SOLDIER—Free Book!

White Mesa Chronicles Book 1:

Fledgling militia officer Tommy Thaxton is used to scavenge missions in the ruined city. He’s not used to being in charge of his team of young men…but he can handle it. They all can handle it. It’s just a simple scavenge mission.

Until things go horribly wrong, and Tommy’s team finds themselves facing a full-scale gang attack – something their superiors never anticipated.

Now, getting home on schedule is the least of Tommy’s worries. Getting the entire team home alive is much more important.


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5 Stages of Singleness

5 Stages of Singleness — Kimia Wood — single Christian

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

So. You’re Christian. You’re single.

There’s ups and downs that go with that territory, and if you’re like me, you might find yourself going through these five “stages” of singleness (probably bouncing between them with the shifts of the wind!):

Denial

Marriage? Bah! Marriage forces you to get along with a radically different person for the rest of your life, mirroring the love of Christ for His church in your self-sacrificial service to one another.

Who needs that work?

This is the mood where you think spouses aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Every story on the planet includes a romantic subplot (if it’s not a straight-up romance story), every song on the radio (no matter what station) is talking about pairing up, and every person you know is “involved,” about to be “involved,” or trying to be “involved”…but that doesn’t mean you should take it seriously.

In fact, when you consider all the problems that come with fitting another person’s dreams, needs, and personality into your life, what’s the point? No arguing about “my checkbook, your checkbook” when there’s only one of you.

As for sex, it sounds kinda…messy. And it can’t possibly live up to the hype, no matter what they tell you. Why worry about it? If Jesus died a virgin, so can I!

After all, Paul said:

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.

…But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. (1 Cor. 7: 7-8, 28)

See? Worldly troubles. Let’s hear it for the stoics and ascetics! Totes easier to serve God without “entanglements.”

As for kids, they’re super expensive, whiny, selfish, and eat up large chunks of your life with their needs. It’s way easier to focus on your job, hobbies, and the ministries God has called you to without those buggers chewing on your ankles.

And it’s not like you need kids to support you in your old age…that’s what the government’s for! (Ah, I crack me up. Realistically, the church should be in that business.)

Anger

I can’t believe I’m still single.

There’s got to be something wrong with the universe.

More common, perhaps, than “Denial” is “Anger.”

WHY IS EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE WORLD PAIRED UP?

And I mean everybody!

All your friends are either married or “involved” – all of them. The bubbly one, the sweet one – even the shy one, the angsty one, and the weird one.

Rail at the heavens…weep into your pillow…gnash your teeth at all the pictures on Facebook of their babies and demand to know what makes you different.

Why are you still lonely?!

(Tell me you’re the same as me!)

Christian coping

The “Christian” response to this stage is the response to any anger:

Verses about how God knows best, how He gets to do whatever He wants, how “I know the plans I have for you” –

Yeah! Plans to dump me in exile in Baby-less-lon for seventy years until I’d be going down the aisle with a walker! “Who gives this bride away?” “That’d be the manager of my nursing home, dude.”

Those people trying to comfort you mean well, but they should probably just tell you to read Job (yes, all of it).

Not only does God say at the end, “I’m supervising the wild goats giving birth — you really think you can do my job better?” but it also contains lots of: “GAAAAH my life is horrible it’s all ending why didn’t you let me die in my mother’s womb!” kind of stuff, which you might want to adapt for your own use.

Bargaining

I’m so lonely right now I’m ripe pickings for any abusive stalker who comes along.

But I can change him once we’re married.

At some point, you’ll try to re-strategize your life.

What’s not attracting a member of the opposite sex? Would a different shirt work better? Maybe a different haircut? Perhaps jewelry?

Maybe I’m not meeting any guys ’cause I’m not in the right places. A healthy, Jesus-centered church is a great place to meet the right kind of guy…but there are moments when I feel like grabbing the first likely-looking bachelor and tucking him under my arm.

What’s the worst that could happen?

(To which Steve Taylor replies:

On a quest for her Mr. Right, she said “I do” where the lonely give in;
…Nothing’s sadder than the words, “It might have been.” (The Bouquet)

A lady at the bank thought my brother might be right for her daughter, until she found out he was a few years younger than the daughter. Desperate times, y’know, but maybe picking up random HVAC techs isn’t the best way to build a life…

Anyone else argue with God?

My parents both went through experiences where they had to consider going through life single, and accept that God would be enough for them in that case.

Once they arrived there spiritually, God allowed them to marry each other.

Ahem…anyone else sometimes feel like saying, “Okay, Master, You will be enough for me. Can I please get married now?”

Coping Strategies

Whether you’re ready to accept it or not, just take for granted there are things worse than this stage you’re in.

So, if you’re not sure your personal morality is rock-solid enough to pull you through this stage, there’s a few very simple things you can do:

1) Read your Bible more. Read it ’til your eyes glaze over, then read it ’til your insides feel shredded.

2) Surround yourself with good, trustworthy people who love you: parents, siblings, coworkers, church friends, other friends…people who have the same moral standards you do, and love you sincerely.

Then give them full permission to smack you in the face if you’re acting stupid. You’ll thank them once the stage passes…and it will pass.

Depression

I’m never getting a spouse. My life is over. I might as well shrivel up now.

Maybe I should have saved the “crying into the pillow” for this part.

