Twig found them as the sun crested in the sky; they morphed through the tree as they had before, scaring the shit out of Eric and Illius.
“Fuck, man.” Eric gaped at the druid. “Give us some warning.”
“Apologies.” Twig inclined their head slightly, before pulling purple magic from their palm and sending it into Hireth. “I’m glad to see you’re still alive.”
The witch had made another heat rune in the forest, and they’d all huddled around it as they rested. Illius thought Hireth might have fallen asleep at some point, but it was hard to tell with her.
“That makes two of us,” Hireth told the druid. “What have you got for me?”
“The last train is at ten, tonight.” They knelt next to her. “They’re hooking up another car and pulling it back for maintenance. There’ll be a second man with the driver to make sure the right car gets added—he’s our guy. The driver is not.”
“Got it.” Hireth nodded as he started prodding at her ribs. “Owwwww.”
“Hey, I’m helping here,” the druid said. “Good news is your lungs aren’t filled with blood.”
“Thanks to you,” Hireth said.
“You bruised your liver though, you crazy woman.” Twig shook their head.
“Is that what that is?” Hireth mumbled. “Here I thought it was just really bad cramps.”
The druid snorted. “I have it on good authority that they’re searching more to the west for you, thinking you made straight for Noviad.”
“It was a thought,” Hireth said with a smirk.
“You would have never made it.”
The witch gave the teeniest shrug. “Die with dignity.”
“Live,” the druid told her. “Live to fight another day.”
“Yeah, I think I like that one better,” Eric butted in. “She’s going to be okay, right?”
The druid glanced at Eric before looking back at Hireth. Their headed tilted back and forth as if weighing their options. “The cold is good, and she hasn’t gone into shock, so… we have a chance.”
Illius’ heart skipped a beat.
“I’m doing what I can,” the druid explained. “But I can’t even fully judge all her injuries. I pulled one of her ribs back into place and healed it last night, but two more are still broken. Her liver is bruised, her stomach is bleeding, and I have no idea how her right kidney is working.”
“Probably isn’t.” Hireth shrugged.
“You have to get to me by tonight,” Twig told her. “Otherwise, I can’t save you. Whatever hit you did a fuck-ton of internal damage.”
“Well, that’s not morbid at all.” The witch gave a tired sigh.
“There are limits,” Twig said, shaking their head. “And you ignore yours.”
“I just… didn’t have a lot of options.”
“Why can’t you stay and heal her now?” Eric asked.
“I’m not actually here,” Twig explained. “I’m projecting my soulforce through a tree, but I can only do it for a little bit at a time. A few minutes, max.”
“It’s enough,” Hireth said, offering them a soft smile. “If you hadn’t come, I’d be dead.”
Twig gave her a sympathetic look and changed the topic. “The train will take you to Lolit. Once there, you’ll need to stay away from the scanners and reach the safe house. I can’t help you…”
“Or you endanger everyone else. I know,” Hireth finished for them.
Hireth nodded. “I can find it. The scanners?”
“Follow Dream Street until 11th. Turn left off 11th onto Plum Avenue and from Plum…Wayleth.”
“Dream to 11th to Plum to Wayleth,” the witch repeated.
“We’ll be there.”
The druid took her hand and squeezed it.
“Twig.” Hireth grabbed their long woody fingers before the druid could let go. “If anything happens to me, get them across the border to Enix.”
The druid glanced at Eric and Illius each in turn. “I’ll do what I can, but they need you.”
“Twig, please,” she begged.
They held her face gently. “Fight. You have to fight, or you’re going to die. I know you. You can do this.”
“What if I can’t?” The witch wavered. “I fucked up… I tried to make a portal and I failed. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“Something that didn’t go to plan?” Twig said lightly. “I can’t imagine that ever happening to you before.”
“Why are healers such sarcastic little shits?” she groaned.
“So you’ll spite us enough to live,” Twig said. “I have to go now. I tried to give you enough pain relief so you can make it tonight.”
“I’ll make it,” she said.
“You always do.” Twig stepped back into the tree, the bark crackling open to make room to absorb their body, which lengthened and twisted until the old tree stood as if nothing had happened.
Hireth sighed. “Well, let’s get to that train car Twig was talking about.”
“You don’t want to rest a bit more?” Eric asked.
She bit her lip for a second, then looked up at her nephew. “Um… I have an odd request actually.”
“Can you help me get my bra off? I can’t move my arms behind my back.” Her cheeks reddened, putting a little color back into her pale face.
“Sure?” Eric shrugged.
“It’s just in a really shitty place right now, and it’s completely stiff from the blood drying, and it’s digging into my wound and… I’m sorry.” She groaned.
“It’s fine.” Eric knelt beside her, and Illius turned away. “How do I… You want it cut off or like…?”
“No, there’s two clasps in the back,” she explained.
“Can I get it through your shirt somehow?”
“I doubt it.”
“Do you want me to take your shirt off?”
There was silence for a moment, and then Hireth let out a rough giggle. “Not the thing I thought I’d hear from my nephew.”
“Woman, I am trying to help you here!”
“Let me have my humor!” she spit back. “It’s all I’ve got left!”
“We’re no closer to getting your bra off here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hireth huffed. “Alright, just like, give me a hug and undo the clasp.”
“Further left,” Hireth said after a moment.
“How does this work?” Eric growled.
“What kind of Casanova are you if you can’t even get a woman’s bra off?” Hireth teased.
“Clearly not the kind who undoes a bra, and you know that.”
“If my tit wasn’t throbbing, I’d be enjoying this a lot more.”
“Can you not?” Eric snapped.
Hireth let out a choked bit of laughter. Illius was glad he wasn’t looking at them. Allfather, he could feel his ears burning.
Eric spoke after a second. “I think I got it?”
“You ain’t got shit, man,” Hireth said. “You have to push it together.”
Sarcasm laced Eric’s words. “Push it together to pull it apart. That makes perfect sense.”
“It’s just tension, you dumbass!”
“Why are these things so complicated?”
“It’s literally two hooks, and I do it every day,” Hireth said.
“Can I just rip it?”
“Just push it together!”
Another moment of silence, and then Hireth’s voice came back lighter and teasing, “Eric, honey, I don’t think you can get any closer.”
This time it was Eric’s laugh, “This is ridiculous. Definitely taking the top spot for most awkward thing you’ve made me do. There. Goddamn finally.”
“Ah, that’s better,” Hireth said. “See? Not so bad?”
“First and last time I’m ever touching a bra,” Eric declared. Illius tried not to read too much into that. He tried. Unsuccessfully, but he tried.
“Oh, boo hoo for you. Imagine having to wear one,” Hireth hissed, audibly shifting in the leaves. “Alright, Illius, you can turn around now. We’re good.”
Illius turned around as Hireth pulled a red lacy bra from under her shirt and Eric shook his head. How was Illius somehow redder than either of them?
“Here ya go, Meanice.” Black magic crawled from Hireth’s fingertips and latched onto the bra, turning it to dust. “That is satisfying. Now to the train!”
“You sure you don’t want to rest more?” Eric asked.
“Free tits can do anything.”
Eric facepalmed as Hireth cackled, then promptly doubled over. “Owwww, it isn’t fair that I can’t laugh.”