Huangdi Shi has resurfaced – this time in the cosmopolitan Dazhou port city of Haibianr. Also known as the Emperor’s Stone, Huangdi Shi is a jade statue depicting a heroic figure, triumphant in battle. Its origin is unknown, although some suggest it first appeared in the treasure vaults of the First Emperor, who united the various Min nations more than 7,000 years ago through force of arms and personality. Respected scholars have variously noted the statue’s presence in the possession of many famous historical leaders: Learned Zhu claims it resided for a time in the saddlebags of Grazak Khan and his descendents, the orkish worg-lords that terrorized the post-Imperial city-states between 3,500-3,900; meanwhile, Honorable Ling believes it rode in the treasure palanquins of Emperor Wu during his crusades to unite the warring three kingdoms in 5,235-37.
Whatever its genesis and history, Huangdi Shi functions as its common appellation “Kingmaker” implies. This minor artifact only works for certain bearers, those it deems “worthy” of its ministrations – usually a person with a talent for martial endeavors and the ambition to see them through. Once it has found a beneficiary, its “chosen one”, that person undergoes a meteoric rise in power, challenging all comers until she either resides at the top of the heap or falls to her foes in battle.
Huangdi Shi lay forgotten for many centuries in the tomb of a would-be conqueror named Le Wushi. Le failed the Kingmaker’s test, falling to his foes in a great battle on the windswept plains of southern Helei. His followers recovered his slashed and arrow-riddled body and laid it to rest in a carefully prepared tomb along with his many worldly treasures, including Huangdi Shi – and there the artifact vanished from official notice for more than five hundred years.
A group of professional treasure-seekers recently breached Le’s tomb, braving its formidable traps and arcane wards with the loss of only one expedition member. The artifact, along with the rest of the tomb’s loot, was piled into a treasure cart and brought to the lucrative antiquities markets of Haibianr. There it was sold, with many other, less-remarkable objets d’art, to Hanford House, a prestigious foreign auctioneer dealing in exotic artworks and patronized by the wealthy nobility of distant nations.
Hanford frequently distributes lists of available lots via its network of sellers. The lot containing Huangdi Shi came to the attention of the Prince Mikkel of Iskandia, who purchased it sight-unseen for the tidy sum of 1,000 gold Crowns. The Prince arranged for his purchase to be delivered by ship to the port city of Florennia and thence overland by regular caravan to his palace in Brekka.
Had Hanford’s appraisers realized the true value of the unassuming jade statue, however, the Prince would certainly have paid much more.
Actually, one of those appraisers, a scholar of Min antiquities named Li Pantu, did recognize the worth of Huangdi Shi. While Li was ignorant to the true power of the statue, he was somewhat familiar with the artifact’s auspicious past and its association with the successes of its former bearers. He didn’t inform his employers at Hanford, marking it on the manifest as “Jade statue, small; 150 gold Crowns”. Instead, Li sent a message to the Lushou telling them that he had located an “item of interest”.
Thus, for a few pieces of platinum, Huangdi Shi came to the notice of Grazak Liu, a half-orc crime lord behind the Lushou, or “Green Hand”, one of Haibianr’s most notorious underworld organizations – dipping its clawed fingers into criminal enterprises ranging from illicit drugs to the flesh trade. Liu isn’t interested in Huangdi Shi for its monetary value, however. He has aspirations that well exceed his current grasp and believes that the artifact will bring him the power he needs to reach his goals.
While Hanford House’s extensive security presents an impossible barrier to smuggling the treasure out or taking it by force of arms, Liu is betting that the foreign ship that is set to take Huangdi Shi to its new home will prove an easier mark. Thanks to Li Pantu, Liu knows the name of that ship and where it will be docking and has already laid plans to get his claws on this valuable piece of Min history.