"Thank you, my dear. It was all so sudden. So horrible. We're all so poor, we... didn't know what we could do."
"We'll be there tomorrow after the service," Jackie promised, "Then we'll have him prepared for the funeral by morning. I'll leave the directions to the cemetery."
"Thank you so much," the old woman squeaked, squeezing Jackie's hand. Jackie smiled, easy warmth, and let Mrs. Tapack murmur a prayer before the girl patted her hand and moved off. Once her back was turned, Jackie exhaled, shaking her head. There were entirely too many little ones passing on in that little backwater village.
Over the summer, and often beyond, Jackie was a common sight in the slums and backwoods towns around the main city. With her gang of Parkour super villain cosplayers, they used what they'd discovered on their runs through the city to help out those in need.
All too often, it was for the last deposition of a loved one. Jackie would make a plain but decent pine coffin and find space in the nearest cemetery, dig a grave, and help transport the body. This time, it was for a small child.
The family lived in one of the very low tech suburbs of the city, which gave Jackie the opportunity to bring out a newly restored children's hearse. It was a rare and beautiful horse drawn vehicle she had found while free running with her friends. Half the size of a typical hearse, it was white, carven with a floral motif, with glass sides and heavenly blue velvet curtains.
Daisy pulled the little hearse somberly through town, a plume of matching blue feathers on her head stall. Desdenova drove the little nightmare, appropriately garbed in a black suit, top hat, and gloves. Jackie rode alongside the boy, wearing a deep purple skirt and blouse, mourning for a girl from the 1900s.
The little house where their client waited was dark and gloomy. The family had gathered for the wake along with the neighborhood. They all removed their hats as the hearse pulled up.
"Thank you both so much. We just … we don't have any money and..." the boy's father whispered as he walked to meet Jackie and Desdenova. Jackie shook her head, giving the perfect mortician smile, a strange blend of comfort, sorrow, and warmth.
"This is what we do, Mr. Ismil," she assured him, "We'll go in and move him to the coffin, now. Perhaps you and your wife should go say your goodbyes."
Mr. Ismil nodded, exhaling, his head hung for a moment before he turned back to the house. Jackie and Desdenova watched him go, both with the sad-comforting smiles on their faces.
"Ugh. I hate these. But he'll be happy playing with new friends, soon," Desdenova sighed as he helped Jackie pulled the disturbingly tiny coffin from the hearse. Jackie nearly fumbled the coffin, blinking several times. Desdenova stared at her.
"There's nothing dead here," she whispered sharply.
Desdenova's brows knit. He looked around, then carefully opened his mind to scan around the little house. Jackie had received the lion's share of their father's abilities, such things came to her easily. Desdenova had to focus.
"...There isn't. Then... what's going on?" he responded, indicating the quiet group of people waiting out front, "None of these people want to hurt us. They're just sad."
"Follow my lead," Jackie responded, gripping the leather hand holds on the tiny coffin. Desdenova helped, but it was mainly for show. Jackie was stronger than she looked. They entered the house slowly, both looking around for anything out of place.
The parlor had been draped and the windows and mirrors all covered in black cloths. There were a few flowers, mostly boughs of cedar and pine and ivy decorated the table where the child was lain out. He wore his best clothes, which were still shabby and worn. He had a few toys set out with him.
His mother, heavily pregnant, knelt by his head, sobbing inconsolably. His father helplessly tried to comfort her.
"She's in bad shape," Desdenova hissed to Jackie. He moved as she set the coffin onto the floor.
"I know. Later," Jackie responded quickly before she pulled her mortician smile back to her lips, "We're going to move him now. Why don't you take Mrs. Ismil to your room? My brother wants to see her later, he can heal her."
"Why can't you heal him?! Why can't you heal my baby?!" Mrs. Ismil wailed. Desdenova flinched and stepped back, wide eyed, but Jackie simply smiled, helping Mr. Ismil get the poor woman to her feet.
"He's going to try. But you need to lay down."
"Jackie!" Desdenova hissed. He could often bring back the dead, but it wasn't easy, and it wasn't fair to give false hope.
"There is nothing dead here," Jackie reminded him curtly. Desdenova frowned, biting his lip and nodding. He watched as Mrs. Ismil tottered to her room, then exhaled heavily. He looked over the child, his brows knitting. When Jackie returned, he shrugged to her.
"There's nothing alive here, either, Jackie. I mean, this may as well be a bundle of sticks and leaves," he told her in an undertone, indicating the child's body. Jackie eyed him oddly, then moved to lift the boy's head.
It came off in her hands. Jackie and Desdenova stared flatly at this. Jackie's fingers flexed.
What had seemed to be a little boy's head of some four years crumpled into a dirty cloth bag filled with leaves and trash. Stunned, Jackie grabbed for the body, only to have it come undone in her hands, as well. Just a lot of sticks bound together in a rude human form.
"...Crap," Jackie whispered, wide eyed.
"...He's been kidnapped. Maybe by fae? This is a changeling," Desdenova pointed out, shuddering, "What do we do? When they do this, they aren't going to give him back."
"Is there fae magic on it?" Jackie asked, rubbing her brow with her fingers. She tossed the 'head' back to the body. Desdenova regarded it keenly, then shook his head.
"No. It wasn't glamour, it was a spell, and not a very good one. It broke apart when you touched it, probably because you're a necromancer."
"And probably because they didn't expect a necromancer to handle the remains. Fuck. What do we do now?" Jackie hissed. Desdenova exhaled, wide eyed. Then he said something monumental, something which had rarely left the lips of any Jones, let alone a Von Tombs.
"...Call the Police. I mean. Call. Like. Katt. She'll get real cops, detectives, over here."
Jackie exhaled and nodded, pulling her phone out. She waited as Desdenova put in Katt's phone number, and then stepped away to talk.
Desdenova blew out a quantity of air. He turned as Mrs. Tapack stepped in, indicating the dummy haplessly. She stared, her handkerchief at her lips.
"I knew it," she whispered, though she was still stunned, "I knew there was something weird going on with Jannes. He didn't know me. He didn't know anyone."
"Jackie's calling for help. He must have been kidnapped," Desdenova explained, "I don't know what to do, he still might be dead, there's been no ransom demand, and these are poor people..."
So many terrible things could happen to a poor child snatched from the slums like this. Desdenova winced faintly.
"First off, we've got to get it around that he was kidnapped. There's been … ten children in the past year or so who have inexplicably died like this. But that happens around here. I wonder how many of them have rags and sticks in their graves...?" Mrs. Tapack whispered, "I'll go tell everyone."
"I'd better tell the parents. She's in a bad way, she needs to be healed or her and the baby won't make it," Desdenova nodded, drawing in his breath slowly.