As Niu and the Whirlwind entered the camp of the Clan of the Mediocre Yet Effective Club Bonk, there was great frivolity afoot. Members ate, drank, danced and partied.
“This is unlike any kung fu clan I have ever seen,” Niu said. “Where is the discipline?”
The Whirlwind sipped wine from a skin, then wiped the excess from his lips. “We don’t really care for rules here.”
At that moment, a friendly game of checkers turned ugly as one player accused the other of cheating. Fists were thrown. Faces were smashed.
“I can see that,” Niu said.
The Whirlwind smiled at the ruffians. “Keep at it, boys. That’ll work the stress right out of you!”
“Perhaps you should order them to stop,” Niu said.
“Why would I do that?” the Whirlwind asked as he passed the wine skin to Niu.
Niu pushed the skin away. “Because you are their master.”
“Meh,” the Whirlwind said. “We aren’t exactly a cohesive unit. People come and go as they please. I’m not really a ‘master’ per se. At best, I’m more of an informal organizer.”
A stark naked drunkard emerged from his tent and puked his guts out.
“There we go, friend,” the Whirlwind said as he patted the drunkard on the back. “Feeling better?”
The drunkard nodded.
“Here, take a pull of this,” the Whirlwind said as he handed his wine skin to the lush. “It’ll fix you right up.
The drunk man nodded, took a drink, then handed the skin back to its owner. The Whirlwind took another drink, then continued to walk through the camp with his guest.
“That will not help him,” Niu said.
“I don’t know that it will not, not help him,” the Whirlwind replied. “What are you? One of those pansies who goes through life sober?”
“The fates wouldn’t have given me my wits had they wanted me to dull them,” Niu said.
“Maybe,” the Whirlwind said. “But then again, would the fates have allowed for the existence of a dazzling array of fermented beverages capable of knocking you out if they didn’t think every man deserved the occasional mental break from a dangerous world from time to time?”
“Are you a fatalist?” Niu asked.
“No,” the Whirlwind said. “Just a pragmatist.”
The Whirlwind stopped in front of a large tent and walked inside, bidding his guest to join him. Inside, Niu marveled at the sight of gold pieces and glistening gems being sorted and counted by the club bonk clan’s members.
“You’re all thieves,” Niu said.
“‘Thief’ is such a crude word,” the Whirlwind said. “We prefer the term, ‘wealth redistributors.’”
“Have these riches always been yours?” Niu asked.
“No,” the Whirlwind replied. “We pinched them.”
“Then you stole all of this,” Niu said.
“From the rich,” Niu said. “To give to the poor.”
Niu shook his head. “It doesn’t appear as though you are very poor.”
The Whirlwind shrugged his shoulders. “We used to be poor and funny thing about poverty, you never know when it will come back to bite you in the ass again. ‘Better safe than sorry,’ I always say.”
“I have no idea what my master was thinking,” Niu said. “Asking me to train common criminals.”
“Criminals?” the Whirlwind asked. “Friend, there’s nothing common or criminal about this. The Emperor’s absurdly high tax rates, courtesy of that pile of feces in the shape of a man, Advisor Zhen. That’s what’s criminal. We steal from the Emperor’s tax collectors and sometimes, from the Advisor’s friends in high places. We give most of the loot back to its rightful owners but we’re no dummies. We keep a slice.”
“The kung fu clans have always come to the Emperor’s aid when needed,” Niu said. “We’ve never taken it upon ourselves to interfere with his commands, whether or not we agree with them.”
The Whirlwind walked past a series of barrels holding all manner of pilfered fruit. He picked up an orange and started peeling it.
“Yes, well, that’s why you are all chumps.”
The Whirlwind caught himself and patted Niu on the shoulder. “Were chumps. I was quite saddened when the news of the tiger claw clan’s demise made its way to me. Undead warriors. Ghosts in the company of giant bald men. My eyes have truly opened to the supernatural.”
Niu brushed the Whirlwind’s hand aside.
“This,” Niu said as he waved his arms about the tent full of treasure. “All of this. This is why your clan was never recognized as a true kung fu clan.”
The Whirlwind popped an orange slice in his mouth and swallowed. “Oh well. No skin off my balls.”
The big man was furious. That emotion was a rarity for him. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then glared at the informal organizer.
“If you’re going to help the Infallible Master and I save the Emperor, you’re going to have to change your ways and start acting like a kung fu warrior,” Niu said. “No more stealing, drinking, or gambling. You’ll wake up before sunrise and train until bedtime. You will embrace discipline and clean living, all in the name of service to your Emperor.”
The Whirlwind stared at Niu with a deadpan expression on his for a moment, then pointed at the big man and laughed. Soon enough, the rest of the club bonk clan members joined in.
“Oh,” the Whirlwind said. “That was good.”
“What’s so funny?” Niu asked.
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” the Whirlwind said. “The Emperor doesn’t have a lot of friends here. I’m sure he’s a fine little fellow but as long as Advisor Zhen runs things, we aren’t itching to get ourselves killed just to allow a unfairly punitive and confiscatory tax system to reign supreme. What’s in it for us?”
Niu considered the question. As he watched the nimble fingers of a club bonk clan member stacking gold pieces, an idea presented itself.
“Though I am loathe to say this,” Niu said. “I suppose during the chaos that is about to unfold at the Forbidden City, my first priority would be the Emperor’s safety and therefore…”
The Whirlwind listened patiently.
“…if a certain group of criminal thieves…”
The Whirlwind coughed into his hand and corrected Niu. “Wealth redistributors.”
Niu rolled his eyes. “If a certain group of wealth redistributors were to abscond with the Emperor’s wealth, I would no doubt be too distracted to do anything about it.”
The Whirlwind ate another orange slice, then winked at the big man. “I like it.”
The informal organizer turned to his merry band of wealth redistributors. “You hear that boys? We’re going to save the Emperor, then rob his ass blind!”
A chorus of “Hooray!” broke out throughout the tent.
“Very good then,” the Whirlwind said as he took a pull from his wine skin. “How hard could it be to learn kung fu?”
Niu smiled, then backhanded the wine skin out of the Whirlwind’s hand, sending a fruity scented booze spray throughout the tent.
“You have no idea.”