So yeah, THAT happened. And this was the result of the suggestion I mentioned early on in this chapter’s annotations.

I was hesitant to suggest anything to Phil about his chapter beyond the basic continuity corrections like for Brother Tom. I was especially reluctant to suggest killing off characters he’d only just created, the way I did with Stokla, Brix, and a couple of others. I’m pretty sure he was getting annoyed with that dynamic, his carefully fashioning these toys that I immediately threw into the incinerator.

But it struck me early on that these two had a likable bond, and it would be interesting to see what they did if the values of Cultism came into conflict with that bond. I wasn’t sure it should go this way! I thought maybe they might both refuse and be killed for their lack of purity, have to escape their fellows’ daggers, or even get banished (if death’s a gift, surely denying them any sort of holy death would be punishment?). Or maybe what Tom would ask them to do would be something less obvious, like just verbally deny their own friendship. Even saying “Friendship is nothing in the face of the void” would test these two.

But I also thought of the most obvious possibility, and sometimes what’s obvious is obvious because it’s obviously right. The only slightly surprising detail here is that it’s Ulak killing Ashok, instead of our general pattern so far where the humans are the initial aggressors in most human-vs-nonhuman conflict (Death Pits notwithstanding). But we’d established that Ulak had absorbed a lot more of Cultist culture and Ashok was still a novice, so it really makes sense Ulak would be more prepared for this moment, intellectually and emotionally.