He came over and gave her shoulder a gentle pat. "You only turn eighteen once, and it will only be for a few hours."

"I understand," she sighed.

He stood there and stared at his daughter for a long moment.

"Wh… what is it?"

"Kazuma will be joining us tomorrow, correct?"

Darkness gulped and nodded. "Th… that's right. Y… you won't make an issue of it, will you father?"

"No, of course not, but don't you think it's about time I got to know my potential future son-in-law?"

"Ah… well… I suppose?"

"You'll be eighteen. Many noble girls are already wives and mothers by that age."

"Father there's no need to rush! I am still young! I'm not turning twenty-five."

"Of course," he said with a kindly smile. "It's just it would be nice to play with a grandchild. Or two."

"It… it's much too soon to be thinking about that! I am a Crusader and adventurer!"

"You'll be eighteen, Lalatina. It's definitely not too soon to at least be thinking about those things."

Her cheeks turned red, and she began to fidget. "Father, please don't talk about such matters with Kazuma tomorrow."

He smiled at her but didn't offer a reply.


Kazuma and Megumin were at the guild hall having some ale and talking.

"You ready for the party tomorrow?" Kazuma asked Megumin.

"Sure! I never turn down free food and drink!"

Kazuma rolled his eyes at her. "You know you make good money these days. Could you stop acting like you're on the verge of starvation?"

The little pyromaniac shrugged. "Sorry, it's a habit. Growing up there were a lot of times I had no idea where my next meal was coming from."

"Uh huh, you know it's also expected to bring a gift when you go to someone's birthday."

"I am way ahead of you." From one of the hidden pockets in her robe, she pulled out a dagger. "I already got her present right here."

Kazuma decided to use his Identify skill.

Iron dagger (common) – 2,000

"That's just a regular old dagger."

"It's the thought that counts!"

"Said every cheapskate who ever lived."

Megumin hmphed and shoved it back into its hiding place. "It's still a weapon so it's fine."

"What is it with giving girls weapons on their birthdays? I mean are dolls and dresses not okay?"

"It's customary to give warriors weapons or shields. Since Darkness is a Crusader, it's expected."

"Huh? Really? Well, I guess that actually makes a little sense. Come to think of it Iris-chan is a swordmaster."

"Let me guess, you didn't get her a weapon, did you?"

"Nope, a friend of mine actually gave me a good idea when I asked her about it."

"Her?" Megumin perked up. "Who'd you ask? I mean let's face it, you don't know a whole lot of girls."

"Gee, thanks for the reminder."

"So, who was it? Wiz?"





"Hell no! Like I'd ask the goddess of misfortune and poverty advice on anything."

"Then who was it?"

He was about to answer when his eyes went wide. "Chris!"

"Chris? Really? Well, she's got a good sense of style, so I guess that makes sense."

"No," Kazuma pointed to the door. "I mean Chris is back."

Megumin turned to look and sure enough, a cute silver-haired girl with a scar on her cheek had just entered. Kazuma stood and waved to her. She spotted him and waved back before heading to their table.