After all, when you read something like Jeremiah 16: 1-4:

The word of the LORD came to me:
“You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.

…it just takes something out of you.

Nobody wants their spouse and children to be murdered by invaders or wasted by famine and disease —

But at least they have spouses and children, y’know what I’m saying?!

Anyway…as you stare down the long years of emptiness, living like a goof-off failure in your parents’ house until they die, and then creaking into old age with no one to love you or take care of you or visit you in the nursing home…something deep inside your soul dies. Sometimes quietly, sometimes emitting a soul-shredding wail that splits the void with horror.

Am I just projecting?

Single Coping Strategies

Do something. Find an outreach at your church and get involved. Volunteer with kids’ Sunday school. Find out what’s happening at your local library, then join a knitting group, a writers’ group, a computer class, a local choir…

Get a dog and take it for long, long walks. Start a garden. Teach yourself a handicraft (like knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, wood-working, painting, sewing) and make items to donate (to a hospital, nursing home, homeless shelter, orphanage, etc.).

Don’t just sit there and feel sorry for yourself, because that’ll make you more sorry, which will make you more sorry…

Acceptance

Just as there is a revolving door of “states” when handling your singleness, there are different levels of acceptance.

The simplest is the momentary acceptance:

“I still believe trolling the bar scene is a poor way to land a Prophet, Priest, Protector, and Provider, so I accept that waiting on God is still the best choice.”

This is an extremely valuable mode of Acceptance, because it empowers you to stick to your principles within a high-pressure moment.

You might change your mind (or forget about Accepting) later on, but if you’re out of the Temptation Area, at least your honor and sanity is safe.

Then there’s a harder-core version of Acceptance —

One that looks beyond balancing the foundational principles of your morality vs. the need to hold a baby (big or little).

This higher level of Acceptance focuses on the unchanging nature of God, reminds yourself that He’s got a bigger plan in store, and that “patiently waiting” is part of that plan right now.

It also has the annoying habit of reminding you: “Hey, taking short-cuts lands you with Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 16), Bilhah and Zilpah (Gen. 30), Moab and Ben-ammi (Gen. 19).”

This is where you say, “Let’s go with God’s plan rather than my second-best short-cut.” (Refer again to Bouquet.)

(But the idea in the back of your head is still that He’s planning for you to get married…just not yet.)

There’s theoretically another level.

In fact, it’s more than theoretical: I know someone who claims to have achieved it.

5 Stages of Singleness — Kimia Wood — single Christian

Not my will (deep breath) but Yours (deep breath)… Image courtesy of Pixabay

This is True Acceptance.

It’s where you finally submit your own small will to God’s, say (with a smile) that He will be enough for you – through all the cold nights and all the long, feeble years – and that His glory is the only thing that matters to you.

If His plan is to give you a spouse later, then fine.

If His plan is for you to die a virgin – faithful, childless, focused solely on Him, and trusting Him to provide companionship, ministry, and daily bread every year, year after year – then…fine.

To proof-text:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. (1 Cor. 7:17)

This would be peace.

It requires Full Submission, the Peace of the Holy Spirit, and Being Completely in Love With Jesus.

It…is…theoretically…possible.

What State Is Your Singleness In?

Are you denying that singles are missing out on anything meaningful? Blaming everyone else for your misery – but especially all the other girls/guys who snapped up the good guys/girls before you got there?

Are you trying to find a “middle road” where the horrible ache in your gut gets solved now – even if it takes trading in some suitor-requirements? Maybe you’ve given up on the whole idea, and are just brooding on spending your final days like a Baby Boomer who never bothered to procreate?

Or…Or have you found peace? Has Jesus worked in your life to bring perfect satisfaction with and submission to His plan for you – whatever it is?

If so – PLEASE TELL US HOW YOU DID IT!

(Which is sort of contradictory, because if it’s a work of Jesus then there’s nothing you could do to “achieve” it.)

Either way, please share your experiences…and let us know we’re not alone. This is a process, and no matter where you are, we’re here for each other.


5 Stages of Singleness — Kimia WoodKimia Wood is single because she doesn’t know any eligible men. Which has to be an act of God because all her friends are married…ALL of them. (Guess which stage she’s in?)

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella, Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

Being Not Achieving—What Vacation Taught Me

Being Not Achieving—What Vacation Taught Me — Kimia Wood

Some things you gotta see for yourself…

For the past two weeks, I’ve been on vacation with my family. And I’ve been sick the whole stinkin’ time.

You know how any vacation goes…the expectation, the planning, the packing and list-making… This particular time, we were camping – so the organization of “this goes in my tent”, “this smells like food, so goes in the bear barrel”, “this is only for the car ride” was intensified.

I always over-pack for car rides, vacations, etc. I had my list of everything I could get done (see below) and anticipation was especially high since this is the last extended vacation for our immediate family for the foreseeable future (four adults’ work schedules are hard to coordinate).

But God allowed something else to happen. Namely, a “sinus infection” that is still making my voice softer and weaker than normal! Continue reading

Dear Diary…the journey home

ALERT: May Contain Spoilers for the Adventure: “Against the Cult of the Reptile God”

First thing after breakfast, I accompanied Mikael back to the lower level. We know the water will start to creep in, now that the zombies aren’t running their pump, but it shouldn’t go fast enough to cause us problems.

And he wanted to try befriending that vicious-looking bipedal lizard thing.

So while the others hauled all the treasure up to our cart in the over-world, we made one last trip to the depths…

We stopped just out of range of the thing’s snapping teeth. It paced on its chain and barked at us – a sound I won’t soon forget.

Mikael waved his hands and started his chant…but unlike Nori, this creature was having nothing to do with it.

It shook its head and roared and stomped its clawed feet. Not friendly-looking at all. After a while, it was clear that if he tried to pet it, he was losing a hand.

Well, that was that.

We debated whether to leave it and let it drown (or starve), or cut it down with arrows. Arrows won.

It took me five solid hits.

That messy job done, we returned to the others to help with the treasure. They were just finishing up.

Raven asked where our new pet two-leg-dragon was, and said he thought we just wanted to get out of helping to load.

Well, what’s done’s done.

We topped the wagon with a few barrels of alcohol, and settled down to spend the night behind the dyke before venturing across the swamp.

Briefly discussed collapsing the tunnels somehow…but the water should take care of that for us eventually.

Explictika’s lair is finished.

****

19th of Wielsan, Waterday. Got across the swamp.

Had the weirdest encounter, though. As we were trudging along (Lancell and Raven pulling the cart) I realized something was racing to catch up with us. Three somethings.

In fact, the biggest, ugliest leeches you’ve ever seen.

Ezekiel and I fell on them, while Lancell charged and accidentally flung his sword a few feet into the swamp (apparently one doesn’t “charge” while thigh-deep in mud).

Raven nailed one right in the gut with a dagger, and Mikael cracked another one open with his staff.

Nori charged in to defend her “friend,” and Ezekiel accidentally bashed her with his mace. I was afraid for a moment that she was going to bite him, but apparently she thought better of it.

We retrieved our thrown weapons (ahem) and continued on.

Reached the forest edge by nightfall. About on par with our journey last time, when we had to let Master Ramne take his time.

The stars are beautiful through the branches of the trees. I hope our next evil cult isn’t so keen on muddy holes underground.

****

22nd day of Wielsan, Starday. Two more days traveling through the woods, and we have reached the edge. I can see the outskirts of Orlane over the fields.

I’m sure we’ll all be glad of a real good meal, and the knowledge that this thing is finally, truly finished.

Hopefully the townspeople – with Lancell as their new constable, of course – will be able to defend themselves against any other foul creatures who might want to prey on them.

[sketch of bird]

[sketch of Nori eating bird]


To start at the beginning, click here.

Dear Diary…foes and fortunes Part 2

ALERT: May Contain Spoilers for the Adventure: “Against the Cult of the Reptile God”

We arrived at the VIP quarters without incident, and while I mixed up something to eat from the late guards’ supplies, Mikael cast Detect Magic on the jewelry we’d acquired from the harpy.

He pronounced a gold necklace to be magical, so Ezekiel looked over it. He has done a lot of traveling and studying, after all.

As he looked it over, he started cackling and whooping.

“I think,” he said. “I think this is a ‘Necklace of Adaptation’ – meaning it’ll ‘adapt’ your breathing to any environment: vacuum, gas, water, whatever!”

So we gave it to Lancell to wear, at least for as long as we’re in the dungeon, since he’s our front line heavy hitter.

While the wounded rested, the rest of us raided the pantry and storeroom that had supplied the guards and attendants of E.D. We found some oil to help us immolate the snake eggs, plus some casks of beer that looked better quality. One of them had “Fire Amber” stamped on the side.

On our second excursion downstairs, we portaged the boat from Explictika’s lair to the second subterranean lake down there. Or, maybe I should say Lancell portaged the boat.

As he was lowering it into the water, Mikael stumbled and bumped against the wall, brushing away enough mud that a door was just visible.

Lancell forced it open, and we discovered a closet beyond that held nothing but…a little boat.

He didn’t, but you could tell Lancell really wanted to say some un-Paladin things.

The passage was wide enough for us to take both boats, so we paddled out. It led to a dead end and a tiny mud patch, where two chests stood on a platform.

Raven hopped out and checked them for traps, and told us he was pretty sure they were clean.

Well, I wasn’t so sure – I could have sworn I saw a funny-looking hair on one of them – so I checked them, too, but couldn’t find anything.

After that, everybody made me just go ahead and open the chests – with the keys we looted off the Evil Cleric.

What do you know – the first chest had a needle trap under the lid!! But it was disabled by the key, so it didn’t actually go off.

And the other chest was fine.

Note to self: Elwyn can’t find traps.

The chests contained a load of platinum, gold, and electrum – plus a bracelet and some gems. So we loaded it all up and paddled back to the main passage.

There were still one or two tunnels we hadn’t explored yet. The first of these was very narrow – I’m surprised Lancell and Ezekiel even shouldered their way in there.

It kind of spiraled its way to the center where – apparently – there was another chest on a platform. I couldn’t see it, since I was back a turn or two.

Raven took the keys forward to check it for traps, and open it if he could. I heard them saying that none of the keys would fit, and Raven offered to pick the lock.

I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but Lancell and Ezekiel suddenly shoved their way back toward us as mud and dirt flaked down from the ceiling.

Raven gave a yelp as he was partially buried, but he escaped the main support beam and dragged himself out of the debris.

“Well, that was a trap,” he said.

So we abandoned that chest and squeezed back out into the main passageway.

