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The Scourge of Truth

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The summons that changes Emmanellain’s life comes late on a cold, unremarkable afternoon, a bit before the smell of supper can start wafting through the house, a good three bells before the card tables of Foundation’s more entertaining establishments will be lively enough for a visit. It comes, in short, when he’s bored, his gaze fixed vaguely in the direction of the novel open in front of him, his mind wandering in search of excitement. And then his father comes to the door of his chamber.

“Emmanellain,” his father says, in the I’ve been told I don’t give you enough of a chance but I don’t believe it tone, “I need you to tell me true: have you done anything that would give the Inquisitors cause to find fault with you?”

It’s such an awful question Emmanellain can’t help a short laugh. “Don’t they say the Inquisitors can find fault with any man? We are none of us so virtuous as Halone might wish us to be.”

“For once in your life, don’t be flippant,” his father growls. “There is a runner in the entry hall requesting that you present yourself immediately before the Tribunal. Have you given them cause?”

“N-no,” Emmanellain manages. Boredom suddenly sounds far more appealing than it did a few minutes ago. “I’ve never—I wouldn’t—what do they want? What are the charges?”

His father sighs; he looks tired. Pained. “The runner didn’t say. I doubt he even knows—he was a lad of Honoroit’s age, not a blooded knight. Mayhap they simply need your testimony in someone else’s case.”

But your first thought was to ask what I had done, Emmanellain thinks bitterly. Fine. He’ll do this with dignity and to hells with everyone. He puts his book down and stands up, facing his father with his head held high. “I shan’t keep them waiting, then.”

He’d like to think the look his father gives him as he walks out of the room is worry, but what are the odds of that?

The air is crisp and the clouds hang low, threatening yet another snowfall, as Emmanellain makes his way up to the Supreme Sacred Tribunal of Halonic Inquisitory Doctrine. He wishes it were a longer walk. He wishes he could just make some unexpected turn down an alley and emerge somewhere entirely different, his problems left behind. He doesn't, of course. He never does.

He gives his name to the acolyte in the vestibule and the boy's eyes widen. "Ser Charibert is waiting for you," he says. "Please, make your way to the confessional straightaway."

Emmanellain is in trouble, then. Again he considers simply running away, giving up all of this, the way some people say the Durendaire heir did when he disappeared near a score of years ago. But where would he go? What would he do with no home to return to?

So he follows the acolyte's directions, making his way down a dimly-lit stairwell and traversing a long hallway to a heavy dark chestnut door marked with Halone's spears. Should he knock? Is there etiquette for arriving at your own—your own trial, oh Fury's mercy, he can't do this. He's never done anything that wrong, but everyone knows the inquisitors find men guilty ten times more often than not, and what if someone has given false testimony that he can't refute? That Roulemet fellow who was such a sore loser at the card tables a fortnight ago, perhaps; he swore vengeance with enough ferocity to make him a laughingstock, but what if he meant it?

He can't do this. Emmanellain turns to leave. He'll make some excuse, explain why the inquisitor couldn't see him—

"Emmanellain de Fortemps." The voice comes from behind him, crisp and stern enough to make him cringe, even before he turns around to see that the door has soundlessly swung open. The man standing there wears the livery of an inquisitor; he has a scar across one cheek and a dusty bronze complexion that makes his pale eyes look feverishly bright.

"S-ser," Emmanellain says.

"I've been expecting you," says the inquisitor. "Do come in."

He's done nothing wrong, Emmanellain reminds himself. At least, nothing the Tribunal would care about. Counting cards and drinking perhaps overmuch may be no virtues, but neither do they harm the holy war against the Horde. "I must assume there's been some misunderstanding," he says, straightening up and trying to sound confident. He's a legitimate son of one of the High Houses and he has standing.

"Perhaps so," the inquisitor—Ser Charibert, it must be—says with an unsettling smile. "Step inside and let's discuss it."

Emmanellain's hackles prickle uncomfortably but he can't say no, can he? Fleeing now that Charibert knows he's here would probably make him guilty of something. He nods. "Of course."

He steps into the confessional chamber—a stone room with no tapestries or wallpaper to soften its severity, a single table standing to one side and some metal contraption half covered with a sheet in the corner. The walls are hung with implements he knows not the names of and never wants to see in use. He doesn't belong here. This is all wrong.

