Cathars are the soldiers of the Avacynian church. They're educated at the seminary at Thraben Cathedral, where they study religious law and martial warfare. After cathars enter the priesthood, they must select a specialization, or mastery. They receive additional training at either Thraben Cathedral or the Elgaud Grounds in Nephalia. From there, they are assigned to active duty at locations throughout Innistrad.
As a whole, the cathars were deeply affected by the disappearance of Avacyn, the diminishing wards, and the time of Dark Ascension. Some masteries changed by necessity, and some changed because of politics. Each mastery has a captain, and in the absence of Avacyn, the personalities of the captains influenced the cathars under their command. Some cathars aligned with particular flights of angels, which had ramifications in the rank and file. Under pressure to safeguard their provinces, the captains were forced to take measures to increase the strength of their cathars in whatever ways they could. The angels tried to assist them, but the wards had failed, and monsters were running amuck. The cathars saw themselves as the last line of defense.
Art by Volkan Baga
The riders are Innistrad's elite cavalry. They're trained extensively in the equestrian arts, particularly mounted swordsmanship as well as secondary weapons such as the lance. Most are stationed in the Gavony moorland in a walled compound known as Rider's Lock, near the village of Merwald Downs. The compound includes a large manor where Captain Einolf Brandt lives with his wife and family. Brandt is a loyal, competent leader and an excellent equestrian. When zombies attacked the village of Merwald Downs, he sent his riders to evacuate the entire population and sheltered them in the compound until the menace was wiped out.
Art by Chris Rahn
Cathars of this mastery are battlefield chaplains with healing and protective magic. They're usually armed when they enter a conflict but aren't on the front lines. In a battle, their primary role is to move among the injured and offer healing. Often, a regiment will include several chaplains who can work together to cast large-scale wards. The chaplains are headquartered in the outskirts of Thraben under the command of Captain Nadila Maas. She doesn't have much experience as a leader and there was great discontent among her ranks during Avacyn's absence.
This is the largest mastery, as it requires no specialized magic. Although they protect other locations besides mausoleums, that is their most common duty. Some also guard walls and key locations in Thraben, such as the cathedral, courts, and trade houses. The head of this mastery is a strict, clever man named Lewenhart. He is one of the first to suspect the existence of the Skirsdag, and his investigations into the demon cult nearly cost him his life.
Keepers of the Pale
Cathars of this mastery are known as Keepers of the Pale, or simply the Pale. They specialize in matters surrounding the Blessed Sleep and geists. All members of this mastery live on the Thraben Cathedral grounds, but the Pale undertake long, solitary pilgrimages that last months—sometimes years. They are the most secretive mastery, and their arcane rituals and clandestine nature cause distrust among the other cathars.
Art by James Ryman
Blessed weapons are an important part of Avacynian magic, and these cathars are trained in the art of weapon making. Certain blessings must be said at certain times during the forging process to make a weapon magically effective against a particular foe. Silversmiths are particularly revered because of the difficulty in imbuing the silver with strong magic, especially anti-lycanthropic magic. This mastery has a presence in both Thraben and Elgaud. Captain Frimar has strong ties with the merchant community in Nephalia and spends most of his time at Elgaud. During Avacyn's absence he became aware of the trade in illegal Helvault silver. He established a special detail to investigate and retrieve all objects made from pilfered silver.
Art by David Palumbo
Historically, this mastery was made up of detectives who investigated crimes, both mundane and supernatural. They travelled to remote parishes plagued by unexplained murders. More recently, they were tasked with finding werewolves who attempted to lead normal lives. Their role took a darker turn during Avacyn's absence, when a series of inquisitions occurred in Kessig and the Gavony moors. They not only executed those who had not been proven to be werewolves, but also began "enforcing" church law and punishing heretics in unsanctioned trials without angelic witnesses.
Art by Steven Belledin
During Avacyn's absence, the incidence of devils increased dramatically, and their antics became increasingly destructive and cruel. A group of rogue duelists broke with their captain and set out on their own to hunt down devils. The leader of this group is a former moor chaplain named Roricus who lost his family to a devil "prank" that burned his village to the ground.
The duelists patrol the port towns of Nephalia streets, especially at night, targeting criminals and the illegal corpse trade. They are also the first responders if vampires or werewolves attack inside the port towns. As experts in bladework, the duelists readily engage vampires and often step in for someone who has been challenged to a duel by a vampire, using formal dueling etiquette. Minna of Selhoff is one of the most famous duelists. An accomplished fighter with many victories to her name, she let her celebrity go to her head and now stages traveling shows in Nephalian towns. The neglect of her duties has made her unpopular among her fellow cathars, particularly because there is a great need for her skills.
