After a month of blowing their hard-earned gold on... well, mostly on new equipment, although whatsisname the useless rogue bought a bar instead, the party was finally offered another job from the Lady E.
"What does E stand for again? Lady Evil?"
"No no no, EVILLE."
"Eladryn. She's the one who hired you twice before to go get pieces of schema for House Cannith."
"Like I said, Lady Evil. Cannith is totally a villain last name."
For the first time ever, their employer gave them enough time to take a liesurely walk across town to get to the meeting place, instead of having to run wildly through the streets. So they arrived after the fight was nearly over -- Lady E was cornered by zombies, holding them off with a spork.
"They're CARNATHIAN zombies, so they're extra dangerous!"
"Er, okay, I guess I'll start singing a bard song then."
"I'll turn undead!"
That worked. Three of the four zombies were turned, and after the three melee-capable people finished off the fourth, they split up to take down the three runners before they stopped cowering.
Lady E told them that she'd been robbed! The evil (and stupid) bastard who'd tried (and, to tell the truth, succeeded) to ambush them at Whitehearth and who'd rammed into their airship when they were on an unrelated mission, was still undead and had stolen her three pieces of the schema!
Actually, that kind of explained why he'd done the brain-dead airship-ramming thing -- he was a vampire too, and had probably been trying to help the vampire escape all along. His minions at the time thought he was hunting the vampire, but in actuality they were just there to distract the PCs. Thus their complete lack of vampire-killing equipment.
If only this rationalization had been spelled out in the module!
At any rate, the party tried to chase down the thieves, but they were long gone -- on an airship, before the party had even gotten to the scene of the crime. But Lady E gave them passage on an experimental House Cannith ship to Stormreach, telling them to get to the ruins hidden deep in the wild jungles of Xendryk before the enemies, so that they could recover the fourth piece of schema from the ruins and retrieve the three stolen pieces from the enemies.
"So, is this experimental ship of yours faster than a House Lyander airship?"
"I don't really know... it's experimental."
She did pay them well, and half in advance this time, even!
The experimental ship turned out to be a submarine -- with a bound water elemental instead of the air or fire elementals the flying ships used, or the earth elemental the 'landship' they'd ridden to whitehearth had. And it was crewed by gnomes.
"Oh, I know a shortcut. We'll go through the teeth! Get you there in 3 or 4 days." Not knowing from geography, the party thought that sounded like a fine idea.
Of course the submarine ran into an anti-submarine trap, despite being the prototype first submarine ever -- attacked by a giant shark, then tangled up in underwater nets while the shark tried to eat the crew. The party drank water breathing potions and went out to scare off the shark, so they got out of the net, but the elemental ring was damaged, and they needed to surface for repairs.
The Sahaugin behind the attack ambushed them while they were repairing, and told the captain that they were confiscating the ship for trespassing. So the party killed them, basically. Efneisien did try to buy them off with an insultingly small offer, so technically the sahaugin attacked first.
So overall they only lost about two hours to this interruption, so they were only two full days behind the enemies by the time they got to Stormreach, since the submarine was SO not faster than an airship.
"Here's your forged travel papers. Says you're with the academy expedition."
"Um... travel papers? Wha?"
"They should pass most places, although of course the academy expedition itself won't fall for it."
"Aren't they the people we were supposed to talk to to find transport to the ruins?"
"Nah, just go talk to the house Cannith outpost, they'll be able to arrange for a riverboat or something."
It was pretty obvious that unless house Cannith riverboats were a heck of a lot faster than their submarines, they were NOT going to get to the ruins first. They'd be lucky to get there before the enemies LEFT.
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Shawn decided to ditch his useless rogue Ludwig in favor of a Thri-Kreen psionic warrior. This makes the party Fighter, Duskblade, Bard, Psionic Warrior with monster levels, Barbarian/Cleric multiclass. Josh (who plays the Duskblade Silas) is thinking of switching to a full wizard, because having the party be *all* fighters and half-fighters is just silly.