The Adjectives of Monetary Disaster
|"Faults and virtues are but two sides of the same coin."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Fox in the Second Year of the Bear since the burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place in the City of Spires
Min Feng briefs Yanyu and Kuan-Xi on her concerns about her brother, the Black Duke. Apparently someone has manipulated him into buying the Black Spire, in order to bankrupt him. He had asked if Merit could take a look at the numbers, but Merit has been busy with other things. It isn't clear who is behind it, but since the Black Spire had to do with the renaming of the country in the first place, it's probably the Marked trying to rename the country again, or keep Cai Wen from renaming the country, or maybe just distract the party with personal plots.
Kuan-Xi notes that she remembers where the Taiga is now, so she can put up a water gate to the Black Duke's estate if the party wants a good link to the Taiga.
The Triad takes Kuan-Xi's carriage to the City of Spires, and calls in at the Black Duke's townhouse. The servants say that their master is currently off at the Black Spire supervising the construction. Min Feng chats with them about the current state of things - is the estate strapped for money? Well, no servants have been let go, yet, though if someone needs time off, that has become easy to take. Rumor suggests that the money problems are due to the Dowager Song retiring back to the country estate - possibly she was managing things more tightly than her son is. Recent visitors before the Black Duke bought the Spire have included all of the other five major dukes, as well as the big party with the Unfortunate Incident. No one is blaming him for ninja attacking the Obsidian Warlord, though. Sometimes that sort of thing happens, when you are as successful as the Warlord. Also, the Duke has been seen with Blushing Rose, the protege of the Pearl of the Taiga.
On the way over to the Black Spire, more information is gathered about the other five Dukes. The Fire Dukes are miffed at the Black Duke for his having rejected an offer of alliance recently (at the party with the Unfortunate Incident). The Water Dukes have made more private offers, which have not been publicly rebuffed yet. The Purple Duke has recently sacked most of his security forces, leaving his estate dangerously vulnerable. Word on the street is that Black and Purple will likely have to ally for mutual protection - perhaps as the Smoke Dukes.
Socially, Black, Purple and Green have been more socially active, while Yellow, Blue, and Red have been less active recently. All three of Black, Purple, and Green have been linked with Blushing Rose.
Min Feng asks around about Blushing Rose, and learns that she was originally from the Taiga, but was brought to the Butterfly Court by Xiao Fa and installed as Tokai Takanata's ward, after her stepmother deemed her inconvenient. Some rumors name her as the Imperial Consort.
Has Blushing Rose stolen Min Feng's identity? As far as Min Feng knows, she is still her, but this is very disconcerting.
At the Black Spire, there are about two hundred workers, with a lot of poles hooked together going up and over the top of the Spire's walls, trying to leverage something out with a chain. The Duke is giving orders - everyone take a step to the left - until he sees Min Feng and is distracted, leading to some disorder in the workers. Min Feng waves him back to the job while the other two look at the tower.
Kuan-Xi thinks it's not Magical, per se, but there is a mystical weight to the structure, even as a ruin. Yanyu has a general sense that it's a place with a lot of chi.
The workers finish levering a huge black stone boulder out; some flop to the ground, exhausted or injured or possibly faking it, while the others line up for the day's wages. Min Feng identifies some of the workers as faking it (three do have heat stroke), and guards chase off the fakers without pay. The Duke's medic is more of a battle surgeon, so Min Feng gives him some pointers about spotting malingerers.
The Duke explains that the boulder was on top of a bunch of fallen timbers which were on top of the foundation; it had to be gotten out of the way so that the foundation can be properly reinforced. It's blackrock, which is valuable - a local quarry will pay for it - but because it's so large, getting it to the quarry will involve a lot of expenses to clear the streets as the boulder is rolled there. Min Feng suggests getting the quarry workers to come and break it up and take it away - that might also work, but then the quarry won't pay nearly as much for it.
The Duke says that his architect, Wang Shu, is back at the villa. That seems suspicious! Why is he not here supervising? Well, it's still in cleanup rather than construction.
Min Feng asks about Blushing Rose; the Duke's pai gow face is insufficient to the task.
- "Who?" -Song Yuanjun
- "The Pearl's protege that you're flitting about with. Don't feel bad, lots of people are flitting about with her." -Min Feng
- "There are things that you're not supposed to talk about with your sister! And I am sure she is one of them!"
- "How did you meet? What's she like?"
- "She's very charming."
- "That's not very specific."
- "I could be more specific, but not while you're standing here!"
