Fire and destruction. Sundering the grail may have put an end to its mockery of justice, but it's unleashed the filth within to cause its own havoc. There's something more as well, a reverberation in the air, a feeling that is at once alien and familiar. An instability, an anomaly, an uncertainty that runs as deep as the world itself. Something terribly wrong, and terribly dangerous. If Kiritsugu wants to survive, he needs to run, now.
Like nothing he's ever done before, like the forces of hell itself are at his heels.
(Maybe they are. He can't tell.)
This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. The Grail was supposed to be the fix, the opposite to everything he ever was, the--
He keeps running, if only to escape the expression on his wife's as he--
It doesn't matter. Only running does.
The anomaly almost seems to tug or pull at him as he runs, trying to hold him here, but its grip is weak, and he looses from it in only a moment.
Suddenly, where once he was running through the growing inferno of Shinto district, now there is only tall grass. The world is dark, far too dark to be anywhere near the city, the kind of darkness that can only be found in the most reclusively rural places. The sky, however, is alight with dancing sparks that sway and swirl before his very eyes, which at first might seem like an enormous cloud of fireflies or embers, but which it will become disconcertingly clear are in fact stars, swimming through the night sky like dark water. The air is hot, but only the heat of a warm summer night, not the fiery heat from which he escaped, and rather than dry the wind is moist with recently fallen rain.
He does not know where he is, but he knows that it is not the world he knows. Perhaps a reality marble, related to the anomaly he encountered in some way, or perhaps not.
In the distance, there is a light of a different character from the alien stars, golden and welcoming, and shadowed by what look to be pine trees.
He falls to his knees, exhausted from all of the running. He's escaped, but where to?
This is not somewhere he recognizes, and he has traveled all across the world in the pursuit of his goals.
The light... seems friendly at least. He should go towards it.
(He hasn't noticed yet that most of his weapons are missing.)
There's part of him that's convinced he is absolutely not worthy of whatever safety the light represents, but his old teacher's voice berates him for thinking like that.
Yes, he has made mistakes. This does not mean his work is finished. If he has learned nothing else from his experience, it is that he cannot depend on anything else to do his work, not even a holy wish-granting engine supposedly built to that purpose.
He stumbles onwards. If his magic works here he should be able to help the inhabitants some, and he is not totally useless in other skills as well.
Kiritsugu's od remains his to command, but this marble is equally barren of will and mana, only a barest scant of either suffusing the space. His magic won't have to contend with the crushing weight of Gaia's rejection, but nor will it benefit from her abundance.
He's at the cabin now, and whether he simply waits by the window or knocks on the door, his presence is soon noticed. The door is opened and a tall humanoid man with orange skin, eyes glowing like hot coals, black hair that wafts like smoke, and dressed in simple leather pants stands before him. He radiates warmth but not heat, and is the magical energy coursing through him is palpable even to Kiritsugu's exhausted mind.
"Quickly, come in! The night may be quiet but it will be dangerous to be outdoors come sunrise." The man says, in a language utterly foreign even to Kiritsugu's well-traveled ears, and yet just the slightest twinge of magic allows him to understand the man's plea as if it were spoken in his native tongue.
The entire situation is troubling, enough that Kiritsugu doesn't question the command.
When he's inside, he will ask, "Are you a heroic spirit?"
As he enters, he instinctually ascertains the layout of the room. There's an area immediately around the entrance with a coat rack and shoe shelves, which has a staircase leading up to a second floor on the left. Ahead, the room expands, with a table and four chairs in the middle, a rocking chair and fireplace to the right, whence the golden light which illuminates the room and which Kiritsugu spotted outside, a wooden door on the left wall, and a glass door on the wall opposite from where he stands now, leading into a greenhouse, and which is flanked on both sides by tall cabinets. An elderly woman, maybe in her seventies or eighties judging from her appearance, is sat in the rocking chair, while a young woman, maybe a couple years younger than Kiritsugu, is sitting on a cushion by the fire.
