The hobbling forsaken nervously made his way through the streets of Stormwind just as dusk had fallen. His hood shielded his pale dead flesh from the fading Sun. Even if he couldn’t feel pain, his gait was reliant solely on the Lestuu’s shoulder on his right and his own shaky grip on the wooden crutch on his left.
Here it was: The blue-carpeted steps to the Stormwind Cathedral, but these stones seemed like the tallest mountains in the Storm Peaks to the crutched forsaken. “Don’t stare up the steps. Just… keep going… one after the other.” The forsaken grunted, leaning more of his weight on Lestuu’s shoulder than he would like to admit. After several agonizing minutes, Jonathan was at the top.
But even being outside of the cathedral, the walking corpse could feel his skin crawling. The doctor’s mind urged him to not take a single step forward, and even his instinct said the same. But he shook his head, dispelling those thoughts away as he dragged himself to the interior. Jonathan pulled the brim of his hood downward, covering his yellow wisps of eyes. Thankfully, the insides of the cathedral weren’t as lively in the daytime.
Only a few souls sat in quiet contemplation on the pews or kneeling before the flower-adorned altar. The torches were dimmed, giving off the air of solemnity as the warm light shone onto the old stone and worn, but oiled pews.
Jonathan grit his teeth, feeling the pressure of a few eyes boring into his form. Some of them, it was pity. Others, curiosity. And the remainder, revulsion.
He hoped they thought he had some sort of disease. It would be much easier to explain than his actual nigh-unbelievable plight. The forsaken gestured for Lestuu to help bring him over toward one of the ornate, gilded confessionals in the corner of the room and notify a priest.
After several moments of pained movement, the forsaken grunted as he was eased down into the chair facing toward the entrance in the penitent’s side of the booth. The doctor nodded thankfully to Lestuu, and Jonathan sat in solemn silence, both dreading and anticipating the sound of that opposite door opening.
The forsaken could feel a knot in his throat as the opposite door slowly creaked open and swiftly shut. He swallowed on reflex, forcing his eyelids to close over his dry eyes.
“O Benevolent Light,” The priest at the other end began to recite. Jonathan turned his head slightly, seeing the sleeves of the woman’s silk white vestments being lifted as she raised her arms. “We ask that you grant Jonathan clarity of mind and courage of tongue, that he may confess his wrongs truly and without fear of your holy retribution. In your name.”
Jonathan felt uneasy, clenching his bone-white fists as he struggled his entire unstable physique to the kneeler. He peered through the latticed opening, though the priest was sitting out of sight, adjacent to the window.
“Speak freely, my child. It is not our duty to judge, but to listen and guide.” Her voice was soft, soothing in the doctor’s half-rotten ears. “Whatever one’s wrongs may be, we shall not condemn him, but rather seek to forgive him.”
“Reverend, please face me,” Jonathan muttered quietly, still fearful of how much sound could leak through these old, thin doors.
In response, the priest rose from her seat, settling her knees onto the cushioned platforms just before the latticed opening. The forsaken slowly lowered his hood, revealing his pale, dead flesh and features. His glowing yellow wisps of eyes peered eerily through the dark at the woman’s own hazel ones.
The reverend’s freckled face harbored fear for a fleeting moment, though her expression soon became one of pitied sympathy. The doctor studied the priest carefully, watching for any signs of sudden panic. If she were to call for the guards or paladins, he’d be hard-pressed to escape cleanly with a limp leg and a member of the Ebon Blade as his only witness.
“I am bound by the Sacred Seal; I am forbidden from disclosing what you say to me to the guards, paladins, or even the Archbishop, Highlord, or King,” a soft, reassuring smile warmed the priest’s expression, dispelling away momentary avulsion. “This, I swear under threat of excommunication from the Church of the Holy Light.”
The doctor opened his parched mouth, pausing as if about to say something, but he gathered his will once more. His grey mass of a tongue sloshed over his lips, preparing to speak. “Bless me, reverend, for I have sinned. It has been nearly twenty years since my last confession.” The forsaken hung his head low. “I was a doctor in my past life, trusted with healing the ill and injured. I should have stopped the Plague in Andorhal, but when my life was taken from me, I have become consumed with anger and hatred. I’ve mixed the vile Blight to be unleashed onto innocent people.”
Jonathan choked, beginning to feel his dry throat. It was a struggle to even speak clearly and keep a steady tone.
