Chapter 5 - Judgment

It had been his bokken, his precious bokken that his father had given to him right before he left. Akiyama had allowed his body to react on its own, bringing the bokken up just in time to deflect the sword that had been descending upon him. It had bit into the wood, but Akiyama's tiny arms were nothing compared to the braided man's beefy ones. Akiyama's arms had buckled, the sword cutting through his bokken, slicing down his right shoulder.

He had screamed, not knowing something could hurt so badly. Survival shrieked at him to get away; catching only a glimpse of the other two men emerging from his friend's house, he turned and ran. Running blindly into the vegetable garden, hardly aware of his own two feet, until he tripped and fell skidding into the dirt. He could hear the men thundering behind him, but he had to look, had to see what it was he had tripped over.

Hyoudoh's glazed eyes stared back up at him. Akiyama screamed again, eyes locked on the blood that pooled around Hyoudoh's mouth and throat. Oh god. Oh god. OH GOD! Akiyama had never seen a freshly killed body before. The only body he had ever seen was his mother's, but she had appeared to be sleeping, not this grotesque stare and sickly contorted position. This couldn't be Hyoudoh! This couldn't be his friend, but it was. Oh god, it was.

He had taken too long, stared too long. The men caught up to him; they were raising their blades again. Akiyama screamed and rolled out of the way, the sword missing him by a mere fraction. There was no time to think, there was no time to be scared; he got to his feet and flew as fast as his feet would carry him.

They chased him, but Akiyama knew these fields. He knew every inch of them from his romps with Hyoudoh. They did not. He used that to his advantage once his head had cleared enough for him to strategize. He made sharp turns, hid within the plants, and jumped over small holes in the ground.

He was tired, his shoulder throbbed, and his lungs burned mercilessly, but he managed to confuse the men just long enough to slip away, long enough to warn his master.

Yasuo was surprised when he heard the dojo's door open; he hadn't expected Akiyama to return so quickly from visiting his friend. When he laid eyes on his student his chest tightened. The first thing he noticed was the bokken. It was the boy's prize possession and it was broken in two, but more disturbing was the blood that was running down the boy's arm.

"Shishou!" he cried, taking a shaking step forward. "They killed him! They killed Hyoudoh!"

The attack, it was happening already! Damn it! He thought he would have had more time than this! And they had killed a child - these men really were vile enough to attack a village of farmers. "How many?"

"Four… I think." Tears rolled down the boy's face. "I'm sorry Shishou, I'm not sure!"

Quickly Yasuo came to his student's side. "It's all right Akiyama, you did well. Can you still walk?" He eyed the gash in his shoulder.

"Yes, Shishou."

"Get yourself to a doctor right away. I will go after them."

"But Shishou! There are four of them!"

Akiyama's words went unheeded, his master's thoughts only on protecting his town. He watched Yasuo run off down the road, broken bokken grasped in his hand. He stood for a long time after. The need to escape being the only thing that had got him this far, Akiyama fell to his knees as the tears finally came.

"Hyoudoh…" he shut his eyes, only to be haunted by the image of his friend's bloodied face. His eyes flew open with a gasp, how had this day gone so horribly wrong?! Battòsai was suppose to die! His father was suppose to be avenged! Now his friend was dead and his master… his master…

Akiyama suddenly felt sick. How many had there been? Four… no, maybe five. No, there had been at least six, definitely six. Or was it seven? There must have been more in the house - so many more. The house must have been filled to the bursting point with men. Now he was going to be sick, he could feel his stomach lurching and turning. His master had gone off alone to face a whole army of men. It must have been the rebels! The rebel army was here to kill them all!

He stood without realizing it, the ground pitching underneath him. His master needed help! But who could help him? Yasuo was the only real samurai in the entire village. Akiyama wasn't even sure if anyone else owned a sword…

…except for one.

A string of curses that would have shocked Yasuo had he heard them left the boy's mouth as he stumbled into the dojo. He found the rack Yasuo had been using to store the Battòsai's blade. Akiyama reached out to grab it, but let out a cry, his right arm burning as he tried to lift it. His arm dropped, taking with it any thoughts of helping his master himself.

He grabbed the sword with his other arm and made his way back to the shed. Part of him was screaming that this was insanity; the Battòsai would just slay him and then kill everyone else if he freed him… and yet… he didn't really believe that.

He stopped at the doorway, his body shaking, his mind picturing how easy it would be to throw the door open and kill that bastard with his own blade. Taking a deep breath, he pushed his anger aside. Don't let revenge cloud your vision. Yasuo was always telling him that. Thinking of his master brought the sting of tears with it. He was wasting time! Yasuo could have already been cut down by now!

Grabbing the door and flinging it aside with a flinch he looked down at the man he hated most. Kenshin looked back, horror spreading over his face as he saw the growing stain at the boy's shoulder, the dirt smeared across his face and torn clothing, and the trails of tears drying on his face.

"Akiyama-san! You're-"

"You must help my Shishou!" He ignored the Battòsai's concerned glanced, moving quickly behind him.

"Akiyama-san, what's wrong? What has happened?"

Kenshin heard his sword being slid out of its sheath. "What the heck is the matter with your sword?"

"It's a reverse blade-" Why was he explaining this right now?"Akiyama-san, are you all right? What happened?"

"How are you supposed to fight with this?" His voiced seemed confused and angry at the same time.

"I can fight with it - Akiyama-san, please answer me, what has happened?" The cool metal of his blade briefly touched his hands and he felt the ropes fall away. As soon as he was free, Kenshin whirled around to get a closer look at the boy's shoulder.

"Never mind me!" the boy snapped; pushing Kenshin's sword into his hands. "You must help my Shishou! He's outnumbered!" He swatted away one of Kenshin's hands that was trying to get a better look at his shoulder. "Don't worry about me! Go help my Shishou! He's up the road at my friend's house!"

But Kenshin was going to worry. The boy was too pale, too unsteady. "Forgive me Akiyama-san, but I'm sure your Shishou would be very upset if you should die from blood loss."

"I said I was fi-" Akiyama screamed as Kenshin lifted him off his feet. "What are you doing Battòsai? PUT ME DOWN!"

Kenshin ignored the boy's insults and shouts of indignity. He realized to be carried in such a matter by a man he obviously hated must have been very upsetting, but he didn't have time to think about that. He wasn't sure what was going on, but Akiyama was seriously injured and asking for his help. Whatever was going on was very serious indeed if Akiyama was freeing him instead of killing him.

He ran towards town, vaguely trying to remember where they had carried Uyeda to after they had taken the man off his back. An eerie feeling of déjà vu crept in as he ran until he found a man just coming out of his house. As expected the man yelled, screaming that the Battòsai had gotten lose and had killed Akiyama.

"I'm not dead, Daiki!"

Ah, so the boy knew this man. Kenshin carefully set Akiyama on his feet and gave a small bow to Daiki. "Forgive me Daiki-san, but please make sure Akiyama-san gets to the doctor right away." He gave a quick glance down at Akiyama's glaring face. "Akiyama-san, which way?"

The boy recoiled as if suddenly remember the emergency at hand. He pointed back the way they had come. "Just down that road. There are at least seven, maybe more."

With a quick nod, Kenshin spun on his heel and took off down the path. Quickly pulling away from the two, he could hardly hear Daiki ask Akiyama what was going on. Kenshin quickened his pace, hoping he wasn't too late to help Yasuo.

A/N: GASP! Kenshin got out of the shed!!!! Heh. Next chapter there may be... possibly... GASP! Action!