Helvault | Art by Jaime Jones
Is Avacyn conscious in there? Is she aware of how much time is passing outside of that chunk of moon-silver? Does she know the horrors the poor humans of Innistrad are enduring in her absence? If she does, not a peep of it has escaped the surface of the Helvault. It would only be useful as a demon's prison if all the transfers were one-way. So the silent edifice stands between Thraben Cathedral and the cliff's edge, mum about its contents and inmates, leaving the Church reeling. Today we look at the impact of the story developments of Dark Ascension on the Avacynian Church and the humans across Innistrad who have come to depend on it.
The Church's response
Just before the time of Innistrad, after that moment when Avacyn was pulled down into the Helvault, those Avacynian clergy who witnessed her fate were left terrified. What would happen to those citizens of Innistrad who the archangel was supposed to protect? What would happen to the institution of the Church, and to their own role as slayers of vampires and hunters of lycanthropes?
And as a more immediate problem, what could they possibly tell the common folk across the four provinces? They couldn't very well tell them the truth. Just imagining the proclamation to inform everyone made them shudder. For example:
"It is with regret that we announce that Avacyn, the bringer of light and figurehead of our entire belief system, has been bested by a demon lord and plunged forever into a doorless prison. We anticipate that all those prayers, wards, rituals, and blessed weapons on which we had heretofore relied shall slowly wane in effectiveness, until a tide of monstrous darkness overwhelms us all. Signed, the Institution Formerly Known as the Church of Avacyn."
No. Mass panic would have been the instant result. And if villagers and believers across Innistrad were to suddenly lose faith due to such news, it might drain whatever power the priests and cathars of Avacyn's religion still wielded, hastening the rise of evil. So although whispers and rumors flew about Avacyn's absence, the Church kept the truth of what happened under wraps.
The highest-ranking priest of the Church, Mikaeus, the Lunarch, made those few priests who had witnessed the tragedy swear to secrecy. From then on, the message was tightly controlled. When the villagers and parish priests asked questions of the high clergy, the answers they got back were somewhat reassuring, but also evasive and even slightly threatening in tone:
"Avacyn's strength is unalterable and remains with us at all times, as the faithful are careful never to forget."
"Put your hearts at rest. Every prayer to Avacyn is still heard and still answered, albeit in subtler ways than some might demand."
"Despite rumors to the contrary, we should point out that angels loyal to Avacyn have made frequent appearances in recent days, transmitting the full protections of the archangel in her stead. If the devoted patrons of your parish still wish to question the reliability of our almighty Angel of Hope, they may look within to find the true source of their crisis."
The messages from the lunarch's priests were designed to curb rumors and play down Avacyn's lack of recent appearances, yet they only invited more speculation and stirred more distrust. Inside the walls of the High City of Thraben, the influence of ghouls, vampires, and werewolves was not yet felt except for a few scattered incidents. Out in the provinces, though, any message other than "immediate aid is on the way" was a difficult one to hear.
Faith in the provinces
In Stensia, the vampire families are experiencing a dark renaissance, a show of power similar to the earliest era of their existence on Innistrad. Vampires have always enjoyed a kind of macabre celebrity status on this plane; when a curtained, well-appointed carriage snaked its way down from the bat-plagued mountain ranges of Stensia and past a human village, it left in its wake the ghoulish fascination and excited whispers of the human villagers. But now, more and more, the major vampire families have taken up residence right among the humans, carousing, hunting, and holding week-long revelries where the glasses of blood never go dry. Vampires make examples of the cathars who stalk them: the blood nobles impale the humans with their own living-wood weapons and toss their drained bodies into the streets. Although messages of hope and reassurance do reach the parish priests of Stensia, the authority of the Avacynian Church is failing here, and fast. The population ratio in Stensia has already shifted radically, tipping in favor of vampires, and Sorin's fear of a world absent of humans looks ever more possible.
Falkenwrath Aristocrat | Art by Igor Kieryluk
In Nephalia, the Church's role has been to keep humans safe from the actions of necromantic ghoulcallers and corpse-stitching skaberen. Now that holy magic is losing its strength, undead attacks on already-terrorized merchant outposts and port towns have gotten even worse. The underground corpse trade is in full swing, delivering precious bodies to those who wish to harvest them for their dark magics. Geists blow in with the sea's mist, restless spirits fresh from shipwrecks or roused from the Blessed Sleep as the Avacynian blessings over cemeteries fail. Nephalians regularly see the faces—or other body parts—of their loved ones at the ends of their silver weapons. Sometimes those faces are mercifully decomposed and unrecognizable, but it's not uncommon for them to be attacked by deathless versions of the same beloved priests who were supposed to be guarding the town gates.
Kessig is a province where all the commoners' Avacyn-based rituals have come to an awkward end. All pretense at agriculture has been dropped: sheep herds and shepherds alike have been decimated by werewolves; geists emerge from the wilds to torment farmers carrying wagons full of crops along lonely country roads; fields lie fallow as old ghosts roam the rows. The folk songs and rustic sayings of field laborers, once imbued with notes of Avacynian power, are now just so much chilly breath. Kessigers already felt great mistrust toward the shiny-booted and curfew-imposing priests of the High City, but now the commoners of Kessig won't even open their doors to travelers in need.
