They could smell burning flesh as they approached the temple. The sweet smoke rose from a woman – perhaps one of the Order. She had been impaled on a roughly hewn wooden post sunk in the fountain of the entry courtyard. When last they had visited the place that fountain ran with clear water. Now the spring had been fouled; a thick, dark fluid ran clotted and scabbed over the rim of the fountain, puddling around the woman.
She shuddered slightly as they approached, her frame settling lower on the post. The smoke came from a necklace she wore about her neck. Her skin cracked and sputtered around the cord and whatever amulet it held, scorched scar tissue trying to swallow the thing. She opened one bloodshot eye -- the other was nothing more than a crusted mass of pus -- and looked down at the men surrounding her. A croak that was almost a sigh leaked around the shaft of the post jutting from her mouth.
Her vestments were filthy with blood and sweat, and hung loosely to expose swaths of skin that had been marked with crude lettering. Tharon traced his finger across the script, black letters on cracked and peeling skin. They had been burned into her side. He thought back to his days at the monastery, learning the ancient tongues from bent-backed priests. Before he could remember the name of the language the translation came to him: "Mother Inferior."
As if this were a joke.
"How can she still be alive?" asked one of his companions. He couldn’t focus on which one it had been, couldn't see anything but the abomination in front of him, couldn't breathe anything but the greasy cloud that threatened to choke the hope from his voice. As if in response, the woman's exposed skin crackled with fresh vigor as the sun came from behind a cloud. Her body twitched and shivered, and her one eye bulged and finally popped in a gout of steaming gore that turned to smoke before hitting the ground. Still she whimpered.
He unlimbered his pack and hefted his mace. The words of the ritual gathered in his mind, almost unbidden. "She's not," he said.