Insensate Invaders


Photo copy Ганпүрэв Цэдэнбатаев via Google Maps Photosphere

You’d be proud of Tna. She sensed them far off, giving us two days’ notice. It wasn’t enough. We hid the goats in the tents, scoured any signs. Jaqn cast the wheel and the rest of us sat the spokes.

The grey-skins rode beasts like hornless antelopes, but twice the size. Their herd covered the hills like ants. At first they were fooled. Half had already passed us. Then one saw through, and they rounded toward us, hooves pounding.

They speared Tna first. Our circle broke.

I don’t know why they spared me, why they chose me to take.

They let me bury the brood, heedless of my rituals. Fools. I tied half my sash to a stone, kept the remainder. Use it to locate me, spirit-mother. When the others are ready, wake them. Bring them.

The grey-skins may be strong in body, but we shall slice vengeance through their souls.

Word count: 150. Written for this week’s What Pegman Saw challenge. Big thanks to Karen and Josh for hosting this wonderful writing prompt! This week Pegman takes us to Mongolia, which inspired my story in more ways than one. Click the link to see what  images the other participants found that inspired them, and feel free to join in and post your own story — everyone is welcome!

If you look closely, there is a blue scarf or sash tied around a tall stone in the left side of the photo.

World building notes: One of the ways that this part of Eneana (that is, the continent where most of the stories I’ve posted so far have taken place) differs from the standard Medieval tropes is that horses are not native to the area. No horses = no cavalry, no knights. Horses were introduced pretty late in the timeline, when the magruks invaded from the north, in the long War of the Tandonni that eventually led to the downfall of the Pyanni Empire. But before the magruks got down to Pyann, they raided the vast northern plains, home to many disparate city-states and tribes fending for themselves since the collapse of the Azza’at Empire a few centuries earlier. As hinted at in this story, the magruks had better luck conquering some of those tribes than others.


35 thoughts on “Insensate Invaders

  1. So much to this story! The tension ratchets wonderfully from the first line, all the way up to when the invaders leave the narrator to bury the dead–and then things turn even more interesting. Loved your world building as always. I found it especially interesting in that it worked as fantasy, but I could also read it as a horseless tribe being overtaken by a Mongol horde.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Karen! I feel like I packed in more than I normally am able to, so I’m glad that came across. I hadn’t thought of the magruks as resembling the Mongols before, but yes, the setting certainly inspired that interpretation.


  2. I agree with Karen – you’ve taken an interesting story of magic and conquest and turned it on its head, given it the most fascinating spin towards the end. I love that your protagonist is already planning thier revenge even as they are taken off into potential slavery. It works so well, that turn from victim to possible victor. World building, as always, exceptional. Great story Joy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words, Lynn, I really appreciate it. I had fun building the various layers of this story, especially since it’s all based on elements that already existed (that is, no need to make up things from scratch, as we were discussing earlier). I’ve already established the presence of ghosts and how they’re created through curses, so it was a short shot to posit that a magic user could incorporate something into the burial/death rituals to ensure that the murdered people come back as ghosts to avenge themselves. And I’d already established that finding spells work better / are stronger if you have something that connects you to what you’re seeking, so cutting the scarf in half and using one half to help find the person whose scarf it is (and who’s holding the other half) makes perfect sense. I stretched the idea of the witcher wheel that I use in a WIP story to include multiple people, but again, that tradition is already established. Whee, this world building thing is so fun!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Lynn! Technically, leaving the token behind would help anyone to find her, living or dead (probably works better for the living, come to think of it), but I like your idea that it’s specifically linking her to the dead in this case.


  3. What I love about your writing and world building is the assurance with which you tell us unknown and alien things. For example, “Jaqn cast the wheel and the rest of us sat the spokes.” We don’t know the nature of the wheel, or how it’s used, but you say ‘cast the wheel’ and ‘sat the spokes’. The verbs ‘cast’ and ‘sat’ are so precise that we conclude that these are normal and well-understood matters. Wonderful skill, Joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback, Penny! Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do, so it’s so reassuring to hear that it works from the reader side. I recently ran across a term for this style of exposition: “name it and drop it.” The idea is that your characters wouldn’t think about the explanation for these things because they are totally normal to them, so you convey that normalcy by not explaining the details in the narrative text, while simultaneously giving your readers hints so that they want to keep reading to learn more. And then later you can give more details as they naturally emerge from the action of the scene. It’s just that we never get to “later” in only 150 words!


      • I’m glad the feedback was helpful. I think the reason name it and drop it works so well when you do it is because of the absolute precision of the language – prepared, built, constructed, made, wove, wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. Cast, with its connotations of casting as a fabricating process and as a means of making a magic spell is spot on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Doing these flash fiction challenges have made me work so much harder at precise word choice, and I’d like to think I’m getting better at it. Now, is it translating to my longer-form fiction? Ugh, not always. Still working on that.

        Liked by 1 person

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