Art by Igor Kieryluk
The Quiver of Kessig
Parish-blades are cathars stationed in parishes and serve as escorts along roads, and the Quiver of Kessig is a relatively new offshoot of the parish-blades that specializes in archery and long-range defense. Some guard walls, churches, or any place that needs defense against airborne attacks. During Avacyn's absence, Captain Raf Gyel moved many of his cathars to the Gatstaf Grotto with the Flight of Herons. Now they function as scouts and rangers for the angels. They have become practically independent from governance of Thraben Cathedral and the church.
Gatstaf and the Cursemute
The village of Gatstaf is located on the lip of a deep crevasse, surrounded by rocky wheat fields and shot through with chasms and caverns. Gatstaf is well-known for its thorny but hearty grains, its coal mining, and its skilled leatherworkers. The town serves as a pilgrim's stopover for many routes through Kessig and is the site of a renowned subterranean natural spring and altar to Avacyn. Denizens of Gatstaf are pious but belligerent, and have been known to assemble mobs to attack homes or families believed to harbor werewolves, led by the town elder Kolman. Gatstaf is also known for a nearby religious landmark; a crossway runs down from Gatstaf through the canyon below to Gatstaf Grotto, where a famous natural spring and Avacynian altar reside.
Art by Ryan Pancoast
Kolman is a bitter and cruel man who vowed to rid his parish of werewolves. Some close to him suspect he might actually be a werewolf himself, and is using his showy antagonism to mask his own shame. Many lone werewolves live in secret among the Kessigers, too afraid of retribution to reveal themselves, but too attached to their families and Kessig roots to leave. Suspicion and speculation run rampant among Kessig's commoners, fueled by frightened exaggeration and misremembered anecdotes. Kessigers hold conflicting views about how to detect, hunt, or cure werewolves; how many exist; what keeps them at bay; and what it all means for humanity.
After Avacyn disappeared, Gatstaf's interactions with werewolves became more vicious and desperate. Kolman, the town elder, successfully uncovered a small group of families giving refuge to some suspected werewolves. Before a large crowd, he had four people executed who were believed to be werewolves. The act was done while they were in their human forms, so it was not possible to verify their curse, but the evidence seemed strong. Many cheered the punishments, but later it became clear that one of the executed was an uncursed human. Some in Gatstaf felt they were taking on the same savagery as the monsters they feared.
Art by Steve Prescott
When the Helvault opened, Kolman began a great purge of werewolves. He led inquisitors and cathars throughout Kessig, whose faith-derived powers were restored by Avacyn's return. Under his command, they hunted down and slew many werewolves in a great inquisition. Some of the larger howlpacks lost a fifth of their number in a matter of days. Still others, especially those who exulted in their wild nature, fought back with brutal and brazen attacks. Most of the more infamous and destructive werewolves were hunted, captured, and put to death with holy fire.
Even after Avacyn returned to Innistrad and it became safer to hunt werewolves, the mood of the citizens of Gatstaf was uncertain. Howlpacks of werewolves targeted the town, stealing victims and even turning a few citizens to the curse, but the horror of the inquisition haunted the minds of the populace. Then Kolman announced a final offensive on the wilderness surrounding Gatstaf. All the cathars and priests from the area were called to scour the forests in an attempt to destroy the howlpacks once and for all, and in a wave of fresh anger, the slayers formed a mob. Kolman dubbed it the Gatstaf Hunt and praised all who gathered to track and kill.
Guided by their reinvigorated folk magic, the hunters found their quarry quickly, and the two sides squared off: humanity and werewolf. Even under the presence of a strong, clear moon, many of the werewolves began to revert to their human forms. The concentration of Avacyn's magic—reflowing through the shrines, inhabiting the blessed weapons—allowed many of the werewolves to control their wolf natures and overcome the change. One by one, the werewolves regressed to their human forms, and some of the assembled slayers saw their loved ones among the monsters.
Cloudshift | Art by Howard Lyon
The Gatstaf Hunt yielded not a single kill. The fight became a reunion and a pilgrimage. The slayers and the lycanthropes came together and walked through the woods to the Gatstaf Grotto, site of an ancient Avacynian shrine. They bathed in the waters of the natural spring and basked in the divine power of the altar.
