At Last, the City Is Free of Demonic Influence

On the dreadful day that Mx Friday was seized by druids, Mr Ilbert was injured, and Ms Deadman and Mr Doudle mounted their outmanned rescue mission, nobody returned to the office. I waited on tenterhooks until the following morning, when Ms Deadman, Mx Friday and Mr Doudle limped tiredly through the door.

‘Algie tried to take on Zâl,’ Mr Doudle told me, pulling up a chair and looking very weary. ‘That was the last we saw of him.’

‘I suppose … there isn’t a body,’ Mx Friday said. ‘Should we bury the teapot? He was very fond of it and he was holding it when —’

‘Or his hat?’ Mx Deadman said, picking up Mr Boyle’s ushanka and patting it gently. ‘He may have saved all of us, you know.’

Mr Boyle disrupted our silent reverie by bursting in through the door and exclaiming, ‘Oh thank goodness you’re all alive.’

Mr Doudle jumped and glared at him. Mx Friday gave him a hug and then looked embarrassed.

‘And you’re alive!’ said Ms Deadman. ‘Why are you alive?’

‘The witches,’ said Mr Boyle. ‘Oh, I’ll explain everything. I got lost last night and this morning I overslept, I didn’t mean to worry you.’

Ms Deadman, Mr Doudle and Mx Friday were then able to explain that they had tried to go after Mr Boyle, but the fog was so dense they could not find their way at all — only similarly lost druids. Given the thick fog, the fading daylight, the probable nearby presence of demon and dragon, their inability to track Mr Boyle, and the constant abject cries of ‘oh, mercy!’ from the druids every time they came face to face, the three reporters decided to return to the city centre.

That journey, of course, took far longer than usual, as indeed did Mr Boyle’s. He gave his side of the story in turn, revealing his courageous role in luring Zâl to the Pendle Stones and the extraordinary battle that ensued between Zâl and the witches, and promptly sat down to write it all up.

The four of them were naturally all quite exhausted by their exploits, and come their lunch break, they all fell asleep in the office, Mr Doudle hanging peacefully from the rafters above the radiator. I was good enough to give them all an extra half hour, and then contrived to wake them all with a loud rattling noise and chivvied them back to work. Mr Doudle nearly fell off his rafter and later — affectionately, I would like to believe — threw a paperclip at me.

Mr Ilbert was kept overnight for observation in Belleurdine and telephoned yesterday at 8 a.m. to say he would be taking the day off. The office was beautifully quiet and harmonious without him.

Throughout yesterday and today we have been deluged by visitors and telephone calls, all wishing for reassurances that the dangers have passed. Eventually I typed up a bulletin, which was pinned to the front door: YES, ZÂL HAS BEEN DEFEATED. LORD TITUS IS IN TALKS WITH THE DRAGON.

‘“Defeated” is perhaps not the right word,’ said Ms Hylda Mowett, 78, witch and occasional owl, in a telephone conversation with Mx Friday. ‘But gone, certainly, and the stones will prevent him reentering this world, even if someone tries to summon him again.’

‘When the druids last used the Pendle Stones,’ Mx Friday pressed, ‘they set something loose, the portal creature. Isn’t there a risk they could still set Zâl loose?’

‘I really don’t think they want to,’ said Ms Mowett, ‘and we have put measures in place that even they can’t mess up. Still, we’d recommend they be proscribed from using the stones at all, just as a general principle.’ She added: ‘Actually, no, I like “defeated”. Use that.’

A former member of the Zâl Âppreciâtion Society brought us flowers, saying, ‘I didn’t really like him, but it seemed like a good idea to join. Can we take that horrible statue down now?’

That decision probably lies with Maximilian Mountjoy, Mayor of Kinwick, who has shown himself to be the sort of fool who would attempt to ally himself with a demon. (Despite that it has only been two days since Zâl’s disappearance, Kinwick has seen a return of the weasel protest song ‘Pop Goes the Lord Mayor’.) We contacted his office but were told he was unavailable for comment.

The Anonymous Source has informed us the City Council has declared the Pendle Stones, Knave Hill and the Gontesgrave off limits for the time being and is reinstating the ban on making sacrifices to the dragon with immediate effect. We have had one or two scurrilous telephone calls to ask if the council would be prepared to grant exceptions.

