A sudden bout of deceleration, and the screeching of tires forced the gray-haired passenger out of his slumber and his eyes opened to the sight of Japanese soil out of the airplane's window.
With a groan, Shirou pulled myself up to a straight sitting position. Even though he had slept for the entirety of the flight he didn't feel rested at all.
While the airplane slowed down to a halt, he rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck left and right causing his joints to let out some impressive cracking noise, before returning to look out of the window.
Japan; his home country, if he could still call it that.
The disembarkment was a smooth and uneventful process. The passengers got up from their seats, and out of the plane in an orderly manner as expected.
He wished he could have said the same about the passage through customs and immigration.
In the previous ten years, the world had changed much. Technology had grown by leaps and bounds, while medical research had many historical breakthroughs. Both of which were spearheaded by the Japanese conglomerate known to the world at large as MBI.
Among such advancements, there were DNA-recognition systems installed in almost every airports across the world. The degree of employment of these newly discovered technologies varied from nation to nation, of course, but in Japan where MBI had its main headquarter and by extension the most influence, all airports had long since adopted the new screening technology.
It was an inevitable outcome, since over twenty percent of the national industry and working force were under MBI's employment, either directly or indirectly. It wasn't wrong to say that MBI ruled the country through the sheer influence of their economic might.
However, it wasn't this highly debatable state of things that was troubling the traveler. It was their supposedly superior technology that had been giving him no end of troubles for over half an hour.
'!ERROR!' the screen read with bold characters for the umpteenth time.
"I'm really sorry about this," the attendant said, bowing apologetically. "It has never done anything quite like this."
"It's not a problem. I understand perfectly," he reassured the fidgeting man. "I'm in no hurry."
That was true for him, but the other passengers in line were of a different counsel. To make things simpler he let them go ahead, and much to everyone's delight there was no similar problem with any of the other passengers.
One by one they went through the gate until he was the only one left waiting.
"I'm really sorry about this," the attendant insisted like a broken record. Shirou was more tired with his needlessly subservient behavior than with the unexpected hold up, but the airport employee probably misunderstood the source of his frustrated frown.
Fortunately, the old fashioned identification systems worked fine and after a a few rounds of background checks the authorities were able to clear him for entrance, though they asked him a number of questions he answered rather vaguely. Before letting him go they asked him to leave an address where they could find him, just in case.
He assured them that he expected to remain in Shin Teito for the foreseeable future, and gave them both his phone number and his new address in the city.
He then retrieved his luggage, and finally left the airport behind himself pondering how all the advancement of mankind still hadn't managed to make the process of travelling abroad any simpler for the average person.
Despite that, there were things in that day and age that would have looked like something straight out of a science-fiction novel when he was still in high-school, a little over ten years before.
Ten years. He wished he could say that things had improved for him as much for as they did for the rest of humanity, but he had to admit that his progress was measured not by the things he had gained but by rather by those he had lost.
"These hands will never hold anything," he said under my breath as he stepped out into the air of a mid-September evening.
It was neither a curse nor an act of self-pity, but a simple statement of facts. They were the truth of Emiya Shirou existence, therefore they could not be different.
The summer was drawing to a close, but the gentle breeze that ruffled his prematurely graying hair still held the warmth of days gone by.
He waved his hand to a taxi and stepped into the vehicle when it stopped by him. He quickly instructed the driver, and the car immediately sped away from the airport and towards the city.
The scenery outside of the window was just about what it would be expected from a metropolis like Shin Teito: a cacophony of buildings everywhere the eye could reach, all the way up to the sky. Among them there was the tallest building in Japan, which housed MBI's headquarters.
Shin Teito, a metropolis built by and for MBI. The most technologically advanced place on the face of Earth. It was in this place that he had decided to establish his base of operation. It was from there that his search, his hunt, would continue throughout the county.
There was little doubt to him that she was there somewhere, in Japan. It was the perfect hiding place, after all, distant both geographically and politically from the two major powers of the west.
She was smart that one. She had been giving the slip to her pursuers for years, to the point that they had all given up on finding her.
All except him.
Emiya Shirou had been, and perhaps still was many things: criminally ignorant at times, suicidally reckless more often than not, hopelessly naïve just about all the time, but a quitter was never one of them. It was because of his character that he had lost a great deal of things over the years.
Irreplaceable, priceless things. However, he never once lost something because he had given up on it, and this time it wouldn't be any different.
But even if he didn't want to quit there only so much he could do by myself with his limited means.
Through the years, he had already spent whatever material possession his father had left him and he even ended up selling the Emiya household months ago to finance his personal quest, which in turn meant that even that money he had made from the sale was already mostly gone by now. Soon, his bank account would be in the red and before that happened he would have to create a source of income for myself.