One other little chore to mop up: we had to burn the snake eggs. We poured our looted oil over every inch of the room, and then – as we all stood well back – Lancell lobbed a torch through the door.

Foom! I could feel the heat from where I stood! At least those little beasties won’t grow up to be vicious, Ezekiel-biting menaces.

The last room to investigate held something very strange indeed. All the way up and down that corridor, one could hear a creaking and trickling sound. When we looked inside the room, we saw a large wheel-contraption and buckets on ropes. The buckets swung down, plunged into a pool of water that covered much of the floor, and were carried up through a hole in the ceiling.

Operating the contraption? Five zombies. Apparently flood management is a cinch when you have zombie-slaves.

They ignored us completely…Even when Ezekiel dusted a couple of them with his magic stuffed sheep, the others kept working like little automatons.

He turned the rest into dust, and the wheel creaked into silence. The sound of running water, however, went on – louder in the sudden isolation.

We returned to the VIP quarters to spend the night. The water will start to reclaim this cavern, but not before we’re ready to leave (we think).

It’s been a long day, and Mikael wants to pray for Animal Friendship, to try befriending the little bipedal lizard-beast below.

I wonder what he would feed it if he caught it, but I guess we’ll worry about that if it comes to it.

Nori rejoined us a while ago, and is hanging on the wall by his chair while he pets her. Would she be jealous of another animal companion?

At least as long as we’re killing monsters, we have plenty of snacks for her. I wonder if she can be house-trained, as in taught to not eat people we like.


To start at the beginning, click here.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

A"Avatar: The Last Airbender" — Kimia Wood kids’ animated series has not previously been in my box of tricks, so this was a fresh, new experience for me and my viewing partner.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cool characters, awesome moments, great fights scenes, and interesting world-building…mixed in with immaturity and Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But, hey, it’s all about the #siblingtime, right? Continue reading

Dear Diary…foes and fortunes Part 1

ALERT: May Contain Spoilers for the Adventure: “Against the Cult of the Reptile God”

Far above where the sun shone, dawn broke. Lancell and Nori the spider were moving again, and seemed none the worse for spending the night paralyzed. Even Ezekiel had color in his face again, so we headed out in our usual battle formation.

Down the hall, about the turn where Ezekiel was attacked before, the lizardmen (trogs) suddenly melted out of the shadows and fell upon us.

We must have startled them as much as they surprised us – that, or they were consumed with hatred to hit us – because two of them cut down their companions in front of them before we could even engage.

Nori pounced and sank her fangs into one of the stinking creatures, while Mikael leaned against the wall of the passage, clearly trying not to hurl.

I launched my arrow while Raven darted forward and did one of his Monk-ish palm-punches, stunning the trog.

The luck didn’t stay on our side, though. Nori was felled to the ground with a stone ax, and I…sort of…grazed Mikael’s arm with an arrow.

Lancell was dropping trogs left and right, while Ezekiel soaked up punishment until he was leveled to the ground.

I tell you it was my bow, but somehow it slipped from my hand and came back to whack me in the eye. My next shot finally flew true, though, and nailed a trog through the throat… The enemy was defeated.

We bound up out our fallen companions (Raven had also gotten a bad hit on the head – maybe he should let his hair grow out for a cushion…) and Ezekiel quaffed a potion. He also read one of his healing scrolls over Nori, and she popped up, fighting fit again…but then she ran up to the ceiling and sulked there for a bit.

The large room where the trogs had hung out (I counted seven while Lancell was searching them) had a couple doorways along one wall.

Ezekiel investigated the first doorway, and gulped.

When he called over the druid and me, we both stared. The whole of the small sideroom was coated with eggs – eggs as long as both my hands held side-by-side. Through their translucent sides, we could see tiny troglings, curled up and waiting to hatch.

Ezekiel and Lancell talked it over briefly. Lancell said he had no problem destroying the eggs, and I see his point. The surrounding countryside couldn’t handle a thousand vicious, carnivorous lizardlings…that also have a racial hatred of humans.

So we spent a few tiresome hours smashing eggs.

Finally done, we poked our noses into the second side room – and almost screamed.

These eggs were much smaller – only the size of one hand – but there were at least twice as many. Some of them were close to hatching, and we could see the coils of the baby snakes inside.

We decided to search for an easier way to destroy them, and continued on.

For some inexplicable reason, Ezekiel started digging at the end of the large chamber – but good for us he did. He dug out several large leather sacks, and on examining them turned up a mass of platinum, gems, gold, and silver!

We loaded it up in the bag of holding and Raven’s pockets (since he’s not exactly combat fit right now) and continued on.

We chose a branch of the further passageway, and as we made our way down it we could hear a…”barking” noise.

Did not like the idea of a giant, poisonous dog dropping down on our heads…

Around a turn of the passage, we could see some kind of bipedal lizard, about the size of a large dog. He growled and barked and snapped his huge teeth and us, but he was chained to the north wall and couldn’t quite reach us.

Although Mikael obviously wanted to try making friends with it, we slipped past – hugging the south wall where it couldn’t reach us.

Beyond that was a boat on the shore of a lake – just as the prisoners we rescued had described to us. We got in the boat and paddled off, pretty sure what we would find.

Sure enough, when our lights fell on the opposite shore, it was Explictika Defilas’ official seat of power…complete with her rotting, headless corpse.

We landed and dug around under her. Apparently all we had left behind was the silver pieces, so we loaded that up and decided to return to the VIP quarters on the floor above to unburden ourselves. Treasure ain’t easy to lug around, after all.


To start at the beginning, click here.

Find the previous entry here.

“Transmutation of Shadow” Chapter 1

"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodCheck out the first chapter of my upcoming action-adventure Transmutation of Shadow! Meet Eric Kedzierski, psionic human and assassin extraordinaire…and, yes, his last name is very “long, ugly, and Polish” (his words).

Subscribe to the mailing list to be alerted as soon as it’s ready for publishing! (We’re currently waiting on beta reader feedback…)


Business As Usual

In which I kill somebody.

I eyed the two-lane country road, twenty yards below me.

“Target is four minutes out,” came Oscar’s voice through the plug in my ear.

“Roger,” I said, low toned.

Combat mics are designed to pick up soft voices. Of course, I was the only human being in about two miles of the spot. I’d made sure of that when I first arrived.

I double-checked my handiwork on the tree. It was already dead, leaning slightly toward the incline and the road. A storm had recently passed through, as the lightening-scorched poplar a hundred feet to my right showed, so the set-up was more believable.

I had weakened the base of the dead tree with a focused energy lance, and now all it would need was a concentrated mental shove. The age of the tree, and the lightening in the area, would both discourage anyone from analyzing for psionic scorches.

“Target three minutes out,” said Oscar.

I knelt at the base of my tree, the better to see the road through a gap in the foliage. My form-hugging combat suit protected my knees from the damp grass.

“Any word on the escort?” I asked.

“Armored SUV, three bodyguards, one driver,” said Oscar, from the data pulled up on his computer screen in the command center at Langley. “Chase vehicle about eight minutes behind, looks like, so you’ll have to hustle.”

I nodded to myself. The branches I had tossed onto the curve of the road fifty yards away would look like storm debris, and would make the car slow down.

“Three bodyguards,” I muttered. “Oil sheiks are paranoid, huh?”

“I think anybody who makes it onto our list is paranoid,” Oscar answered. “After all, it’s not just the United States he’s ticked off over the years. I’m sure there are some rival oil kings who’ve lost minions or trade deals to him. Maybe he’s responsible for that ambassador we lost in the Middle East. I don’t know; they don’t tell me these things.”

I adjusted my goggles, switching to thermal vision to make sure no stray cars were coming. The last thing I needed at the moment was a civilian blundering in to the set-up.

“Not my problem. I don’t make the big decisions,” I said.

My handler of many years said nothing. It’d been a standing inside joke between us: we don’t get paid enough to decide who should die. That’s for the bureaucrats who run the Agency to do. Got a complaint? Go talk to Congress.

Car engine. With a directed psionic ping, I received feedback in one of my goggles for movement telemetry.

Sure enough, they were moving around the corner. They slowed at the tree branches, and lumbered carefully around the curve.

“American car,” I whispered to Oscar.

“Huh?”

“It’s a GMC. Are you sure –?”

“Look, the spooks have been tracking them for weeks. Yes, it’s the right car. Go for it!”

The SUV cautiously picked up speed. The driver was being careful, given the hilly terrain.

Digital overlays in my goggles gave me the timing. With all the technology, this job was hardly a challenge —

I lanced the tree, giving it an energized shove with my hand for good measure. The tree crashed into the road, and the SUV plowed into it, squealing as the driver tried to apply the brakes.

As I sprinted down the hill from my hiding place, I was already feeling out the lock. Very standard stuff…I mean, couldn’t a corrupt Arab tyrant invest in a little more complicated door lock?

At the touch of my finger, an electrical pulse overrode the car’s computer, and I yanked the rear door open.

My other hand cracked the top on the vial, and nonlethal gas blew into the car. My glance flitted between the unconscious faces

“Target ID?” I hissed, checking with another psionic pulse that every heart was beating.

“Guy in the middle. Chase car is picking up speed; hurry.”

“Did you do a biometric –”

“It’s the guy in the middle, Shadow! I know my job.”

Holding my breath, I leaned into the car and un-clicked his seat belt. Touching – Ruthless Oil Despot was imitating American culture, with a very nice tailored suit.

With an energized heave, I flung him through the windshield. A psionic pulse, and my Heads Up Display flashed a confirmed death.

I relocked the door and sprinted back up the hill. There was nothing left to do. The tree left no traces. The car lock was un-breached.

And there were no collateral deaths.

“All right, Shadow. HUD says we’ve got a confirmed target elimination.”

I started the hike back to my car, pulled off the road and hidden on the other side of the hill. As I forged deeper into the trees, I heard the chase car’s engine purring around the corner.

“I guess the Middle East will be safer, now,” I said. “Though I can’t help wondering that they’d stage his death on American soil.”

Oscar said nothing for a moment. “Politics isn’t my game,” he said at last. “Especially foreign politics. It’s not our problem.”

Again, I nodded to myself, raising my goggles to see the variegated greenery around me unobstructed. A chipmunk popped its head out of a fallen log, stared at me, and ducked back in again.

With thermal vision, I’d be able to see his heat signature. But what would be the fun of that?

Besides, sometimes chipmunks and I both had to hide.


"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella, Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits!

Dear Diary…a cakewalk – NOT!

ALERT: May Contain Spoilers for the Adventure: “Against the Cult of the Reptile God”

We left the chunks of ivory with Kelsier for him to get appraised and sold off. He’ll leave our shares with Olwin at the Slumbering Serpent — we wanted to get an early start in the morning.

We also hired a cart with detachable wheels that should make lugging treasure through the swamp easier.

When we reached the swamp I was happy to see the trail seemed less traveled than before. Apparently we’ve cut down on the traffic! Maybe without E.D. goading them on, the trog population will keep to themselves.

****

The 15th day of Wielsan we returned to the dyke that surrounded the dungeon opening. It seemed less oppressive than when we first encountered it, now that we knew a little more what to expect…and now that the Big Bad was dead.

Descending the stairs was much easier than before, since the rope was still hanging there that we had used to climb up. So we reached the bottom without incident and Ezekiel and Lancell – both with magically shining shields – took the lead.

We started in the room where the frogs had been. Hardly anything was left of their bodies, but Mikael borrowed one of the bones to prod the water as he explored – like Lancell was doing with one of the guards’ spears.

Once slimed, twice shy.

Looking around the room, my torchlight reflecting off the water’s surface, I noticed that the north wall looked different from the rest of the room.

Lancell prodded it and found the dirt to be rather loose, so Raven ran and got some shovels from the tool room we’d discovered earlier. A team effort with the shovels revealed a small room with three chests on a wooden platform (to keep them out of the mud).

We remembered looting some keys off the Evil Cleric from downstairs, so after digging to the very bottom of my pack, I found them and we tried them on the chests (after Raven checked them for traps).

No traps, but when we unlocked them, we found a whole pile of coins – and some gems! We put the most expensive coins, and the gems, into the bag of holding, leaving the rest to carry out when we’re ready to leave. It’s not that far from the exit.

Wading through the water (that rose almost to the waist!) we explored through a second doorway to the south. Down this corridor, several of the wall supports had given way, flooding the tunnel with mud three feet deep!

At the end of this passage, Lancell forced open a door to discover a room filled with shallow water…and skeletons.

The dead kind. All ages, from the size of them, and some mossy with age. I lost count at twenty.

We figured these must be the remains of those who wouldn’t be charmed by Explictika Defilas.

Ezekiel said a few fitting words, committing their souls to Ao. He says that when we’re finished here, he wants to collapse this end of the tunnel, so that nothing and no one disturbs these poor souls’ bones.

Exploring the rest of this level, we returned to a door we’d ignored previously – it has a big X burned into the surface. On forcing it open, we found ourselves in a chapel-like area, with a high ceiling and four support pillars. A passage led south, filled with deep mud.

We had hardly taken a step forward when the air filled with an unearthly singing…I tell you, it made my head spin. We advanced toward the southern exit, and that’s when she struck – the ugly, woman-like thing with clawed feet, huge, vulture-like wings, and pointed teeth.

She struck Lancell, while all the time this crazy, penetrating music (I can’t quite call it a song) kept going on.

I nailed her with an arrow, and then Lancell took her down.

On examining the body, Ezekiel said, “Yes, that’s a harpy.”

I almost didn’t make it through the mud in the passage beyond. Kelsier is so glad he didn’t come this time, because I’m pretty sure I would have drowned if Mikael and Lancell hadn’t pulled me out.

Anyway, on the other side were four more pillars, connected at five and ten feet by “branches.” Far away, in the tall ceiling, we could just see a hole up there.

Something glinted in the light at the top of the supports, so Raven took his Monk skills and scrambled right up there.

He started pitching down jewelry down to us – there was a ruby necklace that looked especially nice.

I wondered who the harpy could be preying on way out here in a desolate dungeon, but Ezekiel and Lancell pointed out she could have been living off of E.D.’s followers…which would explain why they put a huge X on her door.

With that dealt with, we returned to the main corridor (and I have mud all the way up to my neck) and explored some more passages south of the underground lake. (There were still crocodiles in the lake, but they were ignoring us, so we ignored them.)

We found a little dead end that smelled strongly of weasel. Someone found a coin in the corner, and the next thing you know we’re digging in the dirt along the wall, turning up gold and silver coins.

I never knew a weasel that liked coins. I have so much to learn.

Having exhausted all the passages on the upper level, we headed down the stairs (past the truly nauseating stench of the lizardmen corpses – and you thought they smelled bad while alive!)

In a small, narrow tunnel, Lancell got jumped by the biggest, hairiest spider you’ve ever seen!

Mikael hurried forward and started soothing it, waving his hands with druid magic. The spider twitched, and chirped, and stopped attacking, watching Mikael with all eight of its eyes.

While we waited for him to finish his spell, the temperature dropped.

I turned around and spotted two figures lumbering toward us, groaning. I nailed one of them before Ezekiel pulled out his holy sheep toy and shooed them away.

I dropped the wounded ghoul as they were retreated, but the second one got away. That’s the disappointing part about “Turn Undead.” He assures me that one day he’ll be able to disintegrate ghouls just like he does zombies and stuff.

Ezekiel said we might as well continue on, leaving Lancell to protect Mikael while he finished romancing his spider.

Down the narrow, twisty passage we went – Ezekiel, Raven, Elwyn – passing a little room on the way littered with bones.

Evil monsters are so untidy.

As we approached a turn and a fork, suddenly a wicker basket flew through the air, nailed Ezekiel in the head, and dropped an enormous snake all over him.

“Get back! Retreat” Ezekiel shouted at us, cradling a snake bite and he retreated in defensive mode.

Beyond him, I could hear the guttural snaps and snarls of trog voices. Raven told me there were at least eight.

I tried to shoot an arrow at the snake as we were retreating, but it’s hard to walk backwards over uneven mud in the dark and shoot at the same time. So I kinda sorta plugged Ezekiel in the back – but fortunately it glanced off his magic chainmail.

We came to a split in the passage, so I side-stepped down the fork to get a shot at the snake (which must have been really made, because it was still chasing Ezekiel). Just about then, Lancell and Mikael and the spider all joined us, so we all got blows in and finally killed the giant snake.

“You don’t look so good,” said Lancell, and Laid Hands On Ezekiel.

I borrowed Raven’s dagger, and slashed the snake bite, winding a tourniquet to keep the poison from spreading. It might be too late, of course, but we can try our best.

“I think I’d better rest for a while,” said Ezekiel, so we all went back to the dead-end chamber where we found the spider (Mikael says her name is “Nori”) and holed up.

****

Hours passed, and Ezekiel still looked pretty green.

A second huge, hairy spider came to the door and attacked. While we were fighting it off (by “we” I mean everybody else) Ezekiel took out his scroll of Cure Light Wounds and mumbled the words to cast it on himself.

He looked a little more pink than green, and I changed his bandage.

Nori took the clean-up upon herself, and munched away at the dead spider.

About the time she finished, the strangest sound came down the corridor toward us. Like…hundreds of little feet crawling along the walls.

When the beastie came into sight – brr, it makes my skin crawl to think of it even now! It had eight long tentacles on its “face,” followed by a long, trailing, multi-legged caterpillar body.

“Carrion Crawler,” spat Lancell as he moved forward to attack.

I’m sorry I called Nori ugly earlier because she pounced on that sucker and did her new best friend proud! Ezekiel, of course, was huddled in the corner, nursing his sick head, so the rest of us were in charge of killing it…without getting hit by those flailing, monstrous tentacles!

One of those smacked Lancell, and his body stiffened, frozen in place.

Looking at the beastly thing, I decided that behind the head – the long body – should be more susceptible. Raven must have figured that way, too, because he dodged the lashing tentacles and tried to drive his dagger into the soft underbelly.

I think that’s about when Nori squeaked and dropped to the floor, legs rigid with paralysis.

Mikael whipped out his magic horn that’s supposed to summon barbarians to help him. When he said the magic word and blew it…a cloud of bubbles surrounded him.

Well, anyway.

We’d gotten a few good hits on the creepy-crawly – it was bleeding with drippy, disgusting ichor. I got one last arrow into its hide, and its squealed and ran away across the ceiling.

It’d better just not come back, that’s all I’m saying. That thing makes my hair stand up, and I wish we could have finished it off.

Lancell and Nori seemed to be breathing just fine, but they couldn’t move. So we laid them down in the back of the cave with Ezekiel and prepared to stand watch all night, the three of us.

Once, some trogs walked by – I could smell them! – but thanks to Ehlonna and Ao and all the other nice gods, they just kept on walking.

Oh, and another party of ghouls found us, but Ezekiel turned them and I got an arrow in one as it was shuffling away.

They just better knock that off, is all I’m saying. On the one hand, this explains why not everybody goes around to collect the amazing loot in dungeons, but on the other hand there are a whole lot of weird things out there ready to instantly kill you and I’m really thinking I have a whole list of things to ask my Ranger master about if I ever live to see him again.

To Buy:

  • anti-poison/anti-venom (for any and every kind of poison or venom; if it exists, Ezekiel will run into it)
  • Something to keep from getting charmed (ear-plugs?? amulet? adoptive elf godmother?)
  • traps for blocking passageways and slowing down creatures (ask Master)
  • oh, and arrows. Lots more arrows
  • also, also, something to deal with paralysis??

To start at the beginning, click here.

Find the previous entry here.

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“Caesar III”

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator This civilization simulator has been one of my favorite games since childhood. The only trouble with playing it is that it will be an automatic three-hour sink every time I open the program.

The Mechanics of an Empire

Caesar III puts you in the role of a governor building a town from scratch. Your manager on behalf of the Emperor rates your performance based on population, crime rate, revenue, cultural attainments, etc.

As is typical for a city-simulation game, you are the Supreme Tyrant of your town. You must provide food and housing for your citizens, make sure they can get to the buildings that need employees, balance your building needs with tax income, and more.

Bread for the Masses

The food system is especially complex, requiring much concentration and study to perfect. Farms (which require labor) will produce food, which is delivered to granaries (which require labor). From there, it is distributed to markets (which require labor), which send “market ladies” out to distribute food directly to people’s homes. In especially complex cities, a market lady might take a wrong turn, leaving people down the dead end to starve until she figures it out.

And there is no way to control the way the people walk. They travel the roads of your city, randomly deciding which branch to take at each crossroad, and returning to their starting building once they “run out of food” or get tired.

All this careful finagling is perfect for sucking in hours of the player’s time. After all, figuring out how the system works and what you need to tweak to get it to function is all part of the fun!

