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Silver & Gold by Sage McMae

Chapter 1

A wail came from her right. “Sensei!” 

Kagome Higurashi turned to see Mei Itō with tears in her eyes. Her youngest student was a bright little girl with cinnamon-colored eyes and soft black hair which was currently pulled back into a bun at the base of her head. The girl’s lower lip trembled as she waited for her instructor. 

“What happened?” Kagome asked gently, kneeling at the girl’s side. 

“I can’t do it,” Mei cried. “It’s too far. I’m too small and weak.” 

Some of the older girls snickered behind Kagome. She shot them a stern look and they hastily returned to their lesson. 

Kyūdō isn’t only about hitting the mark,” she told her student. “It involves self-reflection, patience, and discipline. These are lessons one must master in life as well as in archery. Do you understand?” 

Mei nodded, moving to brush her gloved hand across her face. Kagome caught her wrist and retrieved a handkerchief. “Here.”

Mei bowed her head. “Arigatō, sensei.

“Focus inward,” Kagome advised. “Not all strength is physical.” 

She stepped back, watching as her student shakily retrieved another arrow. Mei didn’t find her mark on her first attempt or even the fifth but she kept trying. Kagome scanned the length of the training room, taking in her other student’s progress. Their dedication to their task was admirable but she’d witnessed stronger convictions. 

It had been seven years since the final battle against Naraku— seven long years since the Bone Eater’s Well closed and she’d made her wish. The Shikon No Tama was gone, along with her otherworldly powers. Kagome had been returned to her time, to a normal life. She snorted to herself. 

As if this was normal. 

A female business owner, while not unheard of, was still an anomaly. Not many people expected her to break out on her own. As progressive as she’d viewed the future to be, it still wasn’t truly equal. 

It had been a slow start, but no one could deny her ability with a bow or her affinity for teaching. Those traits were the ones that impressed her first clients. From there, word of mouth spread until she was able to pull together a small marketing budget. Her budget was a source of both constant pride and frustration. 

It had taken her three years of working odd jobs, barely sleeping some weeks, to save up enough money to purchase the property. It was close enough to the shrine that she could ride her bike and came with the added benefit of a small apartment.

After living on the road surrounded by her friends, being alone was a struggle. The transition took longer for Kagome to acclimate to than her jump back to the present from the Feudal Era. Visits from her family helped, even if Grandpa insisted on covering all entryways with ofudas. Ever since her return, Grandpa had been more insistent than ever on her need to protect herself from all manner of evil spirits. It was comforting to know that some things never changed. 

Staying busy kept her mind off the past and her loneliness. She developed a routine. Each morning, Kagome rose with the sun, went for a run in the park, showered, ate breakfast, then set up for classes. She’d conduct advanced sessions in the morning for adults, break for a light lunch, then begin her afternoon classes with varying levels of instruction after school let out. By dusk, Kagome was ready to close the dojo and cook herself dinner.

Nights were the hardest time of day. It was when she struggled with how to fill her time. In the beginning, Kagome read but it didn’t last long. After hunting jewel shards and demon attacks, nothing in her novels could compare to the adventures she had experienced. She tried losing herself in a part-time job but it didn’t last long. Once word got out that Kagome was experienced in traditional techniques, the dojo required her full attention. 

“That’s enough for today,” she announced to her class, noting the time. “You’re all improving. Go home and rest. Tomorrow we will be starting from a three-quarter distance on mato.” 

Some of the students groaned in response. 

Kagome crossed her arms over her chest and the class bowed, respectfully. “Dismissed.” 

The girls gathered up their belongings, thanked her, and filed out. All except one. Mei lingered toward the back of the room with her bag, slung over her shoulder. The duffle was nearly as large as she was. Kagome would have laughed if the sight hadn’t brought about a sense of deja vu. The number of times she had climbed into the well and descended with an overflowing backpack couldn’t be counted. 

She smiled expectantly. “Something on your mind, Mei?” 

Sensei, even if I practice for a hundred years, I won’t be able to shoot the target,” the girl said unhappily. 

Kagome laughed. “You know to some, a hundred years is barely a blink of an eye.” 

Mei’s frown disappeared. Her eyes shone with intrigue. “Really?” 

With a nod, Kagome continued. “The great yokai of legend lived for millenniums. A single century for them is like one year for you or me.” 

“Wow,” the young girl breathed, wide-eyed in amazement. “Did they have powers?” 

“Yes; Each class of yokai is different,” Kagome explained. “Tree demons draw their power from the earth around them but live a sedentary life. Wolf demons have a pack mentality, much like their animal counterparts. They are high-energy and extremely social, sometimes to the point of not understanding personal boundaries.” 

She rolled her eyes remembering Koga’s persistence. 

“What about dogs?” Mei questioned, tugging on Kagome’s sleeve. “Were there dog demons?” 

Kagome felt her throat constrict. “Yes, of course,” came her calm response. 

“I’d like a pet inuyokai,” Mei remarked.

“Demons aren’t good pets, Mei,” Kagome warned her. “Their power is ancient and not easily controlled. Unless you have—.” She stopped herself, realizing she’d already revealed too much. Kagome placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder, leading her out of the dojo. “That’s what the fairy tales say anyway.”