Normality is gradually returning to the Gazette office. This morning Mr Ilbert marched in through the door and dramatically flung down his hat upon his desk. I suspect he was hoping for sympathy and admiration, but as the rest of the reporters had faced down a demon, they were not overly impressed that Mr Ilbert injured himself in a fight with a druid. However, they were very polite, and relieved to see him well.

In the year since the Grote Mandrenke storm, it has been a strange, difficult and all too tragic time for our fair city. People have been hurt and lives lost: Mr Doudle, who became one of the undead on the night of the storm; Mr Hector Jenkins, who is believed to have been the first victim of the portal creature; those in the Low who were injured by the cave-in caused by the creature; Mr Bartholomew Jones, Ms Verity Payne, Mr Marcus Shelly, and Ms Bella Wimple, who were almost lost to us forever; Kveldi the Younger and Scolyek Mago Balnyn, who gave their lives in the Battle of Knave Hill; Ms Viola Blackwood, who fell into a portal during the battle; Mr Merrion Mathewson and Mr Roderic Normand, other casualties of the battle; Mx Friday, who was almost sacrificed to the dragon; and Mr Boyle, who was tortured by Zâl as he led Zâl to his demise. Yet even as we remember them, their pains and losses and courage, we are grateful not to have suffered greater bereavements.

The druids attempted to fight fire with fire — summoning the demon Zâl to defeat the portal creature they had accidentally brought forth — and almost burnt Kinwick down, so to speak. But now it seems all that is over and in the past. We know the future will bring its own troubles, but I believe I speak for us all when I say that we hope never to see the likes of these horrors again. The storm has long since passed, the Grote Mandrenke has returned to the depths of the sea, the portal creature has returned to its own dimension, the dragon has returned to its lair, and Zâl has been ensnared and defeated.

Kinwick endures, good readers. Kinwick endures.

THE TYPEWRITER has been in the Gazette’s office since 1911. It prides itself on being the best haunted typewriter in Penshire.

Enter the Witches

Whatever motivated me to shout ‘Hey, you’ at a demon? It was quite possibly the worst decision of my all-too-short and youthful life. To throw it all away in a fit of heroic sacrifice …

To understand how I came to be here, shouting in the fog, with a seven-foot tall creature from another dimension advancing on me, we must go back approximately 90 minutes. While my colleagues Ms Deadman and Mr Doudle were flying through the clouds and Mx Friday was struggling with zir kidnappers, I was engaged in far more ordinary endeavours: taking Mr Ilbert to Belleurdine Hospital.

He was murmuring fitfully: ‘Come back, you devils … pick on someone your own … unghhh …’ A kindly passer-by was providing us with transport and Mr Ilbert tossed and turned in the back of the car. I could have sworn that at one point I saw him open one eye to make sure that I was still paying attention.

There was one important thing I had to do when I reached my destination. I left Mr Ilbert in the hospital’s care and called Miss Eda Battle of the witches.

‘Miss Battle,’ I began, ‘a most terrible thing has –’

I was interrupted by a crash and a shudder on the other end of the line and Miss Battle bellowing: ‘Hylda, NO!’

‘Miss Battle? Are you all right?’ If the druids were attacking the witches too, they must indeed feel confident!

‘Yes,’ snapped Miss Battle. ‘Hylda just knocked the cauldron over again. What’s wrong?’

I related to her all that had happened. That the druids had kidnapped Mx Friday and intended to sacrifice zir to the dragon at Knave Hill. That if we succeeded in rescuing Mx Friday, we risked the wrath of the demon Zâl, the city council, the Bleak Street Runners – not to mention the dragon itself. Could this been the end of The Kinwick Gazette? The witches were our last and best hope.

‘Calm down, Mr Boyle,’ said Miss Battle. ‘Meet us at the Pendle Stones. We’ll be there.’

‘But we don’t have time for secret meetings in the mist,’ I objected. ‘That’s how murder mysteries start! Please …’

‘Do as I say,’ said Miss Battle, ‘and I promise no one will be murdered.’

My transport to the hospital had departed and I was forced to use alternative means to reach the Pendle Stones. I caught the bus. I emptied my wallet to pay the driver, shouting at him: ‘I’ll give you all the money I have if you take me to the Pendle Stones! Now drive! At the double!’

