The Masters file into the high-vaulted chamber with its ceiling of clear, faceted crystal. The rainbow light cast by the sun finds its echo in their robes, fine silks in all the shades of their titles, sky-blue, steel-grey, rose-red, blood-red. The thrones upon which they seat themselves are carved from impossibly large blocks of the stones for which they are named. Kings covet thrones as fine as these, but anyone who thinks to conquer this place and take them as a prize will soon have a thousand reasons to regret his error.
I’ve long since lost track of which story has taken me the longest to write, but this one is definitely a contender.
Ages ago I got the impulse to write a short story based on the folksong “The Unquiet Grave.” If I’d written it at the time, I probably would have just followed the arc of the song pretty closely; the story wouldn’t have been brilliant, but with some persistence I probably would have been able to find a market willing to take it.
But I didn’t write it at the time. And a few years went by, and I realized that just retelling the song directly wasn’t that interesting, so I gave up on the story idea.
Or tried to.
For whatever reason, my brain wouldn’t let go. Nearly every time the song came up in iTunes, I found myself thinking, I still want to make a story out of this. Even though I didn’t have any clever idea for how to do that. Until one day I was listening to a completely different song — variously called “Flora” or “The Lily of the West” — and found myself viewing its lyrics in a particular light (one I won’t share here, because it would be a spoiler for this story). And then I realized that if I mashed those two things together, I finally would have an angle on “The Unquiet Grave” that would be more interesting than simply retelling the plot of that song.
The result is “Vīs Dēlendī,” and it appeared in issue #27 of Uncanny Magazine, in both print and audio version. It was also reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2020 Edition, edited by Rich Horton — my first Year’s Best reprint! —
“It’s a story that captures the feeling of academia while infusing it with a magic, a darkness, and a view of someone who is probably very familiar to readers. It’s almost funny at times, but also depressing as fuck, and it manages that balance quite well.”
My favorite [of the issue] is “Vis Delendi“, a lovely rather dark tale of a magical school […] the story comes to a fully believable and somewhat wry conclusion.