A Zahnia Short, part 2

ZahnySo it took me a bit, but I did manage to find the scan I did of this sketch of Zahnia from a few years ago. Here we have her in medieval-ish garb for an old project I hope to return to someday called The Chronicle of Pren. Though she doesn’t generally go armed when in spy or burglar mode, what we’re seeing here is her scout/guerrilla mode.

Anyway, here is part 2 of the short story I did for Zahnia a while back. It’s one of the better examples I’ve written so far of her spying, breaking-and-entering skills. Part 1 can be found here.

A Zahnia Short, part 2

“Oh, gods, don’t hang me! I didn’t mean to! It–it went off on accident, I swear!” Zahnia screamed as she rushed down the afternoon street, using vegetable carts, parked or moving carriages, other pedestrians, and any other available obstacle to confound her pursuers.

Several others had joined in the chase at the guards’ shouts to “stop that kid!” Not that she hadn’t expected this—the locals tended to find entertainment in a rowdy pickpocket chase, and it wasn’t uncommon for men or women to enthusiastically join in the pursuit. Currently seven spectators had joined the guards in chasing her down.

Reaching her target alley, Zahnia knocked over a stack of a dozen empty barrels, pulling them over as she ran by and sending them clattering and rolling in her pursuers’ general direction. She turned down the narrow crack of an alley to where she’d stashed her next disguise. From behind a crate she pulled out a ragamuffin dress, battered straw hat, and a worn doll with black hair. Walking quickly, she pulled the dress on over her boy clothes and donned the brimmed hat, then jogged out the other side of the alley. Across the narrow street in an empty lot a couple dozen war-orphans talked and played, supervised by two priestesses from the Temple of Avilee. Zahnia jogged across to the lot and introduced herself and her dolly to a group of girls playing dolls.

She’d sat down to play dolls with them just as the two bodyguards and several other pursuers emerged from the alley across the street. They looked in all directions, one of the guards pointing to the group of orphans. As Zahnia expected, the pursuers split up, some heading one direction, some heading the other, while one of the bodyguards and a man in a grey coat crossed the street to where the orphans played.

The bodyguard approached one of the priestesses while the grey-coated man surveyed the orphans for the shooter. Zahnia couldn’t hear the whole of the conversation, but she was fairly certain the guard asked if the priestesses had seen a boy matching the shooter’s description. To which the priestess said they hadn’t, but admitted that they’d been paying attention to the orphans. Both men surveyed the orphans once more, then turned to leave. Grey-coat apparently decided to give up the chase, while the guard ran off to catch up with one of the other groups of searchers.

Zahnia waited perhaps a quarter-hour after the men had left before standing up. She thanked her new friends for letting her stop and play and gave each a hug. She gave her dolly to a little girl who didn’t have one and turned to leave.

The tiny spy crept down the backstreets and alleyways, arriving several minutes later behind Senator Othro’s town estate. The back boundary of the five-acre property consisted of a short wall backed against tall hedges. Zahnia vaulted the wall and quickly located the bush where she’d stashed her satchel. She pulled the leather bag from beneath its branches and stuffed her hat and dress inside. The hedges behind the townhouse were tall and thick, but Zahnia was small enough to crawl underneath between the trunks with minimal scratches and scuffs. Peeking from under a couple branches, she made damn sure that the back gardens were empty and the back rooms showed no signs of life. Most likely all of the servants would be out front following the shooting, but it didn’t hurt to make certain.

Once she was sure, Zahnia slipped from under the hedges and dusted herself off as she crept to the back of the house. Her informant had told of a window on the second floor with a broken lock if a burglar had a means to climb up to it. Considering there were burglary tools and tactics named for some of Zahnia’s former aliases, she didn’t anticipate having trouble getting to it.

The mortar in the brickwork was recessed over a quarter inch, offering plenty of purchase for Zahnia’s fingers and the toes of her shoes as she climbed the face of the back wall. Arriving at the window, the tiny burglar peeked in to make sure the empty servant’s quarters were indeed empty. Satisfied that the room was unoccupied, she slid the window open with one hand and slipped into the room, closing the sill behind her.

Whisper quiet from centuries of infiltration experience, Zahnia padded from the servant’s room and down the hardwood hallway. The house remained silent as she crept up the stairs to the senator’s private study. The senator had always kept fairly minimal staff, and clearly everyone had gone outside upon news of the shooting.

Zahnia surveyed the study as she entered, closing the door behind her. It was about twenty by twenty-four feet with a desk, couch, several bookshelves, filing cabinet, and documents safe. A tapestried area rug covered most of the hardwood floor. The lingering aroma of cigar smoke made the tiny burglar’s nose itch.

She helped herself to a fistful of the candied almonds on the senator’s desk, munching as she wandered the study, watching for places where the traitor might stash the key to his safe. She’d picked each of the senator’s pockets over the past two days, confirming that he didn’t, in fact, carry his keys with him. Given that the senator was a tall man, Zahnia began her search looking for high places where he might keep his keys that would be difficult for a shorter person to reach and unlikely that his wife or one of the servants might stumble across it.

After a minute, she spotted a promising corner of one of the bookshelves where the paint was slightly worn from repeated contact. Taking off her shoes and stepping on the shelves like the rungs of a ladder, Zahnia scaled the shelf and peered over the rim. Sure enough, a key rested in a corner kept free of dust by the key’s repeated removal and returning. Snatching the key, she climbed back down and turned to the safe.

The key slid neatly into the lock, clicking the device open as it turned. The safe’s contents included several stacks of documents, as well as a box of expensive cigars and a bottle of fourteen-year-old scotch.

Zahnia could hear the sound of multiple people reentering the house as she removed a stack of documents and the bottle of scotch from the safe. Thankfully, the creaky hardwood throughout the house would give her more than enough warning should someone approach the study.

Hopping up and sitting cross-legged on the desk, Zahnia poured herself a glass of scotch and began skimming the top documents. “Alright, Senator,” she muttered, “let’s see what else you were up to.”

Continued in part 3.

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5 Responses to A Zahnia Short, part 2

  1. seraph4377 says:

    She thanked her new friends for letting her stop and play and gave each a hug. She gave her dolly to a little girl who didn’t have one and turned to leave.

    Aw. This is so sweet. I haven’t gotten to know Zahnia very well in the main story yet, but the supplementary materials are making me love her.

    Incidentally, re. the picture at the top – did Zahnia start life as a member of a Halfling-like race? I ask because a flail might work as a weapon for a small adult (Samwise could dish out some damage with that skillet), but I wonder if a physical nine-year-old (regardless of her actual age) would have the muscle.

    • Heh, thanks! No halflings in my story world, I’m afraid, but that’s an interesting guess. She’s southern Tollesian in origin, so probably was born in the Empire of Pellastor. Balancing her physical, mental, and emotional development has been an interesting challenge in later stories that I’ve fiddled with. I have her start weight training after she enters Queen Viarra’s service—which health experts recommend against at that age because it has adverse affects on growth. However, Zahnia can’t physically age, so how much muscle can she realistically build? It’s an odd balance between how strong I need her to be for the story, versus how much strength readers are willing to believe. I’m still figuring out that balance.

  2. seraph4377 says:

    Reblogged this on Dreams of the Shining Horizon and commented:
    Part 2 of Sartorially Smart Heroines‘s story from last week.

  3. An excellent beginning. I’ve read the first two parts with interest and look forward to more.

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