If you happen to have a “warehouse” near your farms (designed to hold other things like pottery and furniture – oh, yes, you have to provide those, too) the warehouse might accidentally collect the food intended for the granary (in case you want to sell food to traders, you see) and this means the market workers can’t access it from the granary!

(Did I mention farms can only be built on land that’s arable?)

Imperial Combat

This is not a fighting game, although it includes limited mechanics for warfare. Some of the areas you will be assigned to are threatened by “savages” who will attack your town! (It’s even possible to face Carthaginians on elephants!)

If your town is in a dangerous area, you will have the ability to build military structures. These include walls and gatehouses, plus barracks for housing legions of soldiers (spearmen, legionaries, or horsemen).

I preferred playing maps that were “moderately” dangerous, so I could build gates to contain my populace (building a gatehouse across the road keeps people from wandering down its full length) and hosting soldiers to help put down potential riots (if you keep your citizens stuffed and entertained, they’ll pay their taxes and behave. Ignore their demands, and they’ll get vocal and torch-wielding about it).

Variation of Terrain

Caesar III adds variety by offering you assignments in different parts of the empire. For instance, you might take a post in the wilds of Britannia, where the grass is lush and green, and the groundwater easy to tap. (You must build fountains to give your people water, supplied by the famous Roman aqueducts.)

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorBut perhaps you will be sent to North Africa, where the pale sand is dotted with shrubs and bushes, and water is harder to provide. You’ll also have to use your farmland very wisely, as farms can only be built where crops will grow. Of course, working out the geometry for maximum farm-age is part of the fun!

In some areas, you are provided with lots of coastline, and expected to feed your people with fishing wharves. Sometimes there are even “primitive” natives, who must be pacified with a missionary post (teaching Latin and civilizing through education, of course!).

Other Obstacles

Oh, yeah, your buildings can collapse or burn down if they’re not maintained."Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator

Your people are really demanding, and no sooner do you give them pottery and oil than they want furniture and wine! (Just click on the houses, or on the crowds walking the streets, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think!)

Also, sometimes wild animals will run around the map and stand right where you want to put a building!

Your Imperial Boss

You may have the ultimate authority and responsibility over the people and buildings in your city…but Rome has ultimate authority over you!

Caesar gives you money to get you started, and might send you loans to get you out of trouble should you need it… But he also has demands to make.

It’s not unheard of for him to demand 20 units of oil, or pottery, or another commodity. Then you have to order your warehouses to stockpile this item, and hope you gather enough before the deadline.

Don’t keep the Emperor waiting.

The “God” Mechanic

There are even more things to worry about as you try to build your city! Five Roman gods (Mars, Venus, Ceres, Mercury, and Neptune) will want temples and festivals in their honor. Your citizens are also happy to be able to pay their respects, and will want access to several different nearby temples so they can cover all their bases.

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorHosting festivals entertains your people, and flatters the gods. In return, the deities might bless your crops, or send a protecting spirit to kill your attacking enemies.

But if you should ignore them for too long…or – heaven forbid – give some other god more temples than they have…! Oh, they will make their wrath known!

Fortunately, you can turn “gods’ effects” off on the difficulty screen. I usually played with this “off” unless I had all the gods fat and happy.

Educational Content

So, Caesar III is a great way to burn the extra hours in your life. It’s even fun to tweak the systems in your city and gradually afford bigger and better buildings (I have yet to have a city that could support a hippodrome, but I’ve dreamt of it). Building your first colosseum, of course, always sparks a cut scene celebrating your promotion from “village” to “city”!

But educational content?

Back in my younger days playing this, I discovered a little question mark box in the corner of whatever dialogue screen you were in. Clicking this button opened a whole new world.

If you were interacting with a house, the ?-button would give you information about the Roman homes and the differences between simple terra cotta “casas” and the multi-story “insulae” (which are more like apartment complexes).

If you were interacting with the colosseum or theater, you could learn about entertainment in ancient Rome. The warehouse might tell you about ancient trade routes. The granary, food supply.

Believe it or not, at the age of twelve I spent a lot of my play time reading these little informational items, digging through to learn how each element of the game connected with the real Rome.

Educational games don’t have to be bright and colorful, or feature singing animals. All you need is a curious kid, and something that connects the game world with real life.

Rule the Empire!

To be perfectly and completely honest, I haven’t played this game out to the bitter end. Part of the reason is that it’s addictive (I’ll just build one more clinic…just wait until a few more people immigrate…ooh, a little more money and I can build this thing right over here…) Like a jigsaw or cross-word puzzle, each missing piece (say, a neighborhood that wants pottery) connects with several other pieces (like clay pits that need workers to run them) and each right answer is dependent on several others (like figuring out how you’ll feed the neighborhood that’s tucked in the corner by the clay pits to supply workers to the clay pits).

It might be more fun for those who enjoy attention-to-detail and obsess over the connection of many moving parts…while those who need a faster pace or more instantaneous affirmation might get bored.

But if you’re up for a challenge, have plenty of free time (like, HOURS of free time), and wouldn’t mind learning about the ancient Roman Empire…then I highly recommend Caesar III!


Caesar III is available for Windows from GoG.com, optimized for modern computers.

used Crossover to play this version on my Mac, and it works fine.

Also available on Steam for Windows (be aware Steam DRM-locks their software).

Find on Amazon as a digital download (for Windows), or in disk form.

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