The master of ceremonies gave another of his quirky smiles. "Of course. Allow me to expedite the process. How much do you need today?"
Their eyes eyes rolled up, trying to do some quick calculations. They named a conservative figure. "It'll be at least that, but I can cover any excess out of my own funds for now."
Corydalis walked to a wall safe in his office and opened it, then extracted a sheaf of shek from a cash box. He counted out the sum Smoke had named, then increased it by 20%. "Let's not take any chances. I'll need a receipt from you." He wrote out two on a pad of paper, then had them sign it. "The budget office has expense on hand ... " He rummaged through a desk drawer to produce one with a flourish. "I'll direct this amount to be repaid to petty cash for my office ... " He filled in a box on the second page, then handed it to them. "There. It takes them a few weeks to reimburse, and I do not want you delayed."
"Thank you." Smoke smiled at him, then glanced at the page and gave a daunted laugh. "These are very ... thorough, I see. I'd better consult them for directions. Unless perhaps you could give me pointers? Over dinner?" Smoke canted their ears to the sides, caught between optimism and the desire to cringe at their own forwardness. They were afraid to look up from the form.
But when they did, Corydalis smiled at them as if it were any ordinary request. "Of course. It would be my pleasure."
Smoke was pretty sure they responded with something normal, like "Thank you, master of ceremonies. Good day," before they left. And probably no actual squealing. But they would not have wanted to swear to that in a court of law.
In any case, they recalled themselves to their job when Corydalis's secretary gave them a pocket map of the complex, with directions to an unused office and a key. "You can work out of there, if you need some space to review blueprints or store your equipment or whatever."
Smoke stopped by to make sure the key worked: it was a little windowless cube in the interior of the Hall of Bureaucracies. They dropped off the blueprint case, but took the folder with them to review while they took a floater to the nearest arcane supply store.
The folder told a grim story of the history between Windbreak Enchantments and Courthall. It began with the usual fare: negotiations between the two, a commitment list from Windbreak, followed by invoices and then maintenance correspondence. But over the last couple of years, Windbreak had become increasingly unresponsive. A half-dozen copies of letters from Courthall were answered by curt notes: "Will discuss in person at meeting." It wasn't clear if there were always notes from these meetings, or if the meetings even happened. But what notes did exist were unproductive. No wonder Corydalis had wanted to be quit of these people. The folder didn't contain the maintenance logs for Courthall. Smoke made a mental note to ask after those when they visited Windbreak Enchantments.
When they reached the enchanter's supply store, Smoke found the prices there lower than the same supplies in Crescent Bay. But they were completely out of stressed oakleaf ivy. Other kinds of stressed ivies could be substituted, and they had grenache which would be adequate for a gatherer. But oakleaf made for more durable, long-lasting enchantments. Smoke knew of a technique for using titanium-gold wire that was supposed to make even better gatherers than oakleaf, and the store did have titanium-gold wire. But they'd never actually tried using it because the wire was so much pricier. They asked out the counter, and the clerk recommended a couple of other stores in the area, but didn't know if they'd have it in stock either.
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