The Riverside Teahouse, also known as the Gnarled Teahouse, was the home of the green hag Auntie Ethel for the years leading up to 15th century DR. While it appeared as a meager house situated within the riverside swamp in the Heartlands, it was masked an old and ancient place, rich with magic originating from other planes of existence.
Powerful illusion magic permeated the swamp and the teahouse itself, making it appear as a cozy little cottage built within a sunny fen. Its thatched room was covered in moss for insulation, while its façade appeared decorated with beauteous ivy and wildflowers that provided vibrant colors.
In truth, the dilapidated shack was overgrown with twisting vines, with massive rotting tree boughs that threatened to collapse its decrepit roof. A collection of bones from various creatures decorated the entrance to the hag's abode, some that were larger that a full-grown man.
The illusory form of the teahouse appeared as a dusty but charming apothecary's home, filled with vibrant plans and flowers, illuminated by beams of sunshine shining through small holes between its thatched roof. A tall stone hearth provided warmth and light for Ethel as she formulated her alchemical concoctions.
The true interior of Ethel's home mirrored the same disparity of its exterior appearance. Strangling vines snaked down its poorly-lit walls and shadows twisted across the floor. While it offered light, the fire in the shack's hearth was also an illusion, formed to conceal a passageway that led down into the hag's underground domain.
Heading down the tunnel behind the false fireplace, a rickety wooden staircase led into to a single cavernous chamber – the entrance gallery of Ethel's domain. The overgrow root system of the swamp's massive trees ran over, across, and through the walls within, occasionally suspending within them purulent bulbs of explosive gases. Ethel's bubbling cauldron sat within the room's center, surrounded by the poor souls that were victimized by the horrific "help" she offered them.
Among the poor wretches that suffered from Ethel's involvement in their lives included Efrin Hammerborn, the diseased dwarven man who was spared death by means of petrification, the elf Lorin who sought knowledge of the future and was rewarded with visions of terrible mind flayer invaders, and the beheaded Magron who sought great intellect before betraying the hag. The spirit one of one particularly vain man remained trapped within a mirror, while the eye of a blinded elf woman remained pierced atop a spike next to her corpse.
Perhaps most notable among Ethel's victims was the enormous, tormented face that appeared within the tangled roots that barred passage to the depths of her lair. This door of tangled wood could share images and feelings with some empathic link to those that entered the gallery but could not otherwise communicate. While it was given the purpose of protecting her inner sanctum – ironic given that it was once a thief that dared to steal from the powerful hag – its form was just a mere illusion, similar to that which obscured Ethel's home and true physical form.
A narrow passageway opened up beyond the illusory door, opening into a wider cavern reminiscent of the passage beneath the teahouse. Raised stone platforms dotted the middle of the cave, some of which were connected with the same purulent bulbs dangling from some of the more massive underground roots. This chamber was the domain of Ethel's masked minions, the unfortunate individuals that were compelled by her magic to sacrifice their lives to defend her dark and secretive magics. At the rear of the cave was a waterfall that gave way to the furthest depths of Ethel's refuge.
A leap through the waterfall led to a large stone outcropping that overlooked the enormity of the final cave of Ethel's domain. Dwarfing the previous chambers with its massive size, this immense opening was easily larger than all the others before it combined. Stone pillars and rocky tors were connected by twisted roots and wooden planks set precariously along their edge. Clouds of toxic, flammable gas lingered around rocky walkways, providing true peril for anyone that dared hazard across.
Hidden on a small cliff behind a cluster of vines was a secret room that house one of Ethel's numerous faerie ring, a circle of mushrooms that surrounded a swirling vortex that led to an area of the Underdark near the Arcane Tower.
At the heart of this cavern was the entryway to Ethel's true safe haven. Just beyond the meager wooden door that led within was a circular cage made of wood and bone. It was suspended from above by narrow roots and vines that were easily severed or set aflame.
Ethel's abode was situated in one of the deepest chambers within the cave network. Dead trees, winding vines and twisting roots served as its decorations while a single column of light offered some form of natural illumination. The focal point of the room was a large stone altar, stained with blood and littered with humanoid bones.
Ethel's acrid laboratory was situated along the chamber's eastern side, housing her collection of terrible potions, labeled with names like Missing Pets, Butterflies in the Stomach, and Insanity's Kiss.
At the rear of the abode was a small faerie ring, within which was set an exit portal that could be used to escape the dreadful place.
While the illusory form of the teahouse was quite inviting — to lull Ethel's petitioners into a false sense of comfort as they made requests of her — its true appearance reflected that of the hag's character, dark and malevolent. As troubling as the aboveground shack was, the further one ventured into the caves beneath the more horrid and disturbing the environment became.
The teahouse was the venue at which Ethel received individuals that came to her from all across the Realms. While these petitioners requested aid from the hag for the various tragedies or maladies that afflicted their lives, she offered them twisted deals that seldom if ever ended benefited their lives.
The riverside teahouse was protected by the powerful illusion magic that masqueraded its true appearance along with that of the surrounding wetlands. Ethel kept a small army of red caps disguised as sheep that frolicked around the area.
In truth, Ethel needed few defenses to protect her home. She was a formidable spellcaster that was more that capable of dealing with possible intruders and potentially transforming them into magical tree-root doors.
At some point, a trio of holy warriors attempted to storm the depths of Ethel's lair, making it as far as the Overgrown Tunnel. While their ultimate fate was unknown they were last heard screaming in terror as they passed beyond the Entrance Gallery.
Some time in the Year of Three Ships Sailing, 1492 DR, the young woman Mayrina came to stay at the riverside teahouse after making a deal with Ethel. Mayrina offered up her unborn child in exchange for the return of her husband Connor. Connor's body was kept in a casket near the shack, protected with some manner of arcane barrier.
- Video Games
- Baldur's Gate III