Basically he was looking for a job, but the issue was purely logistical. He always knew his way around tools, courtesy of years of repairing all sorts of appliances and even fixing his own home when needed. His more exoteric abilities lent themselves pretty well to the task as well, which earned him the title of Fake Janitor back in high school.
Some intended it as a snub, but Shirou never cared about it.
Thus, knowing his own skill set, he used a portion of what little he had left on his name to buy a small warehouse in Shin Teito, a place that would double as a living place and as as Workshop for the time of his permanence in the city. The job of a repairman would also have his moving around the country at different times relatively inconspicuous.
A way to provide for oneself, sufficient privacy and a believable cover were the minimum requirements for any long term operation and he had managed to find a way to acquire them for himself in one move. It still wouldn't make things as easy as when he didn't have to worry about them, particularly the employment aspect, but there was nothing that could be done about it.
The taxi dropped him in the industrial area of the city, right in front of his newly bought property. The building was relatively old but in good conditions. There were repairs to be made but he could see to them himself so he wasn't worried.
However, as much as he was interested in his recent investment, there was something else that drew his attention. As he took his first breath of the city air, he got the feeling of something being amiss.
He was always very good at detecting things that were "out of place" so to speak, a type of heightened sensitivity to all forms of unnaturalness that had served him well through the years. In spite of that, he could not pinpoint a specific source for that feeling. In fact he felt like it's all around him simultaneously.
He chalked it up to the city itself. Shin Teito was the biggest human settlement he had ever visited, bigger even than London. There was nothing natural about this city in the first place. Even the green areas present within its perimeter were the product of carefully planned civil engineering.
No matter how one put it, nature had been raped in this place. Unnatural was definitely the most fitting word to describe it.
He shrugged and took out the keys from his pocket, stepping into his new place.
The warehouse was empty except for a few cardboard boxes here and there and a thin layer of dust on the pavement.
It was his first time seeing the place in person, having conducted the transaction through Internet, phone calls and the banks. He had to admit that getting this place had been a bargain and a huge windfall for him.
The previous owner's business relationship with MBI had turned sour, and he thought that getting out of the city, possibly very fast, was the best course of action. Shirou didn't want to know the previous owner's reasons, but what mattered was that he didn't have to argue about prices overly much.
His loss had been Shirou's gain, and he became the sole owner of an empty warehouse that he could easily adapt to his purposes.
He climbed the flight of metal stairs that led to the upper floor, which consisted of a prefabricated office with windows both on the inside and the outside of the building. It had been used as an office and much like the warehouse downstairs it was nearly empty save for a table with two chairs in the middle of the room and a couch against the wall that had seen better times. Their worn out state was no doubt the reason why they had been left behind.
From the outline of the furniture that used to be against the walls, and the visible plumbing he could safely guess that there had been at least a small kitchenette in here.
The ambient was divided in three separate spaces: the aforementioned office area, a smaller room with no windows that was probably mean to be a storage or an archive and finally a tiny bathroom with a shower.
It was surely essential, but more than sufficient for one person alone. More importantly it had all the necessary to be used as an apartment, further cutting down his living expense.
He tossed his luggage on the ground, and sat on the worn-out couch with a tired sigh, pulling out a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket as he did so. Tapping the bottom with his thumb he picked up the cigarette with his lips. In doing so, a slip of paper fell out of his pocket and onto the floor, facing down.
He didn't bother picking it up.
He was tired. More tired than he had ever been. Even during both Wars, with all the fighting and the wounds and the deaths he never felt this… empty.
The worst thing was that he just couldn't rest. Even when he forced himself to stop, just so that his mind and body could recuperate enough to work efficiently again, he couldn't sleep easily.
Every time he closed his eyes, they were waiting for him. The people he failed to save.
Saber, Illya, Taiga, Sakura, Rin.
Some hero he was. He couldn't even keep safe from harm the people closest to him, yet he had somehow convinced himself that he could protect those who were further away from his reach.
What a fucking joke.
Now he knew why Archer couldn't stand the sight of him. He had come to share a similar sentiment. In trying to save everyone he managed to save precisely nothing.
He was aware that his actions made a difference to someone, somewhere. Faceless people whose names he never even knew had been saved, while the people he held dear slipped through his fingers and into oblivion.
And the worse thing was… they never blamed him. He tried his best every time, giving everything he had to give. He threw myself in situations where the possibility of dying was high if not certain and somehow came out of them with both life and limbs while the people he held dear disappeared one after another.
'Maybe that was what being a hero meant all along?'
He leaned forward and picked up the piece of paper that had fallen from his pocket without looking at it, and put it back where it belonged.
He didn't have the answer to that question. All he had were his convictions, jaded as they might have become over the years and one person he had to find, no matter the cost.