Kuan-Xi and Yanyu also put their minds to investigating Blushing Rose, who is obviously the villain (unless it is the architect, or the Purple Duke, or someone else entirely). Yanyu discovers that she is a Phoenix, and known to be a meddler in people's love plots, while Kuan-Xi hears that she is a commoner who travels in company with a number of more important people...
Oh. Okay, so she hasn't stolen Min Feng's identity, she just has some interesting defenses.
Min Feng asks about her brother's architect. Well, he and his wife Lu Wenyu are both architects, from the Qin-Chao Steppes. He is interested in opening an architecture studio in the Taiga. The Duke met him at one of the recent parties - he was looking for a job, and the Duke was looking for an architect, it was quite providential.
Now that the workday is over, the Duke invites Min Feng and her friends to dinner (the servants have to rush a bit to get things in order). Both Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu are in attendance, and come in for quite a bit of interrogation.
Min Feng thinks their current motive is to make a good impression on her. Yanyu chats them up - they are very excited about rebuilding the Black Spire, and will work very hard to keep the cost overruns to a reasonable level. She notes that he is a Crane and she is a Dog, and like many Steppes couples, reinforce each other. Clearly they will have to be split up before they can be crushed.
Min Feng suggests her idea again about getting the quarry workers to come and get the boulder. The Duke had already suggested it and they were not sure that this would save money, as the quarry would offer less, but after Min Feng continues to push the idea, they switch to supporting it. Very suspicious! Sense motive confirms that they are dubious about the idea but unwilling to argue hard against Min Feng. Kuan-Xi notes that Shu has a small magic item in his pocket - wood magic, maybe something paper-based.
Min Feng asks what projects they have worked on before - nothing in the Taiga yet, but they built a number of defensive fortifications in the Steppes. Steppes architecture is more fortress-like, less artistic - that is why they came here.
So... what is their goal with the Black Spire? To refurbish and reconstruct it. Yes, but to what goal? For... the glory of the Black Duke? They seem a bit confused by the questions of motivation. Why a Spire? Well, it is the City of Spires...
The Black Duke jumps into the conversation - it's a status symbol. He will be the only Duke with a true Spire. Yanyu notes that the Green Duke has a spire. Well, the Green Duke has a house with spire-like parapets, that he calls the Green Spire. That's not quite the same.
The conversation wanders to blackstone. Fired jade is blackstone, which is not as valuable as jade, but is still valuable. So, why are they not rebuilding the whole spire in blackstone? Well, since it's a ruin, not all the blackstone is still there. The current plan is to do the base in blackstone and sell the rest. Min Feng suggests using the blackstone boulder for inlaid decorations on the rest of the tower. That seems reasonable, and the Duke likes the idea as well, so the two architects get a bit distracted by discussing the idea.
Kuan-Xi lures Wenyu into looking at the books about the cost overruns, while Min Feng gets her brother to show her the plans, leaving Yanyu to pounce on Shu.
Kuan-Xi is a better accountant than the Duke, so she can find a few ways to shave some li here and there, but in general, there is no sign of embezzlement or stupidity in money management - it's just a very ambitious project, and is expensive because of that. Wenyu tells the same story about meeting the Duke at a party, but notes that Blushing Rose introduced them. No, they aren't particular friends with Blushing Rose - they just met at the party.
From looking over the plans with Intelligence Analysis, Min Feng's general impression is that it's definitely a political bonus. There's also a big open room that she can't tell what the purpose is.
Yanyu talks with Shu about building expansions on Tahiti, and her concerns about the cost overruns. He's certainly interested, and shares her concern -bankrupting his first Taiga client would be no good. She is unable to lure him into making any solid promises about costs for a Tahiti project without paying a visit to the site, or knowing more about what the expansion would entail.
Neither architect is completely familiar with the whole "adjectives for Spires" thing, but think that the adjectives will be more solid and instantiated when it is done. Wenyu thinks that it comes with both "high status" and "money pit".
Well, the architects do not seem to be the villain behind the problem, so the next person to investigate harder is Blushing Rose.
None of the triad is sufficiently high-status to simply show up at the Pearl's villa and get an immediate meeting. Yanyu sends in her card, burning her reputation as a matchmaker / fertility consultant, but as the Pearl is happily married, a matchmaker is not quite what she needs, and Yanyu receives a polite note in reply saying that her legacy has been seen to, but she will keep Yanyu's name in mind. At the level of status successes that Min Feng and Yanyu are able to manage, they will likely be invited to a party in about a week, but they are hoping to sort things out sooner than that.