The driver gave me a baleful look. ‘Sit down.’

The bus trundled through the mist at a snail’s pace. The driver insisted on stopping for every passenger. While Ms Deadman and Mr Doudle were closing in on the druids, high above the ground, I was on the bus. Every time I stood up to encourage the driver, he just glared at me, shook his head, and told me to sit down.

Stepping off at the village of Odstone, I had to walk the last mile across the Gontesgrave to the standing stones. All day the fog had not lifted and I was afraid I would not find my way. But looking ahead I saw a light like a fire shining through the grey. As I approached it, I saw the shadows of the stones looming over me, and then the figures of the witches. There were perhaps a dozen of them, including Miss Eda Battle, Miss Aldith Killick and Ms Matty Bloodworth. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see them after the fears of the day!

A tall, messy-haired witch I did not recognise came up to me, hugging herself even though it was not cold. ‘Hylda,’ she said, offering out her hand. ‘The owl.’

I asked her: ‘Do the witches have a plan yet?’

Hylda tilted her head from side to side as if considering. ‘A vague one.’

These were not the words I wanted to hear and I strode forward to the centre of the standing stones. However, my anger and fear quickly ebbed away as I found myself under scrutiny from a dozen witches. What I had intended to be a fierce, motivational speech came out as a mumble: ‘My friends are in danger. I, um, need help.’

‘We shall give you that help, Mr Boyle,’ said Miss Battle, her expression softening a little.

When I had called her on the telephone, I had related all my worries about the druids, Zâl and the dragon. But the witches told me now that the druids would not pose a threat, that they would scatter at the first sign of a real fight. The dragon, too, would make rumblings within its lair, but it would much prefer to stay there in comfort, only relishing the prospect of any easy meal delivered to its front door. That left Zâl: the demon at the heart of everything.

The witches could sense his presence around Knave Hill. He would want to witness the sacrifice. If they could lure him to the Pendle Stones – an historic site filled to overflowing with ancient magic, the catalyst of the Grote Mandrenke storm – then they could cast him back to the dimension from whence he came!

The readers of The Kinwick Gazette should now come to appreciate the full extent of my brave foolishness. I offered to act as bait.

‘It’s very noble of you, Mr Boyle,’ said Ms Bloodworth, ‘but why would Zâl be interested in you? Just some reporter: no particular power or fame, no meaning in life. He could smite you down as soon as look at you.’

Miss Killick raised her hand. ‘No, Matty, wait, I think he has a point.’

I was regretting my offer already. However, Ms Bloodworth said: ‘Go on, Aldith.’

‘Well, through reading the articles of the Gazette I fancy I’ve formed a pretty clear picture of Zâl,’ said Miss Killick, beginning to pace. She raised a finger, hushing the other witches into silence. ‘He loves to pray upon the weaknesses of others. Mr Boyle has a lot of weaknesses.’

‘Hey,’ I said, in a small voice.

‘I don’t mean any disrespect,’ continued Miss Killick. ‘You might look a bit weedy, especially right now, but you have quite a few strengths — there is great bravery and kindness to be found in you. And in seeing your willingness to sacrifice yourself for your friends, Zâl would want to strip away that noble impulse, that inner strength, to leave you trembling, cold and alone without friends or –’

‘That’s quite enough, Aldith,’ said Miss Battle. ‘He doesn’t need all the details.’

‘Oh, I beg your pardon,’ said Miss Killick. She bowed out from her imaginary spotlight, as if expecting applause.

Miss Battle mused: ‘Yes. It could work!’

Miss Killick had almost managed to dissuade me from my bold adventure, but when I tried to protest she and Miss Battle ushered me away from the Pendle Stones with a few reassuring pats on the back. My legs trembling with every step I took, I set off into the fog sweeping over the Gontesgrave and into the trees surrounding Knave Hill.

Zâl is watching, I remembered the witches saying. He will see you.

Perhaps they had intended to reassure me that the plan would work, that my heroics would not be wasted. But instead I found myself starting at every noise, looking at every branch as if it had Zâl’s eyes, or every log as if it had Zâl’s pointed teeth. To gather up my courage I started calling through the fog: ‘Come out, Zâl! Come and face me.’ And then in a smaller voice: ‘Here, kitty-kitty-kitty … here Zâl …’

As I approached Knave Hill, I could hear shouting. It sounded like a great battle. I ran towards the noise.