Faithless Lootling | Art by Gabor Szikszai
The province of Gavony, home of Thraben and site of the Helvault, might be where the strangest changes have arisen. Faith was so central to so many lives in Gavony that the loss of Avacyn has rocked this land most of all. Since so many humans are buried here, the undead—both corporeal and incorporeal—have always been a problem in Gavony, but many incidents went overlooked. Now, with the sense of safety drained, each rising of hungry ghouls or midnight haunting by child-voiced geists grips whole villages with terror. Small churches go abandoned even during holy days. Communities founded around the cherished traditions of Avacyn are splintering. Perhaps most disturbing, the ranks of the demon-worshipping Skirsdag Cult have been growing in these dark times. Bishop Volpaig, a crude-minded minor bishop of the Church, has secretly been working for the Skirsdag and has overheard that his master Griselbrand has fallen into the Helvault. Volpaig has been more open with his involvement with the Skirsdag of late, and his pro-demon message is gathering listeners as the citizens of Gavony long for any institution they can count on. Some humans have actually stepped forward to voluntarily sacrifice themselves at the hands of the Skirsdag, just to feel that they were making a difference, just to feel that they could affect the surge of darkness that threatens to envelop Innistrad.
Gravepurge | Art by Zoltan Boros
I hope you enjoy Dark Ascension at the prerelease this weekend, as the monsters rise and humanity approaches its darkest hour.
Letter of the Week
It's been giddy times around the Creative Team the last few weeks. We've watched reactions to the card previews and storyline developments of Dark Ascension, and my inbox has been abuzz. I think I'll need to do a clean-out-the-inbox column sometime soon, but for now, let's dig in with a question about Sorin's creation.
I enjoyed "The Prison of Silver" as always, but something's been nagging at my Vorthos side since it was revealed that Sorin created Avacyn.
How much power does it take to create an archangel? Bearing in mind, we're not just talking about a really boffo angel here, we're talking about the Pinnacle of Being for the entire plane.
It's an interesting perspective to consider that *every* living being from B.F.M. all the way down to Little Girl has the capacity to create life, making the act the most common of miracles. It then stands to reason that beings of power should be capable of more exceptional creation.
Serra created an entire race of angels to populate her own homemade plane of existence and Karn created Mirrodin and populated it with Memnarch, a being powerful enough to kidnap multiple civilizations. That's some pretty impressive stuff.
The cataclysm that saved Dominaria weakened the planeswalker spark, I hope enough that the act of planar birth is no longer possible for the average planeswalker, but Sorin is very old so perhaps he was born before that.
Even if we accept that creating beings as powerful as Avacyn and Memnarch is no longer possible, it still boggles my mind that it ever was. Why would planeswalkers visit existing planes when they can create their own? Why would they summon goblins or dragons when they can fashion their own legendary warriors?
Perhaps such acts require personal sacrifices we haven't heard? I wonder what a vampire planeswalker like Sorin would have to give up in order to create a beacon of planar hope and salvation like Avacyn. And where would he have learned that trick?
Thanks for your question, Jay!
"CREATE PLANE-PROTECTING ARCHANGEL" is definitely not a spell they teach you on your first weekend of Apprentice Mages' Sleepaway Camp for Tots. Even a millennia-old planeswalker like Sorin would have had to gather knowledge, mana, and other mystical resources to attempt such a feat, and even then it would be a once-in-a-lifetime magical stunt (even given a vampiric lifespan).
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad | Art by Michael Komarck
It's an interesting point of difference between the game and the backstory. Magic as a trading card game is not really in the business of having spells you can only cast ONCE EVER or that require immense personal sacrifice; you only want cards in your deck that you can actually rely on, game in and game out, and really, you as a player are not really interested in making truly life-shaking changes just to put an Angel card on the battlefield (okay, maybe if she's really, REALLY impressive). But in story terms, this kind of lifetime-defining, unique act of magic does occasionally happen, and in ways that can alter a planeswalker's entire career as a mage. As you mention, Jay, I'd expect Sorin would have had to give up something very dear to him in order to bring together the magics required to create Avacyn, in addition to mana and power, just like Liliana needed big-time demonic help to ensure her lasting power and youth. Even though Sorin probably rated a solid "nutso" on the power-ometer before the Great Mending, he had to bring in the thaumaturgical Big Guns and do something that wasn't in the manual. Maybe he had to tap into knowledge that didn't even exist anywhere on any plane, using overlapping arcano-theologies drawn from his restless travels across many worlds. Perhaps Sorin had to break off a little, unrecoverable piece of himself and give it to his creation in order to give her true, lasting, world-shielding life—and I don't mean an appendix or a little toe either, but something deeper, stranger, and more precious. As the stories of Sorin and of Innistrad roll on, I'm sure we'll all be interested to see what impact Avacyn has made on him, and he on her, and them both on this plane.