The party continued south, riding the edge of the Khadûm Mountains, eventually stopping and making camp in an enormous fortress ruin overlooking the vast Xanzilisa. Taking it in turns to keep watch while they camped in the bailey of the fort, the party awoke to find their paladin, Brock Goldenleaf, missing!
Searching around, his footprints were tracked to a plate in the ground with a nearby ground sconce and a crystal. Placing the crystal in the socket, the plate lowered revealing stairs down. The party, minus Roland, proceeded to climb down where eeiry green light (like that in the Trial of Champions) washed over them. They felt their bodies stiffen and pain come over them until the light reached the Artifact, when it promptly retreated. Another series of platforms lowered from the ground to form stairs and the party stepped down further to a lower level.
Here, a great detritus-ridden room spread out with all in ruins but a large, shallow bowl upon a pillar. Activated by and drawn towards the bowl, the Artifact pulled slightly in Marco's hand edging towards the vessel. Placing the item there, it began to spin and wheel quickly, the runes and glyphs upon it reordering and reshaping themselves. A pure white light began to fill the room and a vision of another place filled the party's eyes.
It was difficult to make out clear shapes in this place, since everything seemed to emit its own light. Still, some balconies, arcades and towers could be seen against the backdrop of a beautiful blue-white sky and several very large humanoid shapes were moving slowly, ethereally about. One in particular turned and seemed to actually see the heroes. It's shaped buldged with armor, and feather-like tendrils, but it retained the shape of a human, albiet some 10 feet or taller in height. It carried a massive mace upon its shoulder and its eyes glowed a bright azure. As it =s eyes flashed with color and it moved closer, Marco felt an intrusion in his mind from the Old One and, though it usually communicated through indistinct visions and symbols, all party members heard its immortal voice groan,"No. See … This …"
The scene swirled and changed. Ripped from the pseudo-paradise the Artifact had connected the party with, their field of vision became distorted, purple-blue and foggy. Indistict shapes formed into laborers, chipping away at the walls of a mine. Mercenary guards looked on, chatting with the workers as foremen inspected carts of stone and ore with pleasure. The vision swirled again as a voice cried out "Over Here!" The vision focused on one worker breaking through a stone wall into a chamber room. Inside, the workers and guards ran their hands over a wealth of gold and gems, as well as many primal artifacts. Some seem to be weapons or tools, others were strangely shaped oddities of indeterminable function. One, a small pyramid, floated above a workers hand before simply blinking out of existence. One worker held aloft the Artifact.
As it turned and whirred with its morphous glyphs, workers were phase-shifted into walls or out of the room to gods-know-where. Panic began to creep through the ranks of workers as the mercenaries ran in. Rifts opened in the walls and creatures began to step through, some only half-formed and writhing in madness and pain. The mercenaries tried to fight back. One raised a sword and his arm was shifted for an instant, coming back niether quite here or there. Even his blade seemed to moving between the planes as one moment it was in his hand and another simply gone. His arm smoldered with purplish energy. As he raised his head, the heroes clearly saw the face of the Lord Commander of the Night Marauders, the same one who attacked their caravan.
The Commander rose, inspecting his arm with horror before looking around the room at the chaos that was erupting. He rushed forward, cutting down a worker begging for help and taking the artifact. Spinning on his heels he ran from the room, indiscriminately hacking at workers, warriors and phased creatures to make his exit. As his cloak swirled behind him through the gap that had brought them into this room, the vision dissolved, leaving the party back in the room, the Artifact now coming to rest in the bowl.
Outside, a cacaphonous clap heralded a storm on the way. Rushing outside the party saw no ordinary storm front, but a rolling wall of magical energy crackling from the sky, white lightening striking out from it at all sides. Riding the thermals in front of this magical maelstrom were the bat-riding sky elf Night Marauders.
Making quick work to fortify their position, Marco and Kevril noticed that a vessel, identical to the bowl and column below, had risen on a platform in the fortress. Between dodging the incoming fire bombs, magic missiles and arrows of their attackers, the pair made a break for the bowl. Placing the Artifact in, the entire fortress began to move and rearrange itself. As bat riders landing, some dismounting with scimitars at the ready, they made their way to a second and then third vessel, each time the fortress rearranging its enormous pillars and platforms into different configurations like some kind of giant clockwork puzzle.
Finally, the fortress arranged itself into a kind of great bridge, terminating in a fifty foot drop into a churning vortex of ethereal energy. Kevril and Marco jumped in, followed by Eli (now riding a stolen bat mount), then Roland and a mysterious Dwarven Cleric who had shown up amidst the battle to aid the party.
Tumbling through the vortex, the party found themselves falling into a long-abandoned feasting hall full of fine dishes and golden utensils. But this was no primarl ruin, and in fact the craftsmanship and artwork suggestion a much more contemporary source. That source was confirmed, when the party left the Hall of Feasting to find themselves high in the Khadûm Mountains – now on the Western side! – overlooking a vast steppe, the distinct sight of a mounted Orc hunting band pursuing game on the plains below.
Having crossed over into Orc land, the heroes decided to continue south. The Dwarven Cleric – revealed to be Arthrac, a self-described Oracle of the Sands, told the heroes that he was a hermit who traversed the Great Desert. He felt the stirrings of power when the heroes took up residence in the fortress, which grew as they used the artifact. Arriving, he surmised they were in danger and aided their escape. Unable to convince him to travel with them, Arthrac encouraged the heroes to destroy the artifact if they could, or seal it away if they could not. He felt confident their paths would cross again, and bid them farewell.