“And I… It was my fault my best friend w-was murdered. I continue to walk this earth to lay his spirit to rest, to e-end his killer.” The forsaken buried his face into his palms. His blackened fingertips clenched as they dug into his greying hair. “I am not sure if there is anything here for me now once it is done.”
The woman’s smile twinged, and a sharp feeling of heartbreak choked her torso. She took a careful moment, summoning her will.
“Jonathan, you shoulder the weight of the deceased so much that it crushes your shoulders. And with time, it will consume you until you truly are a bitter, angry shade.”
“What else can I do?” The forsaken raised his head to meet the woman’s gaze. If he could cry, he would be now. His bony fingers gripped the pane of the latticed window tightly. “This is my atonement.”
“Atonement is not for us, as Humans, to choose for ourselves,” she waved a gentle, but disagreeing hand. “Jonathan, did you contaminate the grain in Andorhal?”
“I did not, but--”
“You did not. Jonathan, did your own hand send your dear friend to the Light?”
“Not directly. It w-was another man that ripped--”
“You did not.” The woman’s gaze fell down to the kneeler. “You were not responsible for those things, you only seek to right them at a destructive cost to yourself.” She raised her eyes to meet the forsaken’s yellow gaze again. “You’ve mixed dangerous weapons. However, whatever our crimes, we can still return to the Light.”
The forsaken gripped his golden ring tightly, and the piece began to sear his skin, beginning to fill the room with the stench of burning, rotten skin. “Once my friend’s murderer lies lifeless at my feet, I have no reason to stay on this earth. This Light burns me. What else is here for me, reverend?”
“Doctor, when you gaze upon a field of corn, can you see every single golden grain?” The priest thinned her eyes at the defected apothecary. She leaned forward, tilting her head.
Jonathan shrunk under her gaze, though he could strangely feel no judgment in it. He squirmed on the kneeler, readjusting his posture as an excuse to avert eye contact. “I cannot.”
“No one can no matter how sharp one’s eyes are. So too that one cannot see every single possibility nor person on his journey, and your journey, I think, is not quite finished just yet.”
The doctor shot a desperate gaze through the latticed window. “What is the purpose of my journey, reverend?”
“I do not know; that is for the Light alone to know. I do not presume to speak wholly for the Light, but I think you are here for a reason, Jonathan." The reverend met his gaze stoically, "We all are here for reasons unknown to us; we’re beautiful threads spun on the Holy Light’s golden loom to inspire and guide. And I think your thread is not finished yet.”
The lack of a concrete answer was maddening. Frustration and grief boiled over in the pit of Jonathan’s still heart, and his emotions exploded as he lunged toward the latticed window, clenching the small patterned openings. His plastic nails began to detach from his fingertips as the forsaken broke down.
“Tell me what my thread says then! For what reason do I continue to walk this earth?!”
The priest winced, and she couldn’t hide her fear, but she pushed through and refused to shrink backward.
“The King himself answered this question in the wake of the Burning Legion’s defeat, Jonathan. His words can be more powerful than mine.”
The woman gently motioned a flat palm downward, signaling for the forsaken to ease his legs onto the kneeler. Jonathan hung his head, flushed with embarrassment and remorse.
“We honor those who have passed on to the Light not by sending ourselves to death, Jonathan, but by living. By healing and helping others heal. By laughing and feeling the sun on our faces. By holding our loved ones and friends close and letting them know every hour, every minute of everyday, that they matter. So live, Doctor Jonathan Corstein. For our lives, our joy, our world, these are gifts of the fallen. And we must always cherish them.”
The doctor sobbed, though no tears streamed down his face. His jaw clacked as he was overcome with grief, but for the first time in years, not only grief.
The will to live.
The priest offered a small pendant through the openings of the window: A symbol of the Church of the Holy Light. It pulsed brilliantly with a golden glow.
Jonathan offered his palm upward to accept the piece. It seared his palm like a burning lump of charcoal.
“What is this?” the forsaken inhaled through his teeth, fighting through the pain as the holy symbol’s power burned through his veins.
“Penance. Wear this at all times. It is a reminder you strive to become a better man every day, and the feeling is proof that you are Human still.”
And before the forsaken could speak, the reverend held a gentle palm up and her voice boomed confidently in the booth. “May the most Holy Light absolve thee; and by Its authority I absolve thee from every bond of excommunication and interdict, so far as my power alloweth and thy needs require. Thereupon, I absolve thee from thy wrongdoings in the name of the Light.”