"Yummy!" I licked my lips and patted my satisfied belly as I strolled past the Karesansui, (the sand bed garden).
I stepped onto the soft sand and pebble stone path behind the Butsudan Hall, with intentions to make my way back to the alder log cabins.
The blissful rays of the afternoon sun continued to warm the air. Summer crickets still chirped their lulling tunes.
I hummed a ditty melody then stopped. I feared it was from one of Bulldog's ragtime records, I had secretly listened to whilst sampling forbidden moonshine with my brothers at the Kuri basement. The times we had almost been caught by the fukuten or tenzo were bad for my heart.
"Forgive me Buddha for being a bad boy. I promise to be good from now on." I clapped my hands to set the promise.
The rush of feet at my back made me turn around; I cursed when my body was slammed to the ground by War's knock down.
"Yah sloppy Baby Bro, taught yah better than this," he said with an irritating grin.
"Ugh!" I struggled against War's headlock.
My banging hands stirred clouds of sand. I grabbed a fist full and threw it back at his head, causing his arms around me to ease.
I struggled out of his hold and stood heaving for breath. He had knocked the wind out of me.
"What the heck War!"
"Dat's the spirit Baby Bro! Get 'em fighting juices flowing." He licked his lips as he grabbed my ankles and yanked me to the ground.
We brawled on the path, disturbing the air with more sand clouds.
"WAR! FAMINE! Cease this behavior this instant!"
We froze at the sound of Death's priggish voice from the Butsudan Hall's wide veranda.
"You're an idiot," I hissed at War and pushed him off me.
"Stupid pansy needs toughin' up." War threw back.
I moped at the messy sight of my sackcloth tunic and pants and felt bits of stone stuck to my sandals. I pulled them off to pick out the troublesome pieces from the soles.
"War! Refrain from fighting our younger brother!" Death wagged an angry finger.
"Tell him Death." I poked my tongue at War.
"Grow up Famine! You're not a kid anymore!" Death redirected his scolding to me.
"B-But it was War who..." My explanation was silenced by Death's icy stare.
"Honestly, this behavior is disrespectful to Buddha and the monks. You should learn from our youngest! Furthermore..." Death continued to scold.
War and I sat on our knees with our heads bowed with apology.
"If we were magis at a time of contention, you'd be flogged for disrespect according to Section 28 of the Magism Code of Conduct and Consequence, which states..." Death's scolding became a long-winded lecture.
I hoped he didn't notice my sleepy eyes.
"Ahem. I hate to interrupt your lecture Death-niisan, but Bulldog is asking for Onii-san."
I perked up to the sweet sound of Pesti's voice.
"Oh, Pestilence, of course." Death's voice had changed to a friendlier tone.
No surprises on who was his favorite brother.
"I think I've scolded these two children enough." He expelled a weary breath.
War and I rose to our feet, shoving each other back and forth in the process.
"Your fault Death's mad at us," I hissed at War.
"Yah a pipsqueak brother boy ain't yah," he answered back.
We snarled at each other.
"Come on Onii-san." Pesti sighed.
He grabbed me by the ear to drag me away from War's call for a rematch, and Death's groaning.
"You really ought to calm yourself when War tests you," Pesti said, releasing my ear once we were clear of the Butsudan Hall, and near the Temizuya stone basin.
We walked across the Central Courtyard and past the reinforced iron doors of the archive moonstone pillar tower, bowing our respects to passing monks.
"I can't help it. Big Bro's always picking on me." I sulked whilst rubbing my sore ear.
"You're an easy target Onii-san. You're simple-minded, you let your emotions get the better of you, you're too transparent." Pesti's observation tugged at my heart.
"Brutal!" I gasped at the truth.
"Mushin, Zanshin, Satori; it's what we learn right?" He patted my back with a warm smile.
He was the wiser brother. Although he was a year younger, his maturity placed him on the same level as Death. If he were to shave his head and don the official midnight-blue samue, he would likely reach the ideal image befitting Buddha's blessings.
I frowned with another train of thought.
"Hey, Pesti. Why did Shuso let us keep our hair, and we don't wear the blue samue?"
"You're asking me?" Pesti raised his brows at my random question.
"Dat because yah boys be wildcats not ready for the samue!" Bulldog's gruff voice growled behind our backs. "Yah taken too long."
"Sorry Bulldog. It was War's fault. He started picking a fight with me for no reason," I mumbled my excuses and yelped at the stinging pinch Bulldog gave my ear.
He let out a weary sigh.
"Yah boys be old enough to be adults. Famine give meh most heart trouble. Lots to learn yah 'ave. Lucky I know lots to teach." He flashed me a toothless smile, which didn't match the stern glare from his brown eyes.
"Pestilence. Go tend dah foxes. I be taken Famine for some training." Bulldog calmly ordered.
"Do well Onii-san." Pesti gave me the thumbs up.
He left for the evergreen trees at the bottom of the slope.
Bulldog was an unexpected monk in the blue kimono, and a kind-hearted father to the four of us at most times. Right now, his intimidating presence made me nervous.
"Now I teach yah some ways to Mushin." A cold grin pushed back his saggy cheeks.
I followed his lead to the pond amongst the evergreen trees, where my warm afternoon would soon become an icy cold one.
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