“Still,” Mei said with a sigh, “it would be nice to have a guardian, wouldn’t it?” 

“It would be nice to have a companion,” Kagome admitted. “But you don’t need a guardian, Mei. You’re coming along in your training well. Pretty soon, you’ll be the best in class.” 

“If I can ever hit the target,” the girl mumbled. 

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Kagome began, taking Mei’s hand. She led the girl outside and down the stone steps to the street, where Mei’s father was waiting for her. “When I first held a bow and arrow, I couldn’t shoot straight either. I was nervous. My friend kept yelling at me, and to make matters worse, when I did finally make my shot, I ended up breaking something really valuable.”

“You did?”  

Kagome nodded. “Learning a skill is never easy but the most rewarding things in life come from hard work and dedication. You’ll get there.” 

“Ah, Kagome-chan,” Mei’s father waved. 

“How are you, Hojo-chan?” 

“Great, the firm has been keeping me busy and then there are Mei’s schooling and archery classes with you, of course,” he said, beaming. Like Kagome’s grandfather, Hojo remained unchanged. He was still as blindly optimistic as always, a trait he clearly hadn’t passed on to his only child. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mei. I have a feeling you’ll have more luck then,” Kagome told his daughter.

“See you tomorrow, Sensei,” Mei replied with a wave. 

“Bye, Kagome-chan.”

She watched Hojo and Mei drive off then climbed back up the stairs to her dojo. Dusk was falling over Tokyo, signaling the end of another productive day. 

Tomorrow was Saturday and the end of the school week meant the end of her workweek. The dojo was closed on Sundays to allow Kagome time to rest and offer her the opportunity to visit her family. She spent most of her Sundays helping her mother and Grandpa with the shrine. With Souta at university, they needed Kagome’s support. 

Kagome locked the gates and retired to her office to catch up on paperwork. Though business was steady, she’d never hired any additional help. Her schooling, though sporadic served her well. She was able to keep her finances without the need to pay for a bookkeeper. There was the added benefit of it keeping her busy. 

She didn’t require a cleaning crew. As part of their training, the students all participated in washing the floors. After years of cleaning up after Inuyasha and Shippo, allowing someone else to tidy up felt like a blessing. It was one chore Kagome would have paid for, had there been a need. 

She reviewed her emails, did a quick scan of her monthly numbers, then powered down her laptop for the evening. A stack of folders sat on the edge of her desk. They’d been increasing steadily. With a sigh, Kagome decided to take the time to file them. Her mother always said, “Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions.” Kagome tried not to think too hard on that while she worked. 

Her mother had been using that particular adage a lot lately. Kagome figured it had something to do with the fact that she was twenty-five and unmarried. Yet another reason to keep busy. Avoiding it was harder now that she was the only one of her friends who was unattached. 

Ayumi married last summer. Yuka was expecting her first baby with her husband and Eri had recently become engaged. There were nights when she met up with them for dinner or tea. They had all chosen to attend university after graduation and were enjoying their post-academic life. Eri had become a flight attendant, wanting to see the world. Ayumi was a nurse and Yuka opted to be a journalist.

Between their schedules, it was difficult for everyone to meet regularly though Kagome always enjoyed it when they did. Sometimes Ayumi would join her for a meal or Yuka would stop by to share the latest article she was working on. Eri paid Kagome visits as well, always bringing her a trinket from whatever city she’d been to. Kagome had decorated an entire wall of her apartment with Eri’s gifts.

Kagome passed the wall as she entered her home, smiling at the collection. If Eri didn’t stop soon, Kagome would need to devise a new strategy. Still, the items were thoughtful and gave her something to admire. Kagome hadn’t brought much with her from the shrine. Possessions had never been important to her. Memories were far more precious and Kagome had two lives to reflect on. 

The first was simple. The latter was not. 

Looking back only caused her pain. The loss of her friends, of her powers...it had felt like she lost a part of herself along with them. Her only wish was that she had some small part of her old life, something tangible that she could keep to remind her of the woman she once was. 

Sharing her stories with Mei, however watered-down they had been, reminded Kagome of the countless times she’d taken risks in the Feudal Era. More often than not, it had been pure dumb luck that kept her alive. She laughed recalling how she’d freed Tessaiga in Inu no Taishō's tomb. Her rash decision had nearly cost her life. Inuyasha was shocked but his brother took a more direct approach. Without the Steel-Cleaving Fang’s power, Kagome knew she would have died from his poisonous claws. 

It was worth it, she thought smugly, remembering how stunned Sesshōmaru looked when she appeared unscathed. 

She was still wearing that smile hours later when she crawled into bed. Burrowed underneath the sheets, Kagome closed her eyes, dreaming of silver hair and golden eyes.  

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As predicted, Mei did do better the following day. 

The young girl was full of smiles and courage as she fell into her stance beside her classmates. Kagome gave them the order to begin. A series of arrows took off, some hitting the ground and others finding their mark.

Kagome watched her students select fresh arrows and prepare to shoot their second round. She walked the length of the dojo several times, lowering elbow heights and adjusting finger placement.

