Chris stood there and blinked. "Huh?"

"I asked if you wanted to dance." Kazuma remained bent over with hand extended.

"Yes, I heard you, but why would you ask me that?" She nervously looked about and noticed people staring in their direction.

Kazuma stood straight. "What do you mean? We're on a date, aren't we?"

Chris gawked at him. "Kazuma, you don't still want that do you? I mean you and Darkness-"

"Let me clear that up. I told you yesterday that me and Darkness being a couple was an act, remember?" Chris nodded. "Well, the reason I gave her that collar was because Katrina suggested it. Trust me I never would have done it if I knew it was a sign of true love."

"Even so I… wait, true love? Who told you giving a woman a collar was a symbol of true love?"

"Darkness, she even said it was something a man could never take back."

"Is that so?" A very fond smile touched her lips.

Seeing this Kazuma was immediately suspicious. "What? Was she lying?"

"No, no," Chris said immediately. "A collar is definitely a symbol of true love. Which is why even if it wasn't deliberate, it would be inappropriate for me to dance with you."

"You promised me a date. Are you seriously going to break your promise?"

"But I really think-"

"'Cause if you do you can forget about me helping you ever again."

Chris fidgeted. "But that… Kazuma what you're asking…" She again looked around at all the people eyeing them.

He sighed. "You know what? Forget the date. Just have one dance with me, just one. If you do that, I'll call it even."

Chris looked uncertain. "Just one dance?"

"Just one dance." Kazuma again held his hand out.

She hesitated but reached out and accepted it. Hand in hand the two of them walked out onto the dance floor.

XXX

The young noblewomen surrounding Darkness were all staring at her with flushed cheeks and glittering eyes. Among the noble class, marriage was seen as a duty and matches were made based on what would best benefit the family and not on the individual's wants. Many sixteen-year-olds found themselves engaged to men in their thirties or beyond with no say in the decision. Every single available noble lady lived in dread that she might end up wife number six to Alderp. For them, romantic love was an ideal, a dream most of them would never actually experience. They might be allowed to date in their teenage years, but the moment their parents signed an engagement contract they were expected to be faithful to their chosen partner. Ignis was very much a rarity among Belzerg nobility, he wanted his daughter's happiness above all else and would not agree to a betrothal without her consent.

Given such customs and expectations, it made Kazuma's actions all the more shocking. No matter how rich he was or how successful, Kazuma was still only a commoner. The very idea that a mere commoner would stroll into a noble lady's birthday party and present her a gift which essentially said, 'you belong to me' was unbelievably shocking! The young ladies who saw it had their hearts flutter and felt only jealousy towards the gift's recipient. To them, Kazuma was the bad boy who broke all the rules to take what he wanted. And the way Darkness had accepted it and embraced him made it clear she was thrilled. So naturally, all the young ladies who longed for romance and genuine passion had rushed over to Darkness to get the details.

"What sort of man is he?"

"Is he the jealous sort?"

"What's he like?"

"How far have the two of you gone?"

"Have you two done it?"

Darkness was not the typical woman of her class and didn't normally care for gossip or 'girl talk.' This one time though she was rather enjoying the attention and jealous looks from all these girls. She stood straight and gently touched the collar around her neck.

"Kazuma is quite the amazing man. When I first met him, he was an adventurer with a modest reputation. Since then, he has become one of the strongest operating from this city and has become one of the richest men in the country, all through his own efforts. He is incredibly skilled at solving problems and I can always rely on him to know what to do no matter the situation."

"We don't care about that," one of the girls complained. "We all know he's rich. What sort of man is he? What have you two done?"

The implications of those questions were obvious, and all the girls leaned in eager to hear what she had to say.

Darkness coughed into her hand and tried to look stern. "If you expect me to discuss vulgar matters, I must tell you I have no such intention."

They all suddenly looked deflated. They all wanted something juicy that would fire their imaginations. Seeing that made Darkness feel just a bit pleased with herself.

"Well, I suppose I can tell you this, Kazuma has seen my naked body. More than once."

The girls all squealed.

"Really?! So does that mean you two have…"

"As a crusader and daughter of the Dustiness family, I can say no more."

The girls were all sending her jealous looks as their imaginations began to run wild. Darkness stood there, enjoying the fact these women were jealous of her and believed she and Kazuma were doing that.

At least until one of the girls noticed something and pointed towards the dance floor.

"Hey, your boyfriend's dancing with another girl."

Darkness and the others looked, and sure enough, there was Kazuma dancing with Chris. The girls all turned back to stare at her again, though this time with pity in their eyes.

"Wow, he's already cheating on you right after telling everyone you're his!"

"What a scumbag!"

"If you want to cry, we'll understand."

"You should take that collar off and throw it back in his face!"

Her cheeks reddened and she slid past them. "Please excuse me."

XXX

"I had no idea onii-chan was such a scoundrel! Onee-chan was really right to call him that back then." Princess Iris was staring wide-eyed as Kazuma and Chris moved together in rhythm to the music that was playing.

