Disclaimer: All characters herein are the rightful and legal property of their creators, Yuu Watase and Rumiko Takahashi. I'm just playing with them!

Miaka's Mysterious Encounter

Miaka set off down the trail that led deep into the woods, grateful to the farmer's advice about this shortcut. She had to get to the kingdom of Kuto and find Yui as quickly as possible! The trail was dark from the many trees that shadowed it, but it was otherwise pleasant. It was wide and open, and although she had heard the man's last words about it being haunted, or something, it didn't seem scary at all.

She was congratulating herself on her courage to protect the others by going off on her own when a streak of sulfurous lightening rent open the sky above her head. The immediate thunderclap rang even in her bones, and she sprang to the side, an instinctual response that needed no thought, only the adrenaline that now caused her heart to thud madly in her throat and her limbs to dissolve at the joints.

Though she had experienced many unusual things since falling into the Book of the Universe of the Four Gods, they had in no way prepared her to deal with what she now witnessed. From out of a ragged tear in the sky came a strange beast, looking like a horse but with two heads and a lizard's hide. The strange creature was caparisoned for riding, and as it touched the earth before her, two figures dismounted from its back.

Her eyes were drawn immediately to the taller of the pair, for his beauty was incredibly striking. He stood beside the beast quietly, his eyes - yellow like pale amber in sunlight - taking in his surroundings. He was dressed in a kimono and armor that looked more Japanese than the Chinese-style stuff Miaka had seen worn here, with a blue and yellow sash tied around his waist. The silk was still flowing softly to rest from the rapid motion of his dismount, as was the silken fall of his long silvery hair. Miaka had never seen hair so long before! He carried swords at his hip, and wore a trailing white fur over one shoulder.

But it was his face, however remarkable the rest of him, that Miaka could not look away from. The gracefulness of his face was absolute, perfect in form and feature with nearly no emotion playing across it to mar the still harmony there. He was the most beautiful man Miaka had ever seen, more beautiful than even the Emperor himself. But, unlike kind Hotohori, something warned her that this man's beauty hid a great and possibly even inhuman danger. Beautiful though he was, he made her cold with fear.

She had almost forgotten the other figure by the beast, when he - no, rather, it - spoke, in a squeaky, thin voice.

"Milord, I could have sworn we were being led right to it!" It almost appeared to be an ugly little man, but it's features were too froglike to be human. It carried a two-headed staff that appeared to have some mystical power, but it cowered in front of the beautiful man like a servant.

"Jaken, you fool. Can you not tell that we aren't even in the outer world?" The master spoke - for master the beautiful man clearly was - and his voice was deep and even in tone, but its smoothness - just like his face - held little emotion, only power and a terrible intelligence.

So far, neither one had noticed Miaka standing in the gloom at the side of the path, and she was grateful for it. She might be the Priestess of Suzaku and have whatever powers might come with that position, but she was fairly certain she was no match for that man (although she could probably kick the little guy's butt with her eyes closed!). She was quite willing to let them go on their way, so she could get on with her quest -

Her quest! What if one of them was a celestial warrior? Miaka swallowed nervously. She had to ask. She had to find out, even though she was really, really scared.

No! She knew she could do it! She gathered up her courage, her hands tensing up into fists at her sides, and took a step toward the strangers.

The tall man's golden eyes shifted to her before she had even completed that single step, and she stopped stock still, a rabbit under his predator's gaze.

I have to ask! She reminded herself.

"Ummm," Miaka spoke, her voice loud in the silent forest, even though she had barely any breath to speak with. The man's gaze sharpened upon her, but otherwise, he showed no reaction. She took a deep breath and tried again.

"Do - do either of you h-have a mark on your bodies, like when you fight?" The little one laughed harshly, but fell silent when his master did not respond in kind. Instead, the man just stood there silently, calmly, looking at her. He seemed so peaceful, on the surface. But Miaka felt as if she was being measured and dissected by his gaze, as if he was considering every possible use she might be worth, as if he was effortlessly browsing through the very corners of her soul. She wanted to look away, to shield herself from the power in his eyes, but she had no strength to do so.

Then the scrutiny was over, and suddenly Miaka's heart was able to beat again.


He uttered just the one word, and was already turning back towards his mount. His assessment of Miaka was complete: she was of no use, of no threat, of no concern.

The little servant gave Miaka a self-satisfied smirk and opened his mouth as if to taunt her, but caught sight of his master already astride the beast's back. The little toadlike creature squawked and scurried to catch up to his master, scrambling up the beast's scaled flank.

"I promise to find the tomb this time, Milord!"

"See that you do."

The beast leapt into the air and through the tear in the sky with as violent a storm as it entered, and then all was still, but for a few leaves sinking to the ground. Miaka sank to the ground, too, for the first time questioning her decision to leave the others behind. Though she had only thought to protect her new friends from the dangers that surrounded her as the Priestess of Suzaku, she suddenly realized that maybe she hadn't thought this through.

It isn't like home, she reminded herself. It may seem normal but there's no telling what might happen! She looked down at her hands, shaking in her lap with the aftereffects of what was surely a too narrow escape. Whatever courage she had started out with was absent now. It had drained away in her encounter with the lordly and terrifying stranger.

And then a worse thought occurred to her - she had left her backpack, with all of its snacks, behind in Tamahome's village!

Still trembling, Miaka stood up slowly, but resolutely. No matter what other dangers she might encounter, no matter what other beautiful-but-deadly men she might meet, she knew she just had to get to Kuto, find Yui, and get them both home, or she might never be able to eat her favorite foods again!