"I, uh, hm..." The man mumbles, blushing through his orange complexion. "I don't think so? I've only just now heard those words used that way, so I'm unsure. I am...not some kind of ghost, though. I am my mother's son." He gestures to the woman in the rocking chair. "My name is Bran. What is yours, if I may ask?"
If he needs to, Kiritsugu can break his way out of the greenhouse, probably.
A lesser man would assume that the old lady would be easy to take down, but his experience with mage society means the older someone is the more dangerous he considers them.
"Emiya," he says. "And don't worry about it, that answers my question." He looks around.
He's clearly, visibly uncomfortable.
"Where am I? There was a fire and--"
He stops. He doesn't want to think about it.
Bran nods knowingly, and stands aside as the elderly woman responds. "This is my home, here in what I only know as the Pines. I came here many years ago, fleeing destruction and catastrophe, as did Ira here's mother. It seems to be something about this place that calls to those fleeing from. You are welcome to stay here in my home for as long as you need, as my son said the world outside is dangerous in the summer, stalked by a terrible monster." She pauses for a moment, and the house is quiet as the three locals all give Kiritsugu strange glances, then she continues. "It's a blessing to us to find someone new to talk to, but if you have some way of going back to where you can from, or onward to some other place, I can only recommend that you do so as soon as possible."
He bows. "Thank you for your welcome. I am sorry about the monster. And no--" he sighs. "I can't think of a way home this moment. I seem... cut off... somehow, from my world."
He knows this because he doesn't sense the flow of magic all mages are taught to understand.
What he does sense, clear as day through the otherwise mana-barren air of this place though only now that he has reason to focus on it, is that the fire in the hearth is a blaze with magic, just as much as Bran if not more so. Importantly, it seems to be aware of him, as well, though at the moment it seems content to merely observe.
Bran looks to the fire, or perhaps the cook pot hanging over it, then back to Kiritsugu. "Are you hungry, Emiya? I just made some supper for myself and Ira, and I have the ingredients ready to make more."
He is, desperately.
The feeling that the fire is watching him is... unsettling, but there's nothing else he can do about it.
"Do you want help with the beast?" he asks the old woman.
"I certainly want it," the woman responds with embittered dejection. "Whether you are able to give it is another question. That damnable thing has plagued me for decades, and neither my wishes upon the hearth nor my strong son have been able to defeat it, and I am loath to send a newcomer to their death or worse."
He's still eating.
To an outsider, it'll look like he hasn't eaten in days. This isn't strictly true, but he has been running himself absolutely ragged.
"Madame," he says, "I have spent most of my life hunting monsters. It's the only thing I can think of to do to repay your hospitality." There's the sense that whatever is being translated as madame is more polite than sarcastic, with the sense that he'd use similar language for a teacher.
As Kiritsugu eats, he may notice the tiniest flickers of magic in the fresh soup, with the same general character as that of the fire. As he swallows, he can feel it integrate with his body and replenish his od.
Bran seems simultaneously pleased and worried at the gusto with which Kiritsugu eats, and will finish off the ingredients he already has out to cook up another pot if he's still hungry.
His words give the woman some pause, and she gives him a long, piercing look. Finally, she looks away and sighs resignedly. "Very well. Bran? You will show our guest Emiya to the sleeper's cave tomorrow, at first light. If the beast proves too much, make sure the two of both come back alive."
Bran nods seriously, while the younger woman, who has been quietly eating her own supper, speaks up. "How are you going to fight the cave-sleeper?"
The replenishing soup is interesting. He's glad he's not totally powerless here, even if the sense of being cut off is deeply uncomfortable.
"I don't know yet," he says. He's not sure how the people here would feel about firearms, and he also needs to check what he has. "I need to know more about the cave-sleeper first. Then I can make something like a plan."
He tries to smile reassuringly at the young woman, but it comes off more pained than anything, like he doesn't have much practice with the expression.
He's finally full, and he very gently puts his bowl down and leaves the spoon in the same position as where he found it. "Thank you," he says. The old woman can probably tell that that's much more sincere than his smile. "I... I don't want to impose, do you have a couch I can sleep on?"