The door closes with an alarmingly final boom, making him jump, and then he spins on his heel as he hears the lock engage. "Here, now, what's the meaning of this?"

Charibert pockets the key, still smiling that terrible smile. "I think you know very well, heretic."

"I'm not—"

Fire flares outward from Charibert's hand, coming within ilms of Emmanellain's face. He jumps backward, flails, trips over his own feet and lands in a heap on the granite floor. His heart is pounding.

Charibert comes closer, standing over him, hand held up in a mockery of the gesture saints use to bless people in statues. "I have no interest in your lies."

"But...." Emmanellain stares up at his captor, horrified. This is the stuff of nightmares. It isn't supposed to happen to people who matter. "Wh-what are the charges?"

"You know what you've done," Charibert says smoothly. "And you will keep no secrets from the Fury or Her earthly instruments." He snaps his fingers and the fire flares up again, but this time it catches the fur trim of Emmanellain's coat and then the whole thing is ablaze. Emmanellain cries out in terror, trying to fight his way free of the clinging fabric, the terrible heat. The fire spreads impossibly fast, catching all his clothes, devouring the fabric as he struggles to either smother or flee the flame. He doesn't want to die, oh please, Halone, not here, not like this—

And miraculously he doesn't. The fire takes every stitch of his clothing, leaves his bare skin smudged with ash, but though he feels its heat it doesn't do his body any harm. Emmanellain could cry with relief.

Except that Charibert is still smirking down at him, pleased with the state he's in. Reflexively Emmanellain tries to cover himself with his hands. For this coarse, cruel man to see him so afraid and so vulnerable stings his pride.

"No secrets," Charibert says again. "Stand, heretic."

"This is improper," Emmanellain says. He wishes he sounded strident instead of desperate. "You have no right to treat me like this."

"I have the right to do whatever is necessary to bring heretic filth to justice," Charibert sneers.

Emmanellain hesitates, trying to figure out how to argue, how to preserve some scrap of dignity, and Charibert makes another mocking gesture of blessing. Pain lashes across Emmanellain's skin in sweeping, scouring arcs, like the bite of winter winds but a thousand times worse. He cries out, trying instinctively to get away from a torment that comes from all directions, trying to shield himself when he suffers from cruel magics and not physical blows. "Please," he gasps, "please make it stop."

The spell ends, and Emmanellain is conscious all at once of his breathing, loud and ragged. There are long red marks criss-crossing his body, angry like the scratches from brambles, and in a few places blood wells to the surface in dark beads. It seems so inadequate. The pain was so much worse than this looks.

"If you wish to demonstrate your piety," Charibert says from above him, "you will refuse the commands of neither the Fury nor Her servants."

Emmanellain nods frantically. What was he supposed to do?

Oh. He climbs awkwardly to his feet, soot-smudged and bloody, unsure how things could have gone so badly so fast. He wants to keep his hands in front of him but Charibert has a hungry look on his face like he's waiting for an excuse to lash out again. It's terrifying. The last thing he wants is to expose himself more for a man like that. But it's going to be worse if he doesn't, isn't it? He makes himself put his hands down at his sides.

Charibert smiles. It makes Emmanellain's heart sink. This can't go anywhere good. "Now. Before your sins can be cleansed, you must confess them."

"But I haven't—what am I supposed to have done?"

The answer is more pain, the spell doubling him over as it scores his flesh anew. He sobs, stammering pleas for mercy, for direction, for even a hint what his tormentor wants to hear. Charibert gives him nothing but the tearing, vicious magic and a look of quiet, hungry amusement.

It can't have been more than a minute when Charibert relents, but Emmanellain is shaking right down to his core. He's bleeding freely, bright red rivulets running down his limbs and torso, and if anyone hears him scream in this room it won't matter. His eyes are stinging, and he tries to blink back the tears but it doesn't do any good.

"Please," he says weakly, and tries to make himself look up again. Look a man in the eyes when you speak to him, Emmanellain, his father scolds in his memory. Have some dignity. There's no dignity to be had here but he's trying, he swears he is. "Please, ser, I—I want to cooperate, I swear I do, I just—I—" Charibert hasn't hurt him again yet so there must be some correct answer, something he could say that would be right. "What would you have me say?"

"Why, the truth," Charibert purrs, but that's what Emmanellain was doing and he got hurt for it. So he probably means tell him what he's expecting to hear, and Emmanellain prays that Halone doesn't actually care as much about honor and integrity as everyone says, because he's no stoic martyr.

He still needs a clue, though. "Where... where should I start?"

Dragons probably look at their supper the way Charibert is looking at him now. "Tell me of the rituals you participate in."

All right. Everyone's heard rumors about what the heretics get up to, haven't they? At least that gives him some idea what to say. He swallows hard, trying to remember what he's heard and collect his thoughts enough to make a story out of it that will satisfy an inquisitor. "They, they don't happen often because it's s-so hard to find a place in the city to do it," he says, which seems plausible enough. "But when, when someone secures a safe place, they send word around so the others know when to gather." Oh, Fury's mercy, what if Charibert asks him to name other people to be brought in for questioning? "We—we would wear hoods and masks to k-keep it secret who we were."

Charibert snorts in contempt, like he knows exactly what Emmanellain was trying to do. "A futile effort. There is nothing beyond the Fury's reach. We will root out every last one of you."

Emmanellain shudders, wondering for a moment how much worse off a real heretic would be in Charibert's clutches even than he is. "A-as you say, ser. The group would meet to, to affirm each person's commitment to the cause, and...." He chews his lip.

"Don't hold back," Charibert says. "Not if you know what's good for you." He holds up his hand as though he's poised to cast the scourging spell again.

"And share communion," Emmanellain says hastily. Would that even be the way a heretic would phrase it? "There would be a-a priest, a celebrant, who led us in the ceremony. Someone more thoroughly tainted by the draconic influence."

"Someone you traitorous animals showed fealty to," Charibert prompts.

Emmanellain nods. He doesn't dare do otherwise.

"Show me."

"I—what?" What does that mean? What is he supposed to do?

Charibert snaps his fingers and Emmanellain's nerves blaze to life, new stripes crossing the older ones, bright sharp pain and more blood than he's ever wanted to see. He falls to his knees, sobbing, arms wrapped around himself and hands pressing down over the wounds he can reach. "Please, please no, please stop, anything you want, please."

When Charibert finally relents Emmanellain can't even look up, gasping miserably for breath and watching blood drip onto the stone beneath him. He's trembling all over.

He can hear the shifting of cloth as Charibert moves, but holds as still as he can. When a man is angry with you it's safest not to take any initiative, to let him tell you how you're to behave.

"You want to earn Halone's forgiveness, don't you, boy?"

"Yes, ser," Emmanellain tells the floor. He doesn't want to die.

"You want to earn this." Something lands on the table with a thunk and Emmanellain looks up to see a potion flask sitting there, the liquid inside the frosted glass a rich rose that promises so much relief.

"Yes, ser," Emmanellain says again. He dares to look up at Charibert's face, hoping he can read some clue there how to placate the man.

"In the records we have of heretical ceremonies," Charibert says, "the supplicants would abase themselves before their false priest, the representative of the monster they desired."

Emmanellain nods. His skin aches and burns, every cut throbbing in time with his heartbeat and blurring into the ones nearby. The story can be anything Charibert wants it to be, as long as it means he doesn't get hurt anymore.

"Then crawl over here and show me. Surely if you're truly contrite, you would agree it's more appropriate to make obeisance to a hand of the Fury than to a tool of the great wyrm?"

"O-of course." He pushes himself up on his hands and knees, his face flushed hot all the way out to the tips of his ears, his head down as he crawls naked toward the inquisitor to... beg for his life, he supposes. It's so awful and unfair he feels himself about to cry, but the thought that Charibert would probably enjoy it makes him try to keep his emotions in check.

He stops when he's close enough to see the hem of Charibert's robe and the toes of his boots without looking up. The floor is cold and unforgiving under his knees and his wounds ache and he's afraid to even consider how much worse it could be. He bows his head to the floor, trembling and exposed, and racks his brain for what should come next. Will he be expected to invent some kind of oath, or—

"Lick my boots, heretic. Unless you think your false priest more deserving of your devotion."

Emmanellain shuffles closer, his weight on his elbows, and lowers his mouth to the nearer of Charibert's boots. The humiliation makes his face burn as he licks tentatively at the leather—that he would be put in such a degrading situation in the first place, and moreso that he would be so craven as to cooperate rather than suffer. He's a coward and a disgrace.

As if he can hear Emmanellain's thoughts, Charibert says, "What a state for a man of your station to be in, Lord Emmanellain. Heir to our country's most noble legacy and this is what you've done with it."

Emmanellain flinches, trying not to let the words strike home, but their aim is unpleasantly true. He's had nearly the same lecture before, hasn't he? Not in a position like this, but that almost makes it worse, that he's so consistently less than anyone expects. He traces the arch of instep with his tongue, the bitterness making him salivate, and doesn't argue.

"But abasing yourselves was not enough; there was also the matter of the foul communion your masters offered you." Charibert seems pleased enough to take over the story and Emmanellain is almost relieved; it means he doesn't have to figure out what he's supposed to say, only do what he's told. "Most of your compatriots, I assume, would have taken the dragon's blood, whether from a chalice or directly from the vein. But you, Lord Emmanellain, are both a coward and a libertine, and you would never choose blood with a more hedonistic alternative available to you." He snarls a hand in Emmanellain's hair and yanks him up onto his knees, holding the potion flask up as a temptation. "Tell me how you took your unholy communion."

This time Emmanellain knows exactly what he's expected to say. It's pure horror, not confusion, that makes him struggle to form the words. "I..." It's the most overt example of the heretics choosing dragonkind over their own people. It's the perversion for which their fallen saint is infamous. Emmanellain thinks about the pain, the blood, and how much he wants to leave this room. "I lay down with the dragon," he whispers.

"You did," Charibert agrees, as if they don't both know that's a horrible lie. He uncorks the potion flask and tips it far enough that a thin stream of liquid pours from it, landing on Emmanellain's shoulder and running down his skin. The soothing sweetness everywhere it touches is enough to bring tears to his eyes from miserable, grateful relief.

It ends far too soon, when the flask is more than half full. "Please," Emmanellain says. "Ser, please, may I have more?"

Charibert looks so pleased about him crying it turns his stomach. "You may earn more."

Of course. "H-how do I earn more?"

Charibert walks around behind him, the slow, measured steps that remind him of being in trouble at home and trying to figure out whether he's going to get hit this time or only yelled at. But Charibert is a different kind of unpleasant entirely. "Bend over. Spread yourself open with your hands. Show me the unclean hole you so wantonly surrendered to the enemy."

He can't. He just can't. This is so far beyond anything a decent man should ask of him, and he didn't even do anything wrong.

Searing heat licks the backs of his thighs, making him yelp and scramble away. "Don't get recalcitrant now, my lord. You were doing so well."

What gives him the right? This can't be Halone's idea of justice. The burns throb, so tender that even the faint stirring of air in the chamber is an agony. Emmanellain takes a deep, shaky breath, his shoulders trembling as he tries not to sob.

On his knees on the cold stone, he bends over. He can't keep his balance if he's reaching back behind himself unless he just bends all the way down, shoulders on the floor, ass in the air, and that already feels mortifying and pathetic even before he pulls his cheeks spread to expose himself more completely than he ever has for anyone.

Charibert, damn him to every hell, laughs. "Such humility, my lord. Such a willingness to offer up this hard-used little hole." Emmanellain's ears burn. He's not doing any of this because he wants to! There's no 'willingness' involved! "Even now I can see the signs of how savagely your foul master used you."

That's the vilest lie of anything he's said yet, and Emmanellain wants to protest—but the potion splashes down over his thighs, right where the burns hurt worst, and the words turn into a strangled, helpless whimper of relief. He arches his back to try to encourage more, and oh gods that must look atrociously lewd but he's so desperate to not be hurting anymore.

"Such wickedness," Charibert says, that I'm-so-disappointed tone that Emmanellain hates, as he takes the potion away again. "But I believe that with the Fury's grace even the most vile of sinners can be redeemed. Do you wish to repent, boy?"

"I do," Emmanellain chokes out. A heretic who doesn't repent is anathema in Her sight and must be put to death. "I do repent, I want nothing to do with heresy."

"Praised be the Fury," Charibert murmurs, and he's awful and Emmanellain hates him. He walks away from Emmanellain, toward the back of the room, and Emmanellain dares to prop himself up on his elbows so he can see what's happening. "Then there is only the matter of your penance," Charibert says as he pulls away the sheet covering the metal...sculpture... in the corner.

What else has he been doing, bleeding and groveling on the confessional floor? Emmanellain wishes he could protest—and then he sees what the thing in the corner is, and words desert him. It's a metal dragon, reclining on its back, with a thick, detailed cock curving up over its belly. It's the most obscene thing he's ever seen. He wouldn't have believed anyone could be so brazenly heretical as to craft such filth. He looks up, afraid of what Charibert has planned for his "penance," but more afraid to not know.

The light in Charibert's eyes is hideous. "Ride it, boy."

Emmanellain recoils. "I can't—that's—please, it's appalling."

"If you can't obey a man of the church, then I'll have no choice but to share your confession with my brethren and see your soul parted from the tainted flesh it inhabits," Charibert retorts.

The word of an inquisitor is holy law, and to doubt it without cause is heresy itself. Emmanellain is an unwanted younger son with a reputation for being irresponsible and useless. Nobody would take his part against an inquisitor's charges, even if that inquisitor still has the coarseness of the Brume about him.

Charibert snaps his fingers and a little flame bursts into being above his hand. "I would be happy to help you make your decision."

"No," Emmanellain says instantly. "Please, I—I'll do it."

His throat is tight with the need to cry again, but he crawls over to the monstrosity without actually sobbing aloud. Up close he can see the way the sides of the dragon are shaped to mimic a saddle, to provide a place for someone to do exactly this awful thing. The dragon cock is—he has no idea how similar it is to the real thing, but it's frightful, bigger than his ever gets and scaly all over. It looks impossible for that to fit inside him.

But if he doesn't try, Charibert will kill him. That's no choice at all. He swings a leg over the sculpture, straddling it and trying not to wince at the chill of the metal against his inner thighs. He has to reach back to find where the sculpted cock is, and he closes his eyes so he won't see Charibert watching him as he shifts back into position. It feels cold and so huge pressing against his hole, and his stomach is in knots. He tries to push himself down on it and stops almost immediately: it burns, muscles completely unwilling to be forced to yield.

"Don't get bashful now," Charibert says. "Obedience is the way to purification."

Emmanellain pushes again and this time it works, and it's terrible, and the thick metal shaft opening him up forces a miserable mewl of distress from his throat. It doesn't hurt more than the scourging magic, but it feels so grossly intimate, and the solid unyielding pressure in his gut as he pushes himself further down is unsettling. He stops when he doesn't think he can bear any more of it, his thighs trembling with effort, his breath coming too fast.

"You weren't such dead weight for your grotesque paramour, were you?"

"I—" never did this, Emmanellain wishes he dared say. Instead he bites his lip and makes himself move, as much as he can bear, rocking his hips in unsteady little motions. His hole stings, and he can feel his too-fast heartbeat in the stretched tissue.

"Orlenaix there has played host to quite a few heretics," Charibert says, and after a moment's confusion Emmanellain realizes he means the metal dragon. "Often those who have yet to recant. Should they remain stubborn and refuse to return to Halone's righteous path, a fire is lit in the dragon's belly. The steel carries heat extremely efficiently, so that an unrepentant heretic can be roasted from the inside out."

Emmanellain's eyes fly open and he tries to gather himself, to get up off the thing, but it's so tight it hurts to move much and he's slow and Charibert grabs him, a crushing grip on his shoulder, holding him down. "Don't—please—I don't want to die, I—"

"Then embrace your penance," Charibert says. "You've been cooperative so far, and if you remain so, you can yet earn forgiveness."

He hasn't even done what he's supposed to earn forgiveness for. The unfairness hurts in places none of Charibert's spells have touched. "Yes, ser," he says, pushing that hurt down and not letting himself feel it now.

It's not even surprising when Charibert parts his robes to draw his cock from his breeches. It's awful, to know for sure that this cruelty makes him hard and to anticipate what comes next, but it's not surprising at all. How much worse can this be than what he's already done?

"As you were polluted, so shall you be cleansed," Charibert says. He lets go of Emmenellain's shoulder and snarls that hand in his hair instead. "Give thanks, boy."

Emmanellain swallows hard. He can't, won't thank this man for tormenting him. "I—I give thanks to Halone," he says. "For showing me the way even in my darkest hour."

Charibert makes a displeased noise, a contemptuous little tch, but he doesn't demand that Emmanellain say something different. That's a victory of sorts, if a small one, and Emmanellain clings to it as Charibert takes the last step closer and presses his cock to Emmanellain's lips.

It pushes in as soon as Emmanellain opens his mouth wide enough, and this is a whole new kind of unpleasantness: the sour musk of Charibert's body underlain with the scent of smoke, the uncomfortable stretch to Emmanellain's jaw as he holds his mouth open wide, the pressure against his tongue that makes him fear he may gag. The knowledge that he's submitting in fear for his life when this act should be for pleasure.

Charibert shows no more mercy in violating his mouth than in any other part of this ordeal. He thrusts roughly, grip tight in Emmanellain's hair, thick cock battering at the constriction of his throat and making his stomach lurch. There are tears in his eyes just from the reflex, like when he's drunk enough to be truly wretchedly sick. His hands come up to push the man away but he stops himself just in time—surely Charibert would claim he was refusing a sacrament, or something obscene like that—and just clings to Charibert's robes instead.

"That's right," Charibert says, his voice just vicious with triumph. "Right where you belong. Even the highest of lords still kneel for the Fury's judgment."

He's so awful. Emmanellain does his best to just... go away into his head until this is over, but it's not easy. He has to struggle to keep his gag reflex under control, and spit keeps dripping down his chin, and Charibert keeps tugging at his hair like he wants to make sure it still hurts—

And then the bastard shoves hard enough that he gets his cock into Emmanellain's throat, and it hurts and it's impossible to breathe and Emmanellain struggles desperately—which just makes everything else hurt more, the cuts and the burns and the soreness of the steel cock splitting him open, and he's making noises that sound pathetic even to him.

It can't actually be more than a few seconds before he pulls back, but it's enough for Emmanellain to be sucking in huge lungfuls of air, shaking with relief. Charibert is laughing softly, and his cock leaves a trail of bitter fluid on Emmanellain's tongue.

He shoves it deep again before Emmanellain has really gotten his breath back. It's worse the second time, if anything—already sore, already frightened, and now his air cut off again. He can't make himself stay still and not struggle, and his muscles burn from the lack of air. There are great ugly spots blooming across his vision, and he tries to push Charibert away but he feels weak all over, shaky. Charibert's saying something again but it's hard to hear over the roaring in his ears.

Just before he swoons entirely, Charibert releases his throat, pulling back halfway, cock pulsing, and then Emmanellain chokes as the man's come floods his mouth. It's bitter and unpleasant, burning against the sore flesh of his throat. But all of Emmanellain's friends—who have probably never done this themselves, he thinks now—act like it's an insult for someone to spit it out, so he makes himself swallow, first around the thickness of Charibert's shaft and then again after the man finally takes it out.

"There. A cleansing serum to purge the dragons' taint from your flesh," Charibert says. It's like he's daring Emmanellain to say out loud that he's using the church as an excuse for his vileness. "Well? Are you grateful?"

"Yes, ser," Emmanellain rasps, putting a hand to his throat as he hears how raw his voice sounds. He doesn't want to argue. He just wants it to be over. Charibert is putting his robes back in order, so Emmanellain dares to hope it might be. "I'm grateful."

"Good boy," Charibert says after appraising him for a long moment. Looking for any sign of insincerity, perhaps, or any excuse to extend the torment. He draws the half-used potion flask out of his robe and puts it on the table, then adds a second one, still unopened. "The Holy See thanks you for your willingness to return to the Fury's grace."

It's like leaving gil on the bedside table after bedding a cheap whore, Emmanellain thinks bitterly. He braces himself on the snout of the dragon and lifts himself up carefully, biting his lip so he won't make any noise as the scales rub against his abused rim. His legs are trembling but he makes it to his feet. Those potions are the only thing in this room that matters.

"Someone will be by shortly with fresh clothes for you," Charibert says as he reaches the door, like it's a detail he almost forgot. He throws the bolt, then stops with a hand on the latch. "Oh, and Lord Emmanellain—if I require any further testimony from you, I'll send a message. I trust you'll be responsive to the summons."

"Whatever—whatever Halone requires," Emmanellain chokes out.

In the first sign of mercy She's actually shown him today, that's enough for Charibert and he leaves. Emmanellain waits for the door to boom closed and then, finally, he lets himself cry for real.