The Great Vow

Time and place are everything! As a latchkey kid, I cut my teeth on martial arts flicks. Every Sunday afternoon, you’d find me glued to my seat for Channel 9’s Kung-Fu Theater. I watched and rewatched all the greats – from Enter the Dragon to Master of the Flying Guillotine.

It wasn’t limited to movies either. Even now, if I catch a Kwai Chang Caine marathon on El Rey, I’ll pop some popcorn for my wife, and we’ll settle in.

For the Cult of the Coil’s fighting orders, I wanted to evoke my fondness for the fictional versions of the Shao Lin and the Clan of the White Lotus. In my head, I imagined temple grounds filled with warriors training night and day. Young men and women taking vows of poverty and service on their journey to incredible power.


After marching for days, everything down to the marrow ached. Blisters burst and tore; pain became a constant companion. To passersby, the path to the Temple Ascending was just a series of winding, endless stairs. For Vessels of the Great Vow, it was the last in a succession of backbreaking trials.

Most were drawn to the Vow by power; others bound to it by oath or faith. Not Kir. He was here for lack of a better offer, and the masters knew it. Despite their best efforts, Kir, stubborn as stone, would not break. This was his fortieth attempt. Kir stared

“…reach the top without spilling a single drop.”

up at the winding path, took a deep breath, and held it. Weeks of fasting had taken their toll. The forty-pound yoke of standing water seemed like eighty now, maybe more, and the sour taste of bile slowly coated the back of his tongue.

“All you have to do is reach the top without spilling a single drop,” said Master Shin. Shin’s use of “all,” with its casual simplicity, infuriated Kir, driving one foot in front of the other long after his will to do so had dried up. He imagined the old Pillar’s ghost on the steps ahead, his fat legs carrying him to the summit with inexplicable grace, all the while laughing at his disciple for being so compliant and stupid. Fuming, Kir picked up the pace, chasing the old ghost into the clouds.


For a Vessel to become a Pillar is quite the undertaking. Assuming you survive the preliminary decades of hard labor and intensive training, it’s the Vow itself that can truly kill you. It comes in two parts. First is the tattoo, etched into the skin using god blood as the medium; this connects a Pillar to their extra-human abilities. In exchange, a dragon’s eye tears its way out of their forehead, giving their patron eyes everywhere.


Never Mistake an Open Hand for Weakness.

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