The people of Innistrad are in trouble. With its protector, the archangel Avacyn, trapped in the Helvault, the Avacynian Church has no way to fight back. Humanity is dying out. The vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and other monstrosities of the plane have no plans to sustain humanity as their prey—they're playing for keeps. If nothing changes, humanity will lose forever, and Sorin's worst fears of a world without humans will be realized.
The trouble is, Avacyn's whereabouts are all but unknown to humans. She resides within the holy relic of moon-silver, the great Helvault that stands within Thraben Cathedral, but the Church that reveres her has kept her fate a terrible secret.
Today we'll learn how one cathar found herself burdened with a duty that will put her on a collision course with a planeswalker. We'll see how an obsessive mission might jeopardize the battle within that planeswalker's soul. And, as the Avacyn Restored Prerelease approaches, we'll see how you can play a role in Avacyn's release—and help determine the fate of the humans of Innistrad.
Thalia's Rapid Rise
Thalia was one of Gavony's most promising cathars. As a young inquisitor, soldier, and vampire slayer, she proved her worth soon after graduating from the academy at the Elgaud Grounds. She was an excellent swordsperson, besting old vampires of several bloodlines and earning a reputation for cunning on the battlefield, all within months of becoming a cathar. But it was her obstinately caring soul that distinguished her and earned her a place among Thraben's elite ranks.
When she was only a second-year cathar, she attracted the attention of a man called Lothar, the so-called Guardian of Thraben, a revered soldier who led a force of elite protectors in service of the Lunarch. Lothar witnessed Thalia charging into an entire howlpack of Krallenhorde werewolves to rescue a single old man, and was impressed with her selfless valor. The young cathar slashed and fought and risked everything for a single innocent soul, and Lothar made her part of his elite guardians that very day. Soon, she rose to become Lothar's second in command, entrusted to help him defend the High City of Thraben.
As Lothar's trusted right hand, Thalia learned of the Helvault, the great silver obelisk in the Cathedral courtyard. She learned that the Helvault was a protected holy relic of the Avacynian Church, but she was not told the secret: that the missing archangel Avacyn had become imprisoned within it.
The Risks of Release
The role and purpose of the Helvault was known only to the lunarch, Mikaeus, and a few of his most trusted bishops. To make the world safe from demon-kind, the protector Avacyn had used the Helvault to confine those powerful, recurring demons she could not kill. But the Helvault eventually became the angel's undoing. The elder demon Griselbrand challenged Avacyn to a duel, landing boldly and heretically on the Helvault itself, right in the center of the Thraben Cathedral courtyard. Angel and demon fought as the Lunarch and his highest officials looked on, their titanic battle raging for days. Eventually, Avacyn gathered up her remaining strength and summoned the binding spell to drive Griselbrand into the silver prison once and for all. Griselbrand tricked Avacyn, though, stabbing her through the heart with his spear and causing her binding spell to backlash. Both the devious demon lord and the wounded angel fell into the Helvault, plunging Innistrad into a time of darkness.
With Avacyn gone, the power of holy magic dwindled. As Thalia herself had witnessed firsthand, in Avacyn's absence, the evils of the world rose to attack humankind.
Mikaeus struggled with what to do about Avacyn's entrapment. Should he work on magic that could sunder the silver skin of the Helvault, potentially freeing Avacyn? The Helvault contained the world's savior, but it also contained Griselbrand and the ranks and ranks of unimaginable horrors that Avacyn had trapped over the years. Shattering the Helvault would free Avacyn, but release all those demons back into the world, as well.
Worse than that, Avacyn's heart was pierced through as she fell into the silver prison. Inside the timeless interior of the Helvaultthe artifact's magic bound her in a kind of stasis, keeping her alive when otherwise she would die from her wound. If Mikaeus found a way to break open the Helvault, he might complete Griselbrand's treachery and let Avacyn be destroyed forever.
The decision was made, and the nature of the giant silver shard was kept quiet. Mikaeus didn't even inform his captain of the guard, Lothar, that the Angel of Hope dwelt within the holy obelisk—he only told Lothar to protect it with his life.
Lothar taught Thalia of this duty in turn. She never understood what lay within—she only knew that the Helvault must be protected from the claws of evil at all costs. Thalia took the same oath that Lothar swore: that under pain of death, she would never allow the Helvault to come to harm.
Then came the hordes of death.
The Siege of Thraben
Geralf and Gisa, that sibling team of zombie masters, unleashed their life's greatest achievement: a vast horde of necromantic ghouls and necro-alchemical skaabs. They besieged the city of Thraben with their ghoulish army, each hoping to outdo the other in their mad sibling rivalry, sending waves of unhallowed creatures at the holy city. Scores of civilians and cathars fell in Thraben's defense. Ultimately, Thalia hatched a plan, gathering the straw from thatched roofs around Thraben to create a trap for the undead hordes. She outwitted the ghouls and skaabs, burning them to ash in a great circle of fire before they could penetrate Thraben Cathedral's inner sanctum.