Then together, just before daybreak, they appealed to Avacyn for aid in breaking the lycanthropic curse. And Avacyn appeared to them right there in Gatstaf Grotto.
Avacyn's message was short and simple. She could not break the curse of lycanthropy, she said. The curse mingles the human spirit with the spirit of the wild, and the wild spirit could not be destroyed without also destroying the werewolf 's humanity. So those afflicted with the curse would forever have it. However, Avacyn offered the Gatstaf werewolves a special place at her side. If they promised to serve as guardians of humanity, she would transform their curse, fusing the two warring aspects into a single noble creature, and allowing them to dwell in the light of her blessing. The lycanthropes at the Grotto that day cried for joy and accepted her offer, and she transformed them into the wolfir. In a powerful wave of spells that would become known as the cursemute, Avacyn's magic spread through the plane, transforming not just many werewolves but many of the world's foul curses. The wolfir emerged as a new race of great wolf-creatures dedicated to the principles of the Church of Avacyn.
Wolfir Silverheart | Art by Raymond Swanland
It is not known whether any werewolves still exist on Innistrad, but some, perhaps many, might have escaped destruction by slayers and rejected Avacyn's eldritch transformation into wolfir. It was theorized that other lands beyond the great seas harbored exotic species of lycanthropes, and it has been speculated that some werewolves of the known world have fled for those far regions.
Wild Defiance | Art by Slawomir Maniak
Liliana Vess and Garruk Wildspeaker
The cursemute had an unintended impact on a visitor to the plane: Garruk Wildspeaker. At the moment the cursemute swept across the land, Garruk was knee-deep in swamp muck surrounded by the severed limbs of Liliana's ghouls.
Garruk Wildspeaker tracked Liliana to Innistrad. In their first encounter, she inflicted him with the Chain Veil's curse, a dark hex that affects Garruk's magic and that seems to worsen with every passing day. Garruk had been hunting Liliana across multiple planes in order to force her to remove the curse, or, barring that, to kill her in revenge. Liliana, whose dark magic is greatly amplified by the Chain Veil, came to Innistrad to hunt down and slay one the four demons to whom she is indebted for her agelessness and power. Before she acquired the Chain Veil, Liliana was forced to do the bidding of her demon masters. Now she believes she can eliminate her soul-debt by destroying them instead.
When Liliana uses the Veil, she transfers her essence into the artifact, slowly becoming its servant rather than the demons' servant. The demon she seeks on Innistrad is Griselbrand, who tricked Avacyn into the Helvault with him. Liliana travelled from one province to another, searching for her quarry. Meanwhile, Garruk tracked Liliana from Kessig and finally intercepted her in a marshy swamp. The two fought, and because Liliana was now reluctant to use the Chain Veil in every fight, Garruk briefly had the advantage.
Triumph of Ferocity | Art by James Ryman
But Garruk's strength was diminished because of the Chain Veil's curse. His green-aligned magic has weakened, being replaced by nascent black-aligned magic. He wasn't strong enough to fight Liliana at her own game and was bested by his nemesis, who cheerfully left him surrounded by ghouls and continued on her demon-hunting quest.
Triumph of Cruelty | Art by Izzy
Close to death and tormented by pain and fury, Garruk dispatched the ghouls, but his mind slipped away from him. He wandered in blind circles, shouting at the ravens and imagined monsters. It might have been the end of the great hunter, but for the events unfolding in Gatstaf.
When Avacyn's magic reached him, Garruk regained his senses. He stared down at his arms, watching the black veins receding from his skin. He was overcome with joy at the sudden absence of pain and sickness. But it was a falsehood. Within seconds the veins reappeared, his blood seemed to thicken to tar, and his back bent under the weight of the curse once again.
The cursemute was enough to bring him back from madness and death, but it was not enough to cure him.
After slogging his way out of the swamp, he came upon Angel's Way, a well-traveled road between Kessig and Thraben. He knew the witch was heading to Thraben, and he could doggedly continue his pursuit. Or he could strike out another way, toward the origin of the magic he had felt so strongly. There was a power on this plane that could cure curses. Maybe there was another way to rid him of his evil burden—a way that didn't involve the witch.
Plains | Art by Adam Paquette
Sometimes a straight line wasn't the best way to catch a beast. And sometimes the quickest route to a kill was the longest path through the forest. Yes, this day he would let his senses guide him. Garruk knew his hunt for Liliana was far from over. But for now, he turned away from Thraben and headed toward the rising sun.