The Thief Who Stole from Death

Hmmm, a tale, you say. We nethermancers are not as prone to tale-telling as other adepts and Name-Givers, we prefer the value of silence. However, I do have a tale that I believe will interest and enlighten you. It was given to me by a spirit I spoke with some time ago. As you might expect, it is a tale about death, but more importantly it is about an adept-a thief-that followed the path of her discipline into the depths of Death’s Domain.

Once, long ago, before the Scourge, there lived a thief adept named Josara, who lived in the human kingdom of Landis with her people. Josara was a hero who performed many daring deeds and who advanced far in the ways of her discipline. She was a thief to her very core, and it was said that she could steal the sun and the moon from out of the sky if she chose to.

Of all of the many treasures that she stole in her long career, the one that Josara always said she was the proudest of was when she stole the heart of her husband, the air sailor Orlan Windrunner, himself a figure of daring and adventure. The couple loved each other deeply and they traveled the land of Barsaive in search of excitement and adventure.

And what adventures they had! Plundering the ice caves of the gray ogres in the Tylon Mountains, unraveling the riddle of the tomb of the troll wizard Golthek’Nor and capturing a ransom in orichalcum in a daring raid on a Theran vessel during the Orichalcum Wars. Tales of the adventurous couple spread across the land and their names became part of legend.

The legends seemed to be at an end when Josara and Orlan undertook their most daring adventure: an exploration of the Spider Dens of the Liaj Jungle, wherein spiders the size of ponies spun their webs in the eternal darkness of the jungle overgrowth, forming a vast cave-like network of silken tunnels where many unwary travelers and would-be adventurers. Stories told of many years of lost and accumulated treasures within the dens of the jungle spiders and Josara and Orlan sought to discover the truth of those tales and come away with a handsome collections of trophies for the effort.

But the dangers of those silken halls proved too great for even skilled adepts such as they. Orlan was bitten and fatally poisoned by a shadow spider, one of the deadliest spiders of the lair. He and Josara managed to escape from the dens, but the master air sailor died from the deadly poison not long after, for there was no cure for the shadow spider’s venom. Josara used the bulk of the treasures that she and Orlan had earned throughout their career to commission for her husband a fantastic tomb that floated high above the mountains and could only be reached by air ship or through the cooperation of a bound wind spirit that protected the tomb from would-be looters.

Gathering what few possessions she had, Josara set off on a quest that led her far and wide across the land of Barsaive. She spoke with many sages and scholar and magicians and always her questions were the same. The thief adept seemed to have become obsessed about Death and she sought to learn all that she could about that mysterious force of the universe. She even sought out some of the most vile and corrupt of individuals, like the legendary Keys of Death, those who proclaim to be Death’s Questors, to learn from them or wrest their secrets from their dying hands.

Rumors grew that Josara was mad with grief at the loss of her beloved, that she had become obsessed with revenge and that her studies followed some dark and unknown purpose that threatened danger to others, but that was not so. Josara did not desire revenge against unthinking creatures following the dictates of their natures, nor did she want knowledge for the sake of power. Josara was a wise woman and like the nethermancers she began to see Death like a clear pane of crystal – not a barrier – but a window into another side, another phase of existence. She saw Death as a force that hoarded lives like a miser hordes gold, and as a master thief Josara knew nothing so well as how to relieve a collector of their valuable baubles. During her studies Josara decided that she would take the ultimate challenge: she would steal Orlan back from Death.

After gathering a vast and diverse store of knowledge, Josara made her way to the shores of the Death’s Sea, where she prepared a special ritual magic. Her human versatility served her well as she made use of the many arcane secrets she had unearthed in her travels. For nine days and nights she worked and prepared in the rocky badlands along the shores of the fiery sea.

Finally she was ready and by the darkling light of the new moon, Josara drank a vial of a special poison concocted from some of the most toxic creatures and plants of Barsaive, including some of the venom of the shadow spider that killed Orlan. She lay upon a blanket embroidered with magical runes and symbols as she felt a terrible cold overtake her limbs despite the fierce heat of the Death’s Sea. A lethargy crept over her, but Josara fought to keep control of her wits, for she would need them in her journey if she was to be successful.

Josara passed into the realm of Death. She felt herself pulled below the raging fires of the Death’s Sea into an endless maze of underground passages, tunnels and caves. They were all lit by the flickering reddish light of the burning sea of lava above and, most amazingly, were filled with all manner of treasures and valuables, scattered all about as far as the eye could see. There was gold and silver, gems and fine weapons, even orichalcum coins and valuables enough to ransom a kingdom. Josara’s thief nature quivered at the sight of such wealth, she could feel the fingers of greed brush across her soul.

But her will held fast. She had not come into the realm of Death to seek treasures, only the life of her beloved Orlan. Josara moved through the dim tunnels like a silent shadow, looking for her love, but she saw no one. There was no living thing, not a Name-giver, nor even the smallest mouse or insect in those tunnels and they stretched on and on like they might go forever. Josara began to despair in her heart that she would never find Orlan and that she might be trapped forever in those forlorn tunnels with untold wealth as her only companion.

“Passions!” she cried out in frustration, “I would give all of this wealth, all the wealth in the world, if only to be with Orlan once again.”

Just then a man appeared before Josara in the tunnel. He was a human, broad and fat and dressed in the clothing of a wealthy merchant. He wore all manner of expensive jewelry and the purse at his belt bulged with coin. He was well-groomed and everything about his appearance and manner said that this was a man of great wealth, just the kind of person who cried out to Josara to be given the gift of theft.

“Would you indeed, Josara?” The man said and reached into the folds of his rich cloak. He withdrew a ruby the size of a child’s fist, the deep color of blood, which gleamed seductively in the dim light of the tunnel. Josara felt her heart leap, for she had never seen so fine a gem. “Would you surrender all of this wealth that could be yours?”

Josara’s thief magic called out to her, she knew that she could take all that this merchant had and much of the wealth all around her, she could be the richest thief in all of the world and live in luxury for the rest of her life. She grappled with the way of her discipline in her heart, her eyes fixed on the beauty of the gem before her. But Josara’s love for her husband was greater than her faith in her path. She turned to the strange man and said, “Yes, I would give up any wealth for my love.” The merchant nodded and smiled and in an instant Josara found herself on the shores of the Death’s Sea with Orlan in her arms, reunited once again.

Because she had rejected the way of her discipline, Josara was no longer a Thief. She believed that the stranger she encountered in Death’s domain was Death himself, who bargained her magic for Orlan’s life, which Josara considered a fair trade. In the later years of her life Josara was content with a quiet home life with her beloved and she became a Questor of Garlen, still stealing from Death at every opportunity she had.

Adventure Ideas

The following elements of the legend of Josara and Orlan could be used by gamemasters in their Earthdawn campaigns. As always, gamemasters should feel free to tailor the details of these adventure hooks to suit their own campaigns.

Josara’s Ritual

The magical ritual Josara used to enter the realm of death might be something that player characters could go in quest of in order to follow a fallen comrade there and attempt to rescue them. The ritual would be known only to a few wise sages or nethermancers (and perhaps a Horror or two) and there would of course be no guarantee that the characters would be able to return to the land of the living after using it.

Josara’s Healing Balm

In her later years as a healer, Josara developed a healing ointment of special herbs and other secret ingredients. This balm had the effects of a healing potion (Earthdawn, p.258) with the additional effect of eliminating diseases and poisons in the system, but the formula for it was lost many years ago. Perhaps the player characters might discover the recipe again among some of Josara’s lost papers or journal or perhaps they might set off to find the lost formula in order to use it to cure some malady.

The Spider Dens

The mysterious Spider Dens of the Liaj Jungle still exist and their silk shrouded tunnels hold many treasures and secrets that brave adventurers might go in search of. The tunnels are inhabited by numerous dangerous arachnids, including the mysterious shadow spider. Rumors also say that a spider-like horror may well have taken up residence in the dens since the Scourge and may have transformed many of the spiders living there into dangerous constructs such as Jehuthra (Earthdawn, p.305).

Orlan’s Empty Tomb

Josara and Orlan lived a simple life following their return to the land of the living and Orlan’s floating tomb over the mountains was all but forgotten. The tomb still holds many treasures that Orlan won during his career as a daring air pirate, including a wealth of plundered orichalcum and one or more magical treasures. The location of the floating tomb is lost and characters might discover some clue to it among ancient legends or documents telling the tale of Orlan and Josara. The tomb is guarded by a bound air spirit of great power that attempts to keep all potential tomb robbers away. It is also possible that the tomb might have been breached during the Scourge and become the lair of a Horror or even the base of skyraiders, air pirates or aerial monsters.