They did have a job to do, and Smoke was perplexed by the old gatherer's results. One or two strands failing, and Smoke could see it not being precise enough to recognize the problem. But with three strands failing -- ants, fleas, and rats? -- it should show a problem. Smoke had already reviewed the gatherer's records of incursions that the wards had fought off in the last several weeks. It reported protecting the windows on the south side from damage from a windstorm, securing the roof against fallen tree limbs, keeping the carpet from being singed by a dropped candle, preventing flooding in a sub-cellar after heavy rains -- a litany of prevented disasters that went on for some time, which was what Smoke would expect. The last report involving rats was one trying to enter through a storm drain in a wine cellar. It was killed by the ward. There were no mentions of ant or flea incursions at all. That suggested catastrophic failure of those threads: if they'd just been inadequate, they'd report some repelled incursions, at least.
Yet the gatherer should have detected a catastrophic failure on two different strands, braided wards or not. Maybe the gatherer itself was what had failed.
Blackwood set them down on the House of Chambers. "Thank you again," they told him, offering a hand despite not being quite sure of the etiquette for parting with a dragon-sized draka.
The dragon placed one talon lightly against their palm. "It was my honor to be of service. Please, let me know if you need anything else."
"I will." Smoke hoped their ears didn't show a blush.
After Blackwood left, Licorice fidgeted while Smoke set up their own gatherer atop the House of Chambers. Smoke included some protections for their gatherer: specifically some extra detection spells to let them know if anyone interfered with it, and report if anyone else reviewed its information. After completion, it'd be a few hours before it would have harvested any new information for them.
So Smoke asked Licorice to show them to the foundation when that was done. They took a service stairwell from the roof to the ground floor. On the way down, Smoke asked, "Do you think someone sabotaged the seal on that hatch?"
"What?" Licorice blinked at them.
"You said there was some debris in it. What would get up there except what people left? It's the highest point in the complex."
"Oh! No, it was just a twig. Some bird dropped it, probably."
"Ah. May I see it?"
Licorice gave them a what's-wrong-with-you look. "No, I didn't keep it."
"Ah, of course not." Smoke chuckled. They reached the first floor, and Licorice led them out a service exit. "So, since the wards haven't been doing their job, what has maintenance been doing about the rat problem?"
Licorice whipped her head around, black eyes narrowed, as if Smoke's question had personally offended her. She seemed to realize the oddness of her reaction before she spoke, because she gave a tight forced laugh. "Let's just say I don't think rats are Courthall's biggest worry."
"So what is Courthall's biggest worry?"
"Does maintenance have a more pressing problem?"
"So you're just ignoring the rats?"
"Why did that question bother you?"
"I didn't mean to upset you. Is there something else you'd like to talk about?"