"That vile two-timing rat!" Claire growled. She gripped her sword's hilt tight and began stomping in their direction but Lain grabbed her arm.

"What are you going to do?"

"Slice him into pieces! What else?"

"You can't do that," Lain reminded her. "He hasn't committed a crime or done anything to you or Princess Iris. Whatever you may think you have no right to attack him."

Iris nodded. "I agree."

"Then I'll challenge him to a duel! If that coward will even agree to face me!"

Iris and Lain both stared at her.

"Claire," Iris said looking a bit embarrassed. "If you fight a duel for onee-chan's honor and win, doesn't that mean you want to date her yourself?"

Claire's face went red, and she realized exactly what the implications would be if she did challenge that miserable worm. She couldn't demand an honor duel without proclaiming feelings for the woman whose honor she was defending. Luckily, she spotted someone who wouldn't have that issue.

"Fine, I guess I can't challenge him, but I know who can." Claire hurried off in a different direction.

XXX

Walter was staring aghast as Kazuma and a silver-haired girl were twirling about the dance floor.

"How shameful!"

"Disgusting!"

"That man has no decency at all!"

"Doing it right here in public, at her very own party!"

The people around him were all muttering about what they were seeing. As shocking as Kazuma's putting a collar around Dustiness-san's neck had been. Seeing him dancing with a different girl was very nearly as bad. How could any man possibly do that right in front of Lady Dustiness after she'd accepted him? It was an insult not just to her but to her family!

When he glanced over, he was surprised to see a look of confusion on the face of Ignis, though he couldn't spot any anger.

Walter's instinct was to immediately jump in and defend her honor from this outrage. He was sure he'd feel that way even without all the alcohol in his system. What held him back was the thought that it wasn't his place. He clearly remembered the reaction to his gift and doubted Dustiness-san would be happy if he were the one to intervene. Surely someone else would be a better-

"Walter! What are you doing?"

A harsh voice snapped him out of his thoughts. A furious Claire was standing in front of him.

"Claire-san? What are you doing?"

"That's what I am asking you! Don't you see that arrogant man fooling around with another woman? How can you stand there and do nothing about it?"

"B… But it's not really my place."

"Not your place?!" Claire demanded. "I thought you cared about her! She's being made a fool! Are you really going to stand there and watch just because she didn't like your gift? Nothing moves a woman's heart more than a man who is willing to fight for her!"

Her words hit hard. He could imagine the look of gratitude and tears welling in her eyes if he did rescue her.

"More importantly, look around you! If you don't act someone else will. Are you going to throw away this chance?"

Through wine-hazed eyes, Walter looked around the room. Sure enough, there were at least a dozen young men with excited expressions on their faces. He was sure every one of them was imagining a grateful Dustiness thanking them for their gallantry. The thought of yet another man swooping in and stealing her affections did it. He steeled himself, squared his shoulders, and marched forward.

"Thank you, Claire-san."

She nodded her approval and stood back to watch.

XXX

The music came to a stop and their single dance was over much too soon.

Kazuma let out a regretful sigh. "Did I not dance well?"

"No, no, you're actually quite agile and moved smoothly."

"Heh must be from all my work as an adventurer. I was worried since you didn't seem to enjoy it."

Chris glanced nervously at all the people studying them. "Uh, Kazuma? Have you not noticed the way people are staring at us?"

"Not really, people have been eyeing me since I gave Darkness that stupid collar. I'm seriously going to have a long talk with Katrina the next time I see her."

"Please don't blame her for the misunderstanding. Bunnyfolk have their own customs and traditions that are very different from human norms. By the way, never give a bunnygirl a freshly killed cabbage. There would be consequences."

"Really, like what?"

Chris was about to explain when there was a stir. The nearby crowd parted, and Walter stepped forward, he strode past her and up to Kazuma. Without preamble, he drew his hand back and slapped Kazuma across the face with a loud clear 'crack.' It was hard enough to make Kazuma stumble back a couple of steps.

"Satou Kazuma!" Walter cried out in a voice that rang through the hall. "Your actions are an offense to the honor of Lady Dustiness! I Sir Alexei Barnes Walter formally challenge you to a duel!"

Kazuma glared at him. "What the hell, man? I don't even know you!"

"I am a knight and the son of the city Lord Alexei Barnes Alderp. More importantly, I am a man who cares deeply for the Lady Dustiness. I consider her as a shining jewel of feminine decorum and virtue."

"Huh? Have you even met her?"

This earned him a glare from Walter.

"Wait! There is no need to fight!" Darkness hurriedly stepped in. "Chris is a dear friend of mine. I gave Kazuma my permission to dance with her, so there's no issue here."

A murmur ran through the crowd. Walter frowned and appeared disappointed.

"I… I see, well in that case-"

"There is still an issue!" Claire hurried up to them. "Even if you gave him permission he still danced with another woman after making that huge scene with you earlier. However you look at it, it was disrespectful." She turned to glare straight at Kazuma. "A real man would be happy to fight in order to make up for his mistake!"

