Here’s another deleted scene for you. I was browsing through some old screenshots tonight, and I found a random set that I’d done of a magical duelling arena that I’d built, complete with Valois and a rival witch going up against each other. Unusually for a deleted scene, this one does have illustrations, but I’m going to send you to two old posts on Tumblr for them, since it’s late and I want to get this posted before I fall into bed. So click here for the main set of images, and click here for a second set of outtakes as well as some daytime images that show the build more clearly. (I may recreate this as a cc-free build soon.)
This can be taken as canon for the story.
The evening was quiet and Gunther was comfortably into his second snifter of brandy, curled up as he was next to Valois and listening to something classical and operatic drifting from the stereo. He had no idea what the music was, but it was doing a fine job of relaxing him, and he nestled closer, feeling Valois’s fingertips gently stroking the side of his neck.
During a lull in the music, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something glowing. Curiously, he turned his head.
“I see it too,” Valois murmured. He raised one hand and made a small beckoning motion with his fingers. His crystal ball rose from its stand halfway across the room and floated across to hover in front of him.
Gunther had seen more than enough magic in his time with Valois, but it never ceased to surprise him when his lover did something that seemed impossible. Like making a solid crystal globe seem effortlessly weightless.
The ball was glowing softly, a dark mist swirling at its very centre. Gunther looked up at Valois, who simply raised an eyebrow and chuckled as he gazed into it.
“Oh dear. Another one,” Valois said. “Very well.”
He ghosted his fingertips across the glass, and a shimmer of red mist appeared where they touched it, moving into the centre of the ball, where the dark mist swirled. After a moment, that dark mist vanished. Slowly, the crystal ball drifted back across the room and sank into its stand.
“I’m guessing that’s something like the Witch Postal Service?” Gunther said with a grin.
“Very close to it.” Valois kissed him. “I have been challenged to a duel.”
The brandy glass almost slipped from Gunther’s fingers as his smile faded and his stomach dropped. “What?”
A Gallic shrug of one shoulder was the response. “It happens every few decades,” Valois said. “Some young witch gets the notion that, because I’m so ancient, I must be getting slow. They deem it a challenge to try and best me in the arena, and they are usually cocky enough to think that they can best me.”
“Has anyone ever bested you?” Gunther asked, in a smaller voice than he would have liked.
Valois just looked at him; the kind of look that—from anyone less old-fashioned—would have denoted a silent ‘bitch, please‘.
Gunther managed a weak smile, but he didn’t feel any better for that reassurance. “Did you accept the challenge?”
“Of course. To refuse would be regarded as a sign of weakness.” Valois kissed him again. “Mon cœur, duels between witches are not at all uncommon. They happen all the time. We are a somewhat… competitive race.”
“Oh.” Gunther stared down into his drink. “So… when’s the duel taking place? And where? In the Veil, I guess?”
“Yes, in the Veil, and my opponent is waiting by the arena at this very moment.”
“Now?!” Gunther’s heart leapt.
“Of course now. When else? What would be the point of issuing a challenge for next week?” Valois smiled at him, caressing his cheek. “My darling boy, fear is bleeding from you. Do not worry. I have never lost, and I do not intend to start now.”
Gunther swallowed and nodded, comforted somewhat by that touch, but still nervous. “What will the weapons be?” he asked.
“I do not know. The whole point of a duel between witches is the skill of swift reaction to an unknown attack, being able to summon a negating force to counteract whatever spell is cast by one’s opponent. Also, being able to summon a powerful enough negating force, and this is where my opponents always lose. They can throw their most powerful spells at me, and it is but the wave of a hand for me to cast them aside. And then, when it is my turn…”
Gunther knocked back the rest of his brandy. “I’m coming with you,” he said, decidedly.
“Of course you may, but do not distract me, all right? Be aware that my opponent could throw anything at me, from ice to fire to wind to pure magic. You must quell any fear that you feel for me, and be confident that I can match it, for I can match it. Fear will distract me, so this will be a test of emotional control for you. Are you sure that you can manage that, my darling one?”
Gunther nodded. “I’m sure.”
“Very well. There are no seats by the arena, high in the mountains of the Veil as it is, so stand well back when we arrive. My opponent should not begin their attack until we are both in the arena proper, but I have had a few try to catch me unawares down the years. In fact…”
He stood, pulling Gunther up with him. “Stand still for a moment,” he murmured, taking a step back.
