Smoke did not linger over their platter of various-textured sugars. They were almost surprised there weren't kitchen ants in the commissary, with all these sweets to lure them.
But a quick check revealed signs of carpenter ants in the commissary, and none of kitchen ants.
Smoke did a quick round of the wards on the outsides of the buildings in the complex: they all looked much the same as the ones at the House of Chambers. Adequate, undamaged braided wards. They went to the roof of the House of Chambers to check on their gatherer.
Their gatherer reported incursions, one of rats and a different one for fleas, through two different spots on the outside of the existing wards.
Smoke would have found this report of normal, predictable problems much more heartening if the gatherer-analysis spell they'd left on it had not reported that there were problems with the gatherer.
The analysis spell couldn't tell Smoke what had caused the problems, only that it was reporting false positives on penetrations. Meaning attacks that had been repelled might show as successful. That bias would be particularly pronounced for ones connected to rats or fleas.
It was conceivable that Smoke had made a mistake in setting up the gatherer, or that some accident had caused the gatherer to have issues with its data. But Smoke found both the timing and the problem suspicious.
Smoke re-adjusted the gatherer, then went to the sites of the reports. They couldn't find any signs of bodies. Flea corpses, they could've overlooked. Rats, not so much. They went inside to find maintenance to ask if any rat corpses had been cleaned up overnight. But once inside, they realized it was only a few minutes until their meeting with Master Corydalis.
One of the guards escorted Smoke up four flights of stairs in the east wing of the House of Chambers, and down a marble hall. The building was beautifully crafted, the carved moldings and frescoed ceilings that depicted famous places from across the nation. Paintings and sculptures gifted by foreign dignitaries adorned the walls and stood on pedestals. It felt almost palatial.
Most of the doors in the hall were closed, though lights through frosted glass panes showed they were occupied. The office of the master of ceremonies had an open door to an antechamber occupied by a young kith man. The inner office door was closed.
Smoke introduced themselves to the kith, who assured them the master of ceremonies would be with them momentarily.
Behind the inner door, Smoke heard muffled voices, a deep bass rumble and a vibrant alto. The alto had begun with aggrieved, angry tones that mellowed as the conversation continued. Smoke debated asking the secretary where maintenance was and telling him they'd be right back.
Before they'd made up their mind to do so, the door opened. An elf woman with the kind of beauty elves were famed for stepped out: she moved with a fluid, natural grace, delicate features, full lips, skin warm brown and thick black hair woven into box braids and secured by golden clasps. She wore a flowing red overrobe over cream trousers.
Behind her was the largest humanlike-form draka Smoke had ever seen. He was so tall that he had to duck to keep his gold horns from scraping the door frame, and his shoulder broad enough that he seemed to fill it. He had gorgeous features and striking coloration: skin midnight-black, mane a burnished gold a few shades paler than his horns and eyes.
"Thank you so for your help, Master Corydalis." The elf had her head tilted back to watch him with fond eyes as he escorted her to the door.
"Of course, Representative Meadowlark. You know I am glad to be of service." He smiled as she stepped into the hall. After she left, his smile lapsed into a fleeting, pained expression, then he rallied and turned his smile upon Smoke.
It was a powerful smile.
"Good morning, honored. How may I be of assistance?"
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