But she wasn't able to save the life of her beloved superior. Tormented by strange, evil voices during the battle, Lothar plunged off one of Thraben's high walls to his death.
The Lunarch Mikaeus would have been the one to promote Thalia, to bestow her with the title of Guardian of Thraben. But the Lunarch, too, was killed in Gisa and Geralf's assault. The death of the Lunarch would have been grim news to the four provinces, and yet another blow to the perception of the Church's efficacy. So Mikaeus was entombed in secret, whisked away to the clandestine catacombs beneath the cathedral.
And buried with Mikaeus was the secret of Avacyn's imprisonment within the Helvault.
Thalia took charge of the elite guardians of Thraben, becoming the Guardian of Thraben in her predecessor's stead. She became the one human being who bore the duty of keeping the Helvault safe—and, unbeknownst to her, of keeping Avacyn sealed within the Helvault. She might even have been able to crack the Helvault herself, if she had the knowledge and inclination to do so. She might even have been the one with enough courage to face the demonic creatures it might unleash. But she had made a promise to her old friend Lothar—and to the Lunarch. She kept the Helvault, and her promise, intact.
Her protection did not last long.
Deathmage on a Mission
We turn now to another woman who will play a role in Innistrad's closing chapter: Liliana Vess, whose quest has led her to Innistrad.
Long ago, Liliana promised her soul to four powerful demons in exchange for everlasting youth and an extraordinary command over death magic. But although she enjoys the benefits of that dark deal, Liliana isn't one to pay her debts fair and square. Believing that slaying those demons will free her from her soul-debt, she's been on a mission of destruction across many planes.
She has already killed Kothophed, the first of the four demons who claim her soul. But that has not brought her peace. She still sees the marks that glow on her body when she uses magic, the runic terms of her contract that are inscribed directly on her skin. And the dark power of the artifact she holds, the Chain Veil, tempts her with ever-greater power the more she uses it. She hopes that killing the next on her list will improve her lot.
She knows the demon Griselbrand resides somewhere on the plane of Innistrad. And her search is nearing its end. By intimidation, persuasion, and outright threat of death, she has gathered the clues she needed to make her way to her destination.
In the province of Stensia she snuffed out devils while searching for information around the sulfurous Ashmouth. She eventually made her way to a minor demon, but the demon only taunted her and laughed at her attempts at intimidation. But she got what she wanted when the demon bragged of human worship. Liliana had a new lead to pursue.
She made her way from Stensia to the province of Nephalia, where she dug up gossip about demon worshippers in the towns of Havengul and Selhoff. Her inquiries got her to a name and a place: the Skirsdag cult and the city of Thraben.
But Liliana has another factor to deal with: the planeswalker Garruk Wildspeaker, whom she cursed at their last meeting with the dreaded Chain Veil. Even as she is on Griselbrand's trail, Garruk is on hers, and the affliction with black mana has only made the massive beast-hunter all the more relentless.
Thus far, Griselbrand has proved to be frustratingly shy. Liliana must make her way to Thraben and find out more about the Skirsdag cult, in hopes that someone will know the demon's whereabouts. In the meantime, she is beginning to feel doubts about the wisdom of using the Chain Veil to further her death magic. Its insistence has been growing—alarmingly so. But she's not sure she will be able to defeat Garruk without the artifact's power, and the cursed beast-mage pursues her tirelessly. She'll need to evade him as best she can, or outthink him if she can't—and all for the privilege of facing Griselbrand, Innistrad's epitome of evil power.
Collision in the Cathedral
These two single-minded women will soon encounter one another. Thalia, the woman sworn to protect Thraben, who would never allow harm to come to the holy Helvault relic at her city's heart, will face Liliana, the woman determined to hunt Griselbrand, who would never allow one plane-bound soldier to stand in the way of her ambitions. And as they clash, the fate of Avacyn will be uncovered.
Over the past year you've learned about Avacyn's disappearance, about the waning of the holy magic on Innistrad, and about how the monstrous creatures of Innistrad have risen to prey on humanity. You've learned the role of the vampire planeswalker Sorin in the creation of Avacyn, and how he meant her to provide balance on Innistrad by fighting back and protecting the humans against darkness. You've learned about the Lunarch, Mikaeus, and how he carried the secret of Avacyn's imprisonment within the Helvault to his coffin. And you've learned of the demon Griselbrand, of his simultaneous imprisonment in the Helvault, and about how the planeswalker Liliana Vess seeks him out to destroy him at all costs.
In a feature article on April 9, kicking off Avacyn Restored previews, I will tell you the final piece of this tale. You will hear how the battle at the Helvault plays out, and how the long-awaited Avacyn will ring in a new chapter in Innistrad's history. But you have a role to play, as well.
On April 28–29, the weekend of the Avacyn Restored prerelease, right at your local game store, you too may be part of Innistrad's history. At special Helvault events, you and your fellow players can work together to break open the renowned Helvault and lay bare its contents. For more about special Helvault events at Avacyn Restored Prereleases, be sure to read the details in this Magic Arcana.
"What cannot be destroyed must be bound."
—Avacyn, Angel of Hope