Yanyu tries to find out Blushing Rose's birthday, but can only find that it's the same as Yanyu's. Are the Purple and Green dukes having similar woes to Song Yuanjun? Well, the Purple Duke has the issue with his security problems. He's more safe from thieves than not, since he has protection from the Thieves' Guild, but assassins could be an issue. The Green Duke seems to be in reasonable shape. The Black Duke's money problems are a problem, but if he finishes the Spire, he'll definitely have a political edge over the others.
The next party that the group can get invitations to is one of a series of dinners for the king's cousin. Min Feng can get some invitations - the party is full of relatives of important people, so the Black Duke's sister fits right in. She also asks around after other architects - the best architect in the country is part of the King's court, the Master of Spires. Second-tier architects include the young hotshot Miss Sun, said to be better with buildings with landscape, and Guow Takai, a bit more flashy and all about standalone buildings. The third tier includes the Steppes pair and a number of others.
While Min Feng is gathering information, Yanyu and Kuan-Xi take the carriage to the Illuminated Precincts to visit the Exalted Library, in order to research things like how to change the adjectives on a Spire. Research indicates that there isn't a simple way to just change the adjectives however you would like - it's more or less a working, and depends on what the adjective is to start with and what you want to change it into. For a money-based adjective like "money pit", someone like Ezokin might be useful.
Some investigation into the Master of Spires indicates that his son might be able to use the services of a matchmaker, so Yanyu's reputation is more useful in arranging a meeting there. The son, Sen Sen, is a terrible math nerd and not well suited for the social whirl that is the Taiga. Yanyu thinks she can arrange something. In return, the architect is willing to talk about the Black Spire. Obviously, it wasn't something that anyone local wanted to get involved in, but the right person could make something of it.
Most importantly, the Master of Spires tells them that the Black Spire has six adjectives:
- High Status
- Money Pit
- Financial Disaster
- Endlessly Expensive
It would be tricky to notice all of the last three, as they overlap a lot. He isn't sure what Imperial means, though Min Feng might be able to do something with it. It's integral, though, and would be really hard to change. Mystical isn't active yet - but ahah, that's what that big room is for. It would be an awesome ritual chamber. Money Pit and High Status are both more or less active, and the others not.
The Master of Spires also speculates on how to deal with the negative adjectives. Someone who was fabulously wealthy could probably neutralize one - a really rich person can live in a money pit house without too much of a disaster - and you could possibly throw enough money at another one to neutralize it. But a third is tough.
He grudgingly concedes that it might be easier to cancel out a good and bad adjective together, but thinks that would be a terrible shame - it's an epic Spire, and making it mediocre would be tragic.
In any event, he would be more willing to provide advice or assistance in ameliorating one of the adjectives, once there is more progress on Sen Sen's marriage.
The triad heads back to talk to the two architects again, to explain that they have clearly been tricked into the project, and about the six adjectives. All becomes clear.
- "So... there will be no scapegoating...?"
- "Well, we won't blame you, but your reputation will still likely be ruined."
The architects will do their best to find a financial wizard to assist (though Min Feng says to not make any agreements without talking to her first).
Party of Cousins
Then, it is off to the king's cousin's party. There are a lot of guests who are younger relatives of important people, including:
- The King's Cousin
- A Fire Duke's daughter
- The Purple Duke's mage
- The Black Duke's sister
- The Pearl's protege
Blushing Rose is talking to the Purple Duke's mage. Kuan-Xi tries to cut her out to talk to him instead, but mostly ties socially with Blushing Rose, so they end up appearing to jockey over him. He identifies her as a water mage, and she notes that he is earth and water, and guesses "swamp?" Indeed, he is pleased to be recognized as such; the trick is to use the water in plants to include wood as well. Kuan-Xi also notices that Blushing Rose has some magic items in a pouch of magical shielding; they can't be identified, but they're also not active while in the pouch.
Kuan-Xi manages to steal the swamp sorcerer away, so Yanyu intercepts Blushing Rose. As Yanyu has given herself a makeover and Kuan-Xi is making her roll for 5s, she pretty much overwhelms the younger woman into confessing. The Green Duke paid her to thwart the Black and Purple Dukes. The Pearl told her she needed to be more active, less defensive, though suggested that she start small. Blushing Rose decided to jump right in and impress her mentor. Min Feng tells her that she should have listened to the Pearl and stuck to smaller targets.
After the party, Min Feng sends the Blue Duke a note, warning him about his ally's foolishness: