Chapter 7, The Hag Tree
(The group decided to do a bit of a marathon session. We started at 3 and went to just before 11. One player couldn’t make it and another had to leave midway through)
After spending several weeks in Foxon, the party has developed an abiding rapport with several of the townsfolk. Among them, the council member Celia Moncrief, the Rao priest Vada, and the disgraced council member Zaghain.
During this time, the new head alder Wena Riffolk has had her mercenaries tightly patrol the town and begin construction on a wall to encircle the town. There is a sense among some townsfolk that they are slowly becoming prisoners in their own homes. However, most are too afraid the hobgoblin legions will return and are convinced Riffolk’s methods are the only means to keep themselves safe.
There have been reports of individuals being attacked at night, which the townsfolk attribute to hobgoblin spies and scouts. Nearly every week since the party returned, a family has lost a child in the night. A slow panic is building. On the town council, Wena and several others believe the Hag Coven to the south is stealing children and tormenting townsfolk. Wanting to calm the townspeople, Wena wants to bring in more mercenaries to destroy the Hag Coven (and then stay to keep the town secure).
The party have been bidding their time as Celia rebuilds her estate, which once completed they’ll have free reign to use as a home base. Asher, Jorg, and Roben’s small adventure to the ruins of the margrave’s maze has given the party insight into the plans of Kolo Illrym and put an end (for now) to the creation of teleports and portals. Yet, with the Foxon becoming more and more terrified of what might be beyond its borders as well as strangers, the party’s status in town is becoming more precarious.
Leaving the Temple of Rao, Vada, John, and Nym make their way to the courthouse. Both John and Nym have been doing research in Vada’s personal library to try to unlock the significance of the onyx pendant they found in the Usurer’s Tower. Vada is certain it is some kind of magical key but she is unfamiliar with just what it could be. The three are on their way to meet with Celia and Zaghain to get a daily briefing about the events on the council.
They arrive at the courthouse just as Celia and Zaghain are coming out down its stairs to meet them in the town square. Suddenly, John notices movement in the woods as birds fly up and away startled and the trees themselves move as though a strong wind is blowing. But there is no wind anywhere else. It seems as though a surging force is coming their way from out of the woods.
John points to the treeline as a transparent but somewhat murky presence emerges hovering between the treetops and ground. The group has just enough time to turn and see it before it lunges towards them with sudden speed. The five are thrown back and down to the ground as the force of the presence passes through, between, and around them. Picking themselves back up off the ground, they are barely able to catch a glimpse of the presence in the air circling back to them. Celia being unarmed, unarmored, and lacking in any martial skill runs off to get help to fend off this Invisible Stalker.
Zaghain armed with a glaive strikes out wildly in the air hitting the Stalker randomly. John, Vada, and Nym all cast attacking spells damaging and throwing back the stalker somewhat. The Stalker only waivers slightly striking out at John and doing significant damage. With the help of Vada’s healing cleric spells, John is healed and he and Nym try again engage the Stalker. Swooping down to their level, John feels the Stalker pull at the onyx pendant, which he is wearing. Again and again, the Stalker attacks but only John, and it is soon clear the creature is going after the pendant.
Fortunately, the four are able to finally strike down the Stalker. Clasping the pendant, John demands to know why the Stalker wanted it. Vada has no answers. She speculates that someone must have summoned the Stalker and only a powerful magic user could. John takes off the pendant and suggests hiding it. Vada explains whoever summoned it and sent it looking for the pendant, now know the faces of the four. The summoner could simply send another Stalker or someone else to find any of them to make them give them the pendant. Zaghain suggests there may be more already out looking for it or them.
In an attempt to delay and distract whoever is searching for the pendant, Nym volunteers to take it and keep traveling through the wilds until she hears from John about what to do next via Sending. With that, the druid Nym shapechanges into a horse and bolts from Foxon to the west.
(Nym’s player couldn’t make it this night. John’s player took control of Nym’s character for the battle with the Invisible Stalker but I didn’t feel comfortable having the proxy for the whole of the night’s adventure)
John, exhausted, head to the inn bidding farewell to Zaghain and Vada, who both disappear in the courthouse to discuss what just happened and other goings on. With the square empty, Celia arrives with four mercenary guards. She’s flustered and out of breath. Seeing nothing bad, she turns to the guards who are all eyeing her curiously. “Well, very good…it seems, this…test of your…reflexes has been a success.” Celia attempts to sound convincing and calm. “I will certainly tell Alder Wena how urgent and capable you all were. Thank you.” Celia turns blushing and desperately hoping the guards bought her line. The guards disperse as Vada steps back out of the courthouse to wave to Celia. A wave of relief comes over her and Celia walks at a brisk pace to join her friend.
On his way to the inn, John uses Sending to get messages to Asher, Roben, and Jorg (who are still making their way to town after their experience in the maze) about what just happened. The three stew on what this new information about the pendant means and how it could fit with what they already know and what they’ve discovered. As they make their way through the forest, the three (and the two mercenaries that were sent with them, Godan and Joslyn) confront a hobgoblin legion of five, two archers and three infantry. The battle is decisive though not quick and the hobgoblins are defeated. This legion is wearing the same style of armor as the hobgoblins the party found dead in the Foxon Cellars. Continuing on, the three arrive in Foxon and meet back up with John at the inn where they talk, exchange information, and strategize.
Few on the council like the idea of more soldiers on the streets and although Wena has control she must relent. It is clear to everyone on the council that Wena wants the Hag Coven destroyed. However, she convinces Zaghain that were he to lead an envoy to the Hag Coven then he might clear his name. Believing that he can negotiate with the Hags, Zaghain accepts less out of a desire to clear his name and more as a sort of atonement for being responsible for so many deaths in the Foxon Cellars. He is certain the Hag Coven will either know how or have something to permanently close the portal in the town’s mine and elsewhere. Celia, worried for Zaghain’s safety (and doubtful of his ability to negotiate), convinces the party and Vada to accompany him.
After ordering the clearing of the Foxon Cellars and suffering many casualties, Zaghain was stripped of his position as head alder. He was immediately replaced by Wena Riffolk who with her own brought in the mercenary troop, The Hundred. Wena and Zaghain had been jockeying for control of the town council for many years, neither approving of the other or their tactics/philosophy. Although no longer head alder, Zaghain remained on the town council but was essentially put on house arrest by Wena. Since then, Zaghain hasn’t challenged Wena but has backed Celia and her allies on the council so to check Wena’s power. He has decided he can no longer sit in the shadows working as a bureaucrat; he needs to do what is truly best for the town.
The Hag Coven is south of Foxon near the Lazaran River where the forest thickens turning almost bog-like. These hags have been expelled from the nearest Corse Ruins across the river and have taken up residence here to menace both Monton and Foxon. It is a two day journey. In the early evening of the second day, the party hears a commotion ahead through the thick woods.
Cautiously approaching the noise discovering a open clearing where several hobgoblins lay vanquished. Before them, a tall woman stabs a hobgoblin through the throat with her longsword. Behind her, a small bird-like creature is hopping from corpse to corpse looting the bodies as a mage dressed in a feathered black robes seems to be freezing the bodies. The woman turns to the group with a smirk on her face. She pulls out a rag and wipes the blood from her blade as a humanoid eagle creature swoops in landing to one side of her as a cheery looking halfling in rags seems to appear out of nowhere looking the party over with a sincere smile.
Sheathing her sword, the woman scans the party then locks eyes with the leader, “Who the fuck are you?”
Alice ‘Grim’ Donovan, witch hunter, is the de facto leader of a band of outcasts devoted to one goal–the eradication of the evil that ruined each of their lives. For Grim, that evil was a witch who tried to bring her village under its control by killing or tormenting the elders. She lost her family when they displeased the witch, and it slaughtered them. The town, rather than standing up to the witch, refused to fight driving the young Alice into a rage. She plotted and hunted the witch, eventually trapping and killing it. Young Alice brought the witch’s body back to the village, hung it up in the center of the hamlet, and set it aflame before everyone as she stared them down covered in soot and blood. Her face never betrayed any emotion earning her the name ‘Grim’ from that day on.
Early on in her hunting, Grim met the aarakocra paladin Geyer, whose entire clan was wiped out by a coven attempting to call forth an evil demigod from the elemental plane of Air. Only Geyer survived trapped on the Material Plane. He pledge himself to the destruction of all inter-planar travel and corrupt magic users as a means to avenge his clan.
The barbarian kenku, Kyo, was caught by Grim and Geyer as he tried to rob them out in the Far Lands desert beyond the forests of Monton. The two took pity on Kyo who was starving and raving desperately. Taking the time to nurse him back to health, Geyer developed a bond with this distant avian kin. Kyo sees himself as Geyer’s squire.
A cryomancer, the sorcerer Volante is obsessed with cold. His demeanor is chilling enough as he seems to lack any interest or ability to connect with another human. Volante’s sharp, analytical mind is the only thing keeping his magic in check. He sees the cold as the best means to harness while keeping in check his furious magic. He joined this group of hunters out of a desire to discover the magical knowledge he needs to rid himself of what he feels is a curse, the gift of magic. However, he refuses to acknowledge his love of using magic.
The dark skinned halfling, Tilde Farheather, is perhaps the oddest member of the group. A wandering ascetic monk, she’s taken a vow of silence but is single-minded in her quest to free and protect all people from demons and fey alike.
Grim Donovan explains her party is making their way to a coven not far from here with the only intention to destroy it or die trying. The party explains they are also heading to the Hag Coven, but are hoping to negotiate with them for some much needed information. Grim has no time for parlay with the witches and is convinced the party is wasting its time. She warns them all to say out of their group’s way. Jorg takes exception to being told what to do as he and Grim nearly come to blows. John is able to defuse the situation and convince Grim and the others in the Inquisitor party to let them try to talk to the hags but if that fails then they’ll all gladly fight together. Having to take a rest, the Inquisitors allow the party to go on ahead but they make it clear when they arrive at the Hag Coven it will be to fight.
Moving onward, the party cross over into the Hag Coven’s territory coming across a giant tree from which hang the corpses of several children (all young girls) and adults (an even mix). Each corpse has a gaping chest wound showing a space where their heart would be. They all appear long dead and none of them are recognizable to Zaghain or Vada. One of the dead girls has a braided ankle bracelet with a amber bead in it, but other than that the bodies are in rags or naked.
Inspecting the tree, Jorg discovers a hatch. Casting Detect Magic, John discovers there is a constant background static of magic all over. The party, a bit on edge due to the gruesomeness of the tree, decide against opening the hatch. Asher mediates focusing his monk power on finding what they need–a means to close the portals. His vision gives him the most direct path to the Hag Coven’s shack (which they were already on) and inside it. Awakening, Asher knows exactly what item they want and where it is. When he enters the shack, he’ll know immediately what they need and be drawn to it. However, he doesn’t know if it’s a gem, a trinket, a scroll, a book, etc.
Unnerved by the Hag Tree, the party decides negotiation with the hags is out of the question; they need to attack. Thus they decide to team up with the Inquisitors. Just as they decide to do so…
…foul stench begins to fill the air and thick grey fogs seems to come creeping out along the forest floor. Plaintive groans sound in the woods, and then from the underneath the ground arise ghouls and through the woods come three ghasts. The party is surrounded around the Hag Tree with each ghast leading a cadre of three ghouls.
Battling the ghasts and ghouls is difficult and time-consuming. After a couple of rounds, Jorg disengages and goes to find the Inquisitors for reinforcements. Vada is able to repel three of the creatures (a ghast and two ghouls) sending them fleeing from her as fast as they can. With their numbers diminished, the party is better able to handle the undead eventually defeating them just as Jorg returns with the Inquisitors in tow.
Having defeated the undead, John elects to return to Foxon where he can find laborers to help bury the bodies hanging from the Hag Tree. Continuing on, the party now augmented by the addition of the Inquisitors discuss their plan of attack as they approach the the hags’ hovel.
(At this point, John’s player had to leave, but the remaining players decided to carry on to finish the adventure.)
The Hag Coven
The group spreads out as they come to the shack. Just as they do, they hear the voices of the hags. Looking around, none see any of the witches as their voices seems to be circling the group. Vada attempts to negotiate with the hags asking them for a means to destroy portals. She offers up two golden sickles that are the sacred symbols from the temple of Rao’s. The hags scoff at being offered the tools of peasants. Vada also has an ancient tome that supposed contains within it all the spells and tricks of a local folk hero. Although less contemptuous of this offering, the hags brush it aside saying they knew the folk hero when he was alive and he wasn’t worth the time then.
The party is frustrated and more than a little eager to strike out at the hags. Sensing this, the hags begin to ramble speculating on why the party is really in their domain. They suggest the group has been sent by “that Foxon bitch” to finally get rid of them. The hags reveal they will not yield nor give in their rival speaking in bitter, angry tones.
As they go silent, from behind the group emerge from the forest the ghast and two ghouls that were repelled by Vada at the Hag Tree. Ambushed, the party engages. Soon one of the hags appears seemingly out of nowhere. This green hag casts Lightning Bolt doing severe damage. After a few moments, a second hag appears attempting to use Polymorph but fails.
Asher attempts to cast Silence but that is nullified by one of the green hags with Counterspell. The party and the Inquisitors are able to destroy the remaining undead and grievously wound one of the hags when the third appears. This night hag also casts Lightning Bolt to the chagrin of the adventures. Fortunately, Vada’s healing and the multiple attacks of Tilde, Asher, Roben, and the persistent damage from Kyo give the group the advantage they need.
The death of one of the green hags breaks the coven’s magical strength. Panicked lashing out claw attacks from the remaining green hag are dispersed among the group members as the night hag fails to successfully cast Sleep on the group. With the coven broken, the group is able to encircle the remaining witches dispatching them.
Approaching the shack, Asher and Roben enter. They quickly discover a man shackled to one of the stone walls. Shirtless, the man is covered in sweat and blood barely conscious. His wounds look to be a combination of claw slashing and deep, exact incisions. The party has Vada heal the man as much as she can and Jorg picks the locks on the shackles to release him.
Healed and free, the party meet Mercer Thiel. With little to no hesitation, Mercer stands and goes to a corner of the shack where his clothes and pack are. He thanks the party profusely in an airy, almost ditzy stoner manner rambling on about how long he’d been there and how the witches were torturing him. Mercer sees Asher and immediately recognizes him from the Usurer’s Tower saying how glad he is to know they got out thanks to him. Taken back, Asher asks what he means and Mercer explains he was the one who killed the guard and left the party the keys to get out. Rambling on, Mercer say that this makes them even. He shuffles out of the shack saying he’s heading to Crix Outpost if they ever want to look him up again.
Jorg demands to search Mercer’s pack before he leaves, which Mercer willingly gives up. Asher asks if he might know where an item might be to close portals. Mercer shrugs and tells him to look upstairs where the hags slept. Jorg tosses Mercer’s pack back to him after searching it and with a smile and a wave Mercer saunters off into the woods.
Asher discovers in the hag’s room a scroll case immediately sensing it’s what they are after. Picking it up and opening it, he discovers ten spell scrolls–four of Arcane Lock, five of Dispel Magic, and one of Gate Seal. These scrolls will be able to be used by anyone to close a portal. Realizing there is more magical and arcane items in the shack than they know what to do with or even identify, the group decides to leave it as is and perhaps come back to it later.
As they head back to Foxon, they come to the Hag Tree where they cut down the corpses and do a quick makeshift burial for each cover them with stones. Once all the cairns are done, the Inquisitors thank the party. Grim apologizes for before when they first met and compliments them on being good in a fight. The five then bid the group farewell saying they’re one to the next challenge, the next witch.
Jorg finally inspects the hatch in the Hag Tree discovering a sack filled with human hearts sitting atop the clothes of the sacrificed bodies. Zaghain recognizes the style of clothes as those of Monton’s people. They close the hatch and leave the tree eager to get away from the creepy place and back to familiar Foxon.