A few murmured words, a few twists of his hands, and he moved closer again. Gunther wondered what the hell he’d just done.
“I have woven a shielding spell around you.” Valois took his hand. “It is invisible, but on the offchance that dirty tricks will be played as soon as we arrive, I will take no chances. Now, are you ready?”
Gunther took a steadying breath. “I’m ready.”
Thankfully, there was no instant attack as soon as they arrived in the Veil. Valois kissed Gunther, then left him standing where they had arrived as he walked toward the arena. Gunther hadn’t known what to expect, but he had to admit that it was spectacular. Two platforms faced each other, towering into the air in a central clearing that was surrounded by vertiginous rock walls. There was perhaps eight feet of space between the platform edges, and a stone arch framed each end. Short pillars surmounted by different types of magical wand lined the sides of the platforms, and waiting at the apex of one platform was Valois’s opponent.
To Gunther’s surprise, she was a young woman. Clad in a black dress with long white hair combed back from her face, she stared imperiously down at Valois as he walked to his platform. Gunther saw her cast a brief glance across at him, then she turned back to face Valois, who was now walking across his platform to stand facing her beneath the arch.
Slowly, Valois bent in a courtly bow to the woman, and she bobbed a brief curtsey in return. Then both of them took a bracing stance, and Gunther saw Valois gesture faintly toward the woman.
She smirked, rolling her hands around an invisible ball of magic, and then—faster than Gunther could even blink—she thrust her hands forward, sending a wide swathe of fire across the abyss between the platforms. It moved so quickly that Gunther’s heart leapt, regardless of his promise to remain calm. But, barely had it crossed half that short distance, than a wall of ice crystals appeared in front of Valois’s outstretched fingers. The fire slammed into the crystals, dying immediately.
The woman’s jaw dropped a little, then clenched tightly. Again, she rolled her magic and thrust out an even bigger blaze of fire. Again, Valois countered it effortlessly, the flames spitting as they died against the ice crystals.
“Another?” Gunther heard Valois call. “Or are you prepared for my counter?”
The woman nodded grimly. “I am prepared.”
I doubt that, Gunther thought, watching as she braced herself. For once, Valois seemed to take a great deal more care than usual with his position, placing one foot behind himself and raising one hand before him as his other hand slowly drew back.
The woman’s face slowly drained of all colour and she readied herself, clearly realising she’d seriously underestimated her opponent. And, as Valois’s drawn-back hand punched forward to meet his outstretched one, a shockingly huge wall of flame burst out from his palms, engulfing the opposite platform and the woman standing on it.
Oh god, she’s dead! was Gunther’s immediate thought, but as the flames died he felt Valois’s reassurance—quiet and calm—in his mind. And then, Valois did something else Gunther had never realised he could do. He took one step back and then leapt across the gap between the two platforms. It wasn’t humanly possible to jump a distance like that from a standing start, but Valois did it, like some kind of slow-motion parkour artist. Gunther’s jaw fell open as Valois landed gently beside the woman’s prone form.
Standing over her, Valois spread out his hands, and Gunther could hear him lowly chanting. The woman’s body rose into the air, limp and yet somehow not burned by the flames that had engulfed her. A red glow surrounded her for a few moments, before her body sank back down to the stone platform and Valois once again made that impossible leap back to his own platform.
After a minute or two, the woman moved, slowly getting onto her hands and knees and shaking her head to clear it. A minute more and she was on her feet, glaring at Valois. Then, as Gunther blinked in surprise, she yelled a stream of unintelligible… well, something at Valois. Gunther knew it had to be the witch dialect, and for all her rage it was probably a bunch of obscenities, but after a humiliation like the one she had just suffered he supposed that was understandable.
The woman stomped off down the steps and out of the arena as Valois watched, his arms folded and an amused smile curving his lips. Then, as one final parting move—which Gunther felt had to be calculated to blow his mind—Valois took that step back again… and somersaulted across from the arena, his body arcing through the air to land lightly on his feet at Gunther’s side.
It took Gunther almost a full minute to stop gawping, but when he did—on seeing the pleased smirk on Valois’s face—he just shoved at his lover’s arm and snorted, “You fucking show-off!”