"We have a guest bedroom upstairs, and speak nothing of it. It is our duty and our joy to welcome any fellow refugees here in the pines. Now, here is what we know of the cave-sleeper..."
The elder woman, who Kiritsugu learns is named Thia, will describe the cave-sleeper's shadowy bear-like form, and how it stalks the pines during the summer days and attacks them and their chickens but seems to be repelled by the walls of the house. She also mentions that it killed Minessa, her adoptive daughter and the mother of Ira, and that some curse it's laid has prevented the hearth from resurrecting her. Bran, who has wrestled with the beast directly, will also attempt to convey its sheer power and in particular its seeming implacable endurance.
While the others explain this, Ira gets a bit uncomfortable, and after finally finishing her soup will excuse herself and head upstairs, mentioning that she will 'get back to working on the dolls,' which Bran and Thia accept.
"The dolls?" Kiritsugu asks, curious.
He's turning the information about the dolls over in his head. Were he home, he'd--
It's about then that it really, truly hits him that his wife, his partner, and his familiar are all dead. He has nobody.
He... will need to figure out another way of doing this, seeing as he has no access to the majority of his weapons, other than the Contender itself, which while useful against mages has an unknown efficacy against bears. Especially magical bears, ones able to apparently stop the necromantic powers of the hearth.
(He is increasingly, burningly curious about this hearth, but is unsure of whether asking too many probing questions will get him kicked out.)
"I'm not going to fight the beast with no plan, don't worry," he adds.
It's strange. He can't tell if he wants to fight the beast to help them, or prove that he can still defeat an enemy, any enemy, despite what he has wreaked on the world.
He needs to know that he has been going about the this right way.
"Ah, yes. The hearth needs gifts to gather its strength on wishing night, things that have meaning and value to us. I and Bran carve wooden dolls in our spare time, and give them names and stories, and then give them to the hearth. It seems to work reasonably well. Grandmother usually gives preserved fruits and dried herbs from the green room, since her wrists are fragile now and we haven't had the spare wishes to fix them for a while."
Thia isn't able to contribute much to forming the plan of attack, since she's only ever run from the cave-sleeper, and even then only decades ago. Bran will be able to discuss it more, though, especially if Kiritsugu is able to trust the man enough to share some of his own capabilities.
He nods. "Is there a way to get you any more wishes?"
He has no idea but it seems like he should help them all any way he can.
"I have a possible means of fighting back," he says, addressing Bran. "I don't know if it'll work, though, because I need your help. I also need to be sure you are comfortable with firearms. I do not have anything close to my full arsenal with me, but I do have one. There are limited bullets, but if the beast is anything like my enemies, it should be able to at least hurt it."
"The hearth answers one wish for each gifter on wishing night, which is in about five months, so just being here will help if you are still around by then, especially if you can help us make more gifts to give it as well," Bran answers. "And, I know of firearms from my mother's stories of her homeworld, but I've never actually handled one. I don't think I'm terribly uncomfortable with them, though? I would be surprised if anything like ordinary bullets would hurt the cave-sleeper, but I get the feeling you are not talking about ordinary bullets."
He puts the Contender on the table, making sure it's unloaded first. "You're right," he says. "I have about thirteen bullets left. They're made with my own magic, and they can disrupt the energy of things in the processing of using their own abilities." He does not explain what this looks like in a person. He wants to protect these three from his own past.
He doesn't say anything about staying for another a five months or not. He doesn't even know if time moves regularly between this place and his own home, and he does not want to go back to the destruction he has just escaped.
A mysterious house and a cave with an angry bear present a much simpler question of good vs. evil than the Grail War.
"You show me the cave," Kiritsugu says. "You tell me as much as you know about the beast, and then I lure it out and I shoot it and I hope that I don't get torn to shreds in the meantime." He sighs. "I can hopefully set up a bounded field around your cabin, make it more defensible. If that doesn't interfere with the magic from the hearth."
The plan is not great, but he's working on limited intel. He's going to make the best choices he can, given what he knows, and hope that it's good enough.