Kazuma rolled his eyes. "Listen, White Suit. I happen to be a firm believer in gender equality, and I've seen Darkness go toe to toe with ogres. She doesn't need me to defend her."

"So, you won't fight for her?" Claire scowled. "You're a coward!"

He shrugged. "Think what you want."

Walter's face turned a deep red. "Dustiness accepted your gift, and you won't defend her honor? Just what sort of man are you?"

"The sort who doesn't get into pointless fights."

"You are not deserving of her!"

"I honestly don't think anyone is."

"Accept my challenge! We can both swear that whoever loses can never court Dustiness-san ever again!"

"Okay like I said, I… wait, what now?"

"We can both swear an oath that whoever is defeated can never again date her or be with her romantically!"

Darkness's eyes went wide. "Kazuma! Do not agree to that!"

Kazuma had a grin. "All right, in that case, I'll accept."

Darkness turned to him and looked absolutely crushed.

XXX

It was decided to have the duel out in the garden where there was plenty of room. Neither Kazuma nor Walter had come to the party armed, but as there was a table literally covered in weapons that wasn't an issue. Walter selected a broadsword while Kazuma picked up a short sword. Neither man used a shield or wore any armor.

Every single person had gathered outside to bear witness and just about all of them looked excited. The sole exception was Darkness who was glum and lifeless. She kept sending a heartbroken stare at Kazuma who tried his best to pretend not to notice it.

As the duel was taking place in his home and involved his daughter, Ignis was acting as referee and judge.

"This duel," Ignis declared. "Will continue until one of the participants is incapacitated, yields, or dies. Before gods and men will both of you swear that whichever of you is defeated you will never again attempt to court my daughter in any way or under any circumstance?"

"I swear it," Walter said. He was standing just the slightest bit unsteadily but already had his sword ready in both hands.

"Sure thing." Kazuma was standing there with hands resting on hips and weapon still in its sheath.

The onlookers all thought he was being incredibly arrogant against a man who was a well-respected knight. One would almost think he had no intention of fighting at all.

"Very well," Ignis raised his hand to start the duel.

"Wait a moment!" Lord Alderp suddenly shouted.

Ignis looked at him in surprise. "Is something wrong?"

"This seems like a rare opportunity to settle things, don't you think?" Alderp had a greasy smile and was stroking his mustache.

"What are you talking about?"

"Why don't we let this decide your daughter's engagement?"

"What?" Ignis said in utter confusion.

"She is eighteen today and still without a marriage contract. Why don't we fix that here and now? These two are ready to fight for her, why not grant the winner a formal engagement?"

Ignis sent his fellow lord a frosty gaze. "My daughter is not the prize at a joust. I would never-"

"I agree!" Darkness suddenly shouted.

Everyone, even Alderp and Ignis, looked at her in shock. Princess Iris was practically floating off the ground.

Ignis turned to his daughter uncertain of what to say. "My dear, are you sure about this? If I consent there will be no going back."

"I am sure, father." She put her head back and boomed out in a voice loud enough to crack mirrors. "I will marry whoever wins this duel, I swear it in the name of Eris!"

The goddess Eris definitely heard that.

Kazuma gaped at her with an open mouth. He knew she tended to make a lot of crazy statements, but he also knew she was a crusader of the Eris church. She would absolutely NOT break an oath sworn in her goddesses' name.

Darkness caught his gaze and stared right back. She moved her mouth speaking three words in silence, a message just for him. 'Make your choice.'

Kazuma swallowed. Aw damn it, I know I'm going to regret this.

He looked at the ground and spotted a large stone that weighed at least five pounds. He picked it up and held it in his right hand.

Alderp, Walter, and Claire all looked confident. Most of the crowd was also certain that Sir Walter would triumph and were already looking forward to an extravagant Junlo wedding. Ignis gave his daughter a final glance, but there wasn't anything to say. With no alternative, he lifted his hand above his head.

"Are you ready?"

"Ready!" Walter called out.

"Yeah, let's get this over with," Kazuma said.

Ignis dropped his hand. "Begin!"

Walter braced his feet to charge straight at Kazuma and end it with a single blow. But before he could take a step…

"SNIPE!"

The rock flew from Kazuma's hand with all the strength he could muster. It was a perfect throw that nailed Walter squared in the middle of his head.

But not the one between his shoulders.

Walter let out a high-pitched scream that should only have been possible by a female soprano and toppled over to begin writhing on the ground. Every single man there, even Kazuma, groaned and pressed their knees together.

After a moment Ignis regained enough composure to declare. "Alexei Walter is incapacitated and can no longer continue the duel. The winner is Satou Kazuma."

The proclamation was met by a stunned silence until a single female voice rang out.

"Kazuma," Darkness said with a satisfied smile. "Can we have a dungeon-themed wedding?"

Kazuma fainted.

XXX

And that was how Darkness and Kazuma got engaged to be married.