Most people were cooperatives when they passed the checkpoint, when asked if they had anything to declare, they'd show their trade goods, foodstuffs, hand in their weapons for safe keeping before they'd need them again for the journey back home. Occasionally someone would try to smuggle a dagger into town, or some kind of illicit drug, but rarely something that would cause too many problems. This was a safe part of the empire, and the inspection checkpoint was a formality more than anything else.
The cloaked figure over to the left looked like one of the typical smugglers who might be trying to bring drugs or weaponry into town. The young guard went to check him out, while the old guard dealt with an old lady who had come from the far east to visit a dying relative. The cloaked figure was indeed trying to smuggle drugs into town, and the old guard almost allowed the lady through in the distraction. But something wasn't right, the lady had some food, a bit of money, a knapsack of clothes, and something else...
...he hadn't seen one of these for decades, he didn't know what it was then, but it caused the decimation of a dozen villages and almost started a civil war. He knew what it was now, and mere possession of one was an executable offense.
A lightning fast swipe of his sword and the old lady's head was rolling across the cobblestones.
Anyone else might not have known what the porcelain shaft was. They might have considered it a mere curiosity, but he had seen the devastation such an innocuous item might cause. He beckoned another of the young guards across, carefully put some gloves, and asked for a secure chest to store it in. With thick gloves, he carefully placed it into the chest. It would be sent directly to the imperial alchemists to dispose of.
Now the old guard had paperwork to fill out. Cutting heads off always involved paperwork."
Plague Shards are a relic from a far off land, they don't particularly look like weapons but most people can see that they might be capable of dealing harm. They simply look like tapered rods of porcelain, perhaps useful as a fragile stake or spear tip. While most people can see their potential for harm, most people have no idea how much harm they are capable of, and this comes from their curious origin.
The Koqari tribe of the eastern jungles never developed metallurgy as an art form, they used wood, bone, and mud-bricks for construction. Even the missionaries and other invaders to their lands learnt the futility of using metal items in the jungles. Corrosion would quickly set in, rendering metal items useless unless hours were spent polishing and sharpening them every day. The wood and bone weaponry of the Koqari may have been fragile, but it was easily replaced. Invaders needed time for new supplies that would often be useless by the time they arrived.
Two other things were known about the Koqari, their love of animals, and their resilience to disease. Both of these would prove valuable to the understanding of the Plague Shards. A few rare non-Koqari learnt the techniques for producing Plague Shards, but the ingredients necessary for manufacture remained elusive.
One of the common pets of the Koqari was the Fungal Sloth, one of the common pests in their villages was the rapant growth of a highly brittle bamboo. The dihorrea excrement of the fungal sloth was considered a powerful fertiliser, but highly toxic and disease ridden. The bamboo was used for fire, often growing six inches in a day and thus providing a ready supply of flammable material.
No one knows who the first person was to pour the fungal sloths excrement into a bamboo tube, but it be ame common practice in many Koqari villages to stake a bamboo tube into a field, fill it with the noxious liquid and allow it to seep into the surrounding fields as a fertiliser.
In an apocryphal tale, one of the Koqari threw a fertiliser stake into the embers of a fire. The next day, the bamboo had burned away and the remaining excrement had hardened into a thin shell that matched the internal hollow of the bamboo. A tribe member cleaning up the fire pit found the thin excremental shell, it shattered in their hands and cut them. Within hours, even given the Koqari resistance to disease, the concentrated virulence in the hardened excrement sickened the tribe member. Another craftsman saw the this, and over the course of many weeks, they refined an ability to keep the bamboo shaft moistened while cooking, evaporating and solidifying the dihorrea within. Heightening the fire temperature, burned away the bamboo while hardening the excrement into a fine onion-shell layers of ceramic.
A Plague Shard.
Some claim that enzymes from crush Lava ants are added to the mix, and perhaps other ingredients while the excrement cooks, but since the Fungal Sloth is so hard to find these days, and the Koqari are all but dead, no new plague shards have been forged in living memory.
Plague shards are generally safe to touch as long as they don't break, but they are incredibly brittle. They do not dissolve in water, and as long as they are wrapped in skins they are fairly safe to trasport. To weaponise them, they are typically thrust into the end of a bamboo pole and used as spears. Some assassin choose to directly thrust shards into their victims by hand, and it is rumoured that some break fragments off the shard and embed them in the tips of blowdarts.
The danger from a plague shard comes from it's brittleness and the chance of a fragment becoming lodged in a victim. If this ever occurs, virulent toxins course through the victims bloodstream, rendering them slightly nauseous within minutes, sickening them within hours, and rarely leaving a victim alive after a day. The victim of such an attack becomes a disease vector in the community around them, often passing a vicious plague to dozens of people (hundreds in high population areas) before they pass away.
Depending on your game system, Plague Shard hits typically don't do a lot of damage by themselves (equivalent to a poor quality dagger). But if more than "half damage" is done with the strike, a fragment is embedded in the victim. If your game system accounts for damaged weapons, you might want to see if the Plague Shard is still useful after this point (typically after four or five such hits, the Shard is damaged beyond usefulness except as spliters to attach to blowdarts).
Once someone has been implanted with a fragment and the combat has subsided, roll twice to save versus disease (this should be at a suitably increased difficulty), for every additional shard embedded roll again. If any of these rolls fails, the toxin remains in the system, and the victim will need to roll again in an hour. For every one of these rolls that fails, reduce a physical attribute by a quarter (round down), the disease affects different people in different ways. The reduced attribute lasts until the disease is cured. Everyone who comes in contact with the victim needs to make a successful disease saving throw, otherwise they gain the same disease (one pass on the saving throw works as though they had been implanted by one less shard, two failed saving throws and they have the same degree of infection, infected secondary parties go on infecting others in turn.
If an infected person has any attribute reach zero, they will die in 12 hours regardless of any healing magics. A resurrection spell might bring them back, but as diseased walking dead.
Needless to say, Plague Shards have become mythical weapons of mass destruction. Often leaving entire towns decimated after a single person has been struck in a crowded area.