Seeing her students advance in both skill level and discipline was rewarding. It was a source of pride for Kagome. She wanted her students to see that they didn’t need to rely on anyone. They could be self-sufficient like her by finding their own power within.

It was a valuable lesson and one she had forgotten in recent years. Kagome stared out across the pitch. How many months had she trained with her bow in the Feudal Era before she considered herself an expert marksman? It never seemed to make a difference to Inuyasha. He’d always been the first to criticize her.

Eyebrows pinching together, Kagome purposefully strolled over to her sheath. Some of the girls stalled to watch as their instructor plucked a single arrow out of her quiver. Kagome took aim and fired. The arrow penetrated the target, hitting the mark dead center. She smiled triumphantly as her students clapped.

Kagome drew another arrow, realizing how much she and missed the feel of the feather against her fingertips. While she insisted on her students wearing gloves, Kagome never did. She’d learned to shoot without a chest guard or other protective coverings. There was nothing dangerous in Tokyo that could convince her to wear the restrictive garments.

Unless she came across a yokai at the market, Kagome didn’t plan on changing her technique to accommodate the guards. She snorted, thinking how ridiculous it would be to see Inuyasha, Miroku, Sango, and Shippo accompanying her on the train to the store.

“Kagome!” 

Mei’s excited, albeit improper, shout startled Kagome from her reverie. She lost focus, sending her arrow flying well over the dojo’s barrier walls. Kagome cursed, watching the weapon shoot across the sky before diving into the park. There was a sound and her heart skipped a beat. 

Mei muttered an apology for her informal use of her teacher’s name. She dropped her head in shame. 

Kagome wasn’t worried about the child. She was more concerned about who— or what —she’d struck down. That sound was echoing in her ears, haunting and devastating. She swallowed nervously and glanced at her pupils. The other girls had already set down their bows and started to crowd around Mei. 

“Wait here,” Kagome instructed her class. “No one is permitted to touch anything and there will be no shooting until I return.” 

She followed the length of her property’s fence until she came upon the back gate. Kagome unlocked the door, stepping through to the park on the other side. At first, she saw nothing. 

Across the lawn, young children were racing each other. Further along, she saw an elderly couple talking on a park bench. A group of teens Sota’s age were enjoying ice cream and chatting about homework assignments. She held her hand over her eyes, shielding her gaze from the sun as she looked around. 

That was when she saw the blood trail. 

Kagome froze. She had hit something. Judging by the imprints in the grass, it was something huge. Her chest tightened. She followed the trail into a densely wooded section of the park. A flash of white caught her attention. 

White fur. 

Ono!” she cried, running over to the poor creature. It didn’t move. She prayed it wasn’t dead. 

It was a large dog, almost as long as she was tall. At first glance, she thought it was a wolf but they were believed to be extinct. Kagome knelt by the animal, finding her arrow jutting out from between its ribs. 

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she repeated over and over again as she ducked under the branches of the bush to take a better look. 

The wound appeared to have cut straight down. Kagome ripped strips of fabric off the bottom of her hakama, laying them over her shoulder. 

“Okay,” she told the unconscious beast. “This is going to hurt, but I promise it’s for the best.”

Gritting her teeth, Kagome grabbed the arrow with both hands and pulled it free. 

The dog woke, jumping to its feet and curling back its lips in a snarl. He bared his white fangs in warning. 

Kagome held up her hands. Using her calmest voice, she spoke to the animal. “I’m here to help. I won’t hurt you.” She picked up one of her torn scraps of fabric. “I need to bandage your wound. You’re injured and—.”

The dog snapped at her, trying to force her back so it could flee. Kagome held firm. She’d come face to face with demons of all kinds. One dog wasn’t about to deter her from her task. 

“I know you don’t like me very much right now, and that’s fine, but if you could just hold still, I’ll—.”

The dog suddenly lifted its nose, sniffing the air around them. Kagome tensed as he leaned toward her. He pressed his cold nose into the juncture of her neck and shoulder. When he pulled back, the menacing snarl was no more.

Taking this as a sign she could proceed with wrapping his wounds, she praised him, “Good boy.” 

The dog growled but didn’t snap at her again. She almost laughed. His temperament reminded her of Inuyasha. Always so stubborn. Maybe it was a dog thing.

Kagome checked for a collar but the creature appeared to be a stray. Her brow creased, an animal as well-kept as this one had to belong to someone.

“Where did you come from?” she asked as she applied pressure to his wound. Kagome didn’t expect an answer. This was modern times, not the Feudal Era. Dogs in this time didn’t speak.

“Your master must be worried about you,” she commented, wrapping the shreds of fabric around him to form a makeshift bandage. “I’ll have to put up flyers.” 

The dog merely huffed in response as if annoyed by the suggestion. 

“There,” she announced when she had finished. Kagome straightened up, pleased that her first aid skills were still on point. 

His pair of golden eyes watched her. She stared at the dog. Why were those eyes so familiar?

Sensei!”

Kagome glanced over her shoulder toward the sound of her students coming through the brush. When she turned back, the dog was gone.

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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