The quest requires Geralt to decide the fate of a spirit trapped in the roots of a large oak tree. The spirit's presence has been disturbing the local populace of Downwarren and possibly resulted in several deaths.
Regardless how you start this quest, make your way to the Ancient Oak where a voice will start telling Geralt to stay away while wolves nearby start attacking. Kill them off and head around the base of the tree to find a werewolf guarding the entrance to a cave. If you're having trouble finding this entrance, follow the white dotted path marked on on your map.
The werewolf can either be left alone or killed before heading into the cave entrance, although the werewolf will try to attack Geralt if he comes too close to it. Upon entering the cave, you'll follow a small, partially flooded path, finally reaching the beating heart in the roots of the tree.
Once the heart is reached, you can talk to the spirit, whose dialogue choices will depend on how you started the quest. If you were sent as part of the main quest, there will be some interesting choices to talk to the spirit about the Crones as well as the orphans at Crookback Bog. Otherwise, you'll just have some basic dialogue about why the tree was killing those who got too close. But ultimately, you must then decide the fate of the spirit: release them or kill them. Note: Your choice here will have a major impact on Downwarren's villagers, the orphans in Crookback Bog, and the Bloody Baron's family.
Release the Spirit
For the raven feather, head west of Downwarren along the path until you reach a small broken bridge and you'll see some harpies and birds circling near the cliff over a nest. Once you've killed off the harpies, loot the nest for the feather. If you haven't already progressed far enough in the main quests to find and help Johnny, you'll also find the sealed bottle here. However, if you already did that part and looted everything beforehand, you should already have this feather.
For the remains, head out into the swamps between the Ancient Oak and The Orphans of Crookback Bog signposts, where a water hag is nearby. Go to the southern edge of the yellow search area and, using Witcher Senses, find the spirit's grave and interact to get the remains, to which Geralt will remark they don't appear human.
For the final part, the black horse, head out to where the objective marker is to find several of them. They'll naturally run if you get too close, but you just need to get close enough to use Axii on one of them. Once you successfully subdued one, mount the horse and ride back to the cave where the spirit is and through the new opening that appeared when you left earlier. Once close enough to the spirit, a cutscene will trigger.
Geralt will then have 3 different choices: release the spirit, trick it to let it die, or kill it.
If you go through with releasing it, Geralt will then begin the ritual and the spirit will then transfer to the horse, becoming Black Beauty. If you are doing this as part of the main quest and asked it to save the orphans, Geralt can then ask about them to which the spirit promises to keep their end of the deal and will then run off. Otherwise, the spirit will simply remark they're free again and run off, finishing the quest.
If you choose to trick it, Geralt will start the ritual but then refuse to stab the heart, letting the spirit die without a fight, finishing the quest.
If you changed your mind completely and wish to kill it, a fight will break out like if you had chosen to kill it before gathering all the required items.
Fight the Spirit
If Geralt outright refused to help free the spirit, either after the first conversation or after they gathered all the items to initially release it, the spirit will summon endrega workers to protect it. They appear in waves and, as soon as one wave is finished, concentrate on attacking the branches around the heart, which will eventually give way so you can attack the heart directly. Once the spirit is dead, the quest will complete and, if you were doing it as part of the main quest, Ladies of the Wood will resume.
- If Geralt finds the spirit on his own:
- While roaming the thick, gloomy tangles of the Velen woodlands, Geralt came across a spirit whose heart was trapped in a cave under an eye-catching tree...
- If Geralt finds the spirit after being tasked to do so:
- Something about life in dreary backwoods settlements leads their inhabitants to hide the truth with misleading names. This takes the form of both hyperbole - a clump of bare trees called "Dragon Spike Forest" or a hole in the ground two paces deep named "The Chasm of Eternity" - and understatement - a horrid massacre calmly referred to as "the incident." Velen fit the mold in this regard, as Geralt learned while he wanted through it in search of Ciri. There he encountered a trio of highly suspicious magical sisters called the Ladies of the Wood, who directed him to a clump of bogside huts known as Downwarren. Geralt was to solve their "problem": a rash of mysterious murders. He spoke to the ealdorman and learned that the evil power behind the killings dwelled in the Whispering Hillock. Wherever else?
- If Geralt finds the spirit on his own:
- If Geralt frees the spirit:
- The truth hidden under the Whispering Hillock? A woman's spirit, imprisoned in a cave within it. Geralt felt sympathy for the ill-treated ghost and helped it enter the body of a horse, thus regaining its freedom.
- If Geralt kills the spirit:
- The truth hidden under the Whispering Hillock? A woman's spirit, imprisoned in a cave within it. Geralt concluded this foul being was responsible for murdering the inhabitants of Downwarren, and so destroyed its heart, loosening its last grasp on our world.
- Find where the voice is coming from using your Witcher Senses.
- Speak to the spirit in the cave beneath the Whispering Hillock.
- If you decide to release it:
- Find the bones of the spirit trapped beneath the Whispering Hillock using your Witcher Senses.
- Find a raven feather.
- Calm a wild horse using the Axii Sign and mount it.
- Bring a black horse to the cave beneath the Whispering Hillock.
- If you decide to kill it:
- Destroy the heart in the tree's roots.
The following consequences are observed in the quest Return to Crookback Bog depending on your choice of whether to free or kill the trapped spirit:
- Spirit dies: If Geralt kills the spirit (whether through direct fighting or tricking it), the village of Downwarren is safe. The orphans in the bog, however, are taken by the Crones, most likely to be eaten. Anna, while left alive, goes crazy over the loss and her husband takes her away from the bog to seek help from far away.
- Spirit is free: If the spirit is freed, it saves the children from the Crones, and eventually places them in the care of Marabella at Novigrad. However, the spirit attacks Downwarren, killing most of the villagers. The Crones punish Anna for losing the children and curse her as a water hag. When Geralt removes the curse, Anna dies due to the nature of the curse keeping her alive, and her husband commits suicide over the loss.
- Spirit is freed BEFORE consulting the Ealdorman: If the player releases the spirit before consulting the Ealdorman in the Ladies of the Wood quest the game will have an odd consequence in the Return to Crookback Bog quest. The village of Downwarren will be attacked but Anna will not be turned into a water hag. Additionally a dialogue element will give the impression that the orphans have been saved, this turns out not to be true as there is no reference to the orphans' survival later in Novigrad as there normally is when they are saved.
- If the spirit dies before consulting the Ealdorman: the normal spirit dies consequence occurs.
- If you released the spirit and keep up with Black Beauty, she'll eventually reach a bridge where a bandit camp is just southwest of Crossroads and then disappear, or in some occasions she'll get stuck under the bridge, if you cleared the bandit camp before a rabid rock troll will spawn instead.
- If freed, time will automatically move ahead to just before midnight. This was most likely done to show off the glowing red eyes of the horse as they can't be seen as clearly in the day.
- Dialogue with the ealdorman in Downwarren changes depending on if you already dealt with the spirit or not.
- CD PROJEKT RED has confirmed this is not a bug and is an intended consequence.