Out from the fog ran a white-robed figure – a druid, Brother Colbert – and I leapt behind a tree in my fright. Brother Colbert seemed equally frightened, though, and he stared at me with wide terrified eyes.

‘Doddle!’ he whimpered. ‘Doddle!’

With those mysterious words, he faded away again into the fog. Leaving my hiding place, I continued to creep through the trees. My sense of direction was lost, but I headed in the direction the druid had been running from. All around me I could see more shadows running through the woods.

And then I saw him: Zâl. He was standing at the mouth to the dragon’s lair.

In front of him stood my colleagues: Ms Deadman, Mr Doudle and Mx Friday. They needed my help!

‘Hey!’ I shouted. ‘Hey, you! Over here!’

The demon turned to look at me. My three fellow reporters also turned. There was one expression painted across all their faces: complete and utter confusion. But I had no time to explain.

‘Yes, I’m talking to you! OVER! HERE!’

Zâl started to walk towards me. Over his shoulder, to the other reporters, I heard him say, ‘He has the look of a natural victim, don’t you think?’

It was working. The plan was actually working. And I was the bait – oh, god! I was the bait! I had to run! Fast!

I ran like the druids had been running, helter-skelter through the woods, too scared even to scream. There was a demon on my tail! As I ran, I saw a dark figure looming up in front of me like a pillar of darkness. There was a glint of yellow eyes and sharp teeth, the swish of a long tail.

‘Fancy seeing you here, Mr Boyle,’ said Zâl.

I yelped and turned away, running in a different direction. But there he was again, and he hissed down at me: ‘Can I call you Algie? We’re friends by this point. We’ve known each other for a long time.’

‘We – are – not – friends!’

Again I turned. I heard Zâl’s laughter behind me. He was enjoying this chase. Playing with his food.

Where were the Pendle Stones? In my panic I had completely lost my way. For all I knew I could be running back towards Knave Hill and the dragon’s lair. I looked for the glowing light I had seen on my way to the stones before, but there was nothing this time.

‘You hurt my feelings, Mr Boyle,’ said Zâl. He was next to me again. ‘I shall have to hurt you in return.’

I felt something sharp slash across my shoulder and I staggered, half in pain, half in shock. I had never known Zâl to physically harm anyone before. I clutched a hand to my hurt shoulder, but there was nothing – no ripped clothes, no torn skin, no blood. It was as if I had imagined it.

‘No one will believe you.’

I could hear the demon gloating. Another slash of pain, this time across my neck.

‘By the time I am through with you, there will not be a scar to show for it. Only pain, pain, pain …’

And then I saw an owl. It swooped down low. I gasped: ‘Hylda!’

Zâl snarled behind me. I staggered away. Above me I saw the owl fly over my head again, leading me away in a different direction. I had to pray that this was indeed Hylda and not just a random owl. The trees began to thin and I realised I had reached the edge of the Gontesgrave wood.

There was a vicious shout from Zâl: ‘BOYLE!’

I paid no heed. At last I could see the Pendle Stones up ahead of me. Striding between the stones I could see the witches. They did not speak to me as they passed. I stumbled and fell against the nearest stone.

I could vaguely see the outlines of the witches surrounding a taller figure, the silhouette of Zâl. He was slightly stooped, looking all around, and I realised he was searching for a way to escape. He snarled at the witches.

The battle commenced in eerie silence. Zâl was leaping and scratching at the air. Sometimes his outline flickered and disappeared entirely, but it was always came back, screaming in frustration. I found myself scrambling out the way as the witches forced the demon towards the Pendle Stones. He struggled every step of the way, clearly understanding the witches’ intent.

On my hands and knees I crawled away from the witches’ onslaught. There was a part of me that wanted to stay and witness everything. But there was a rather more insistent part that wanted to stay alive. I could not risk being caught in the crossfire, incinerated by some stray magic, or torn to shreds by the demon.

I did not stop until I reached the woods again. There I huddled down and waited. As the minutes stretched by, I dared to hope.

This could be the end of Zâl.

MR ALGERNON BOYLE began his career as a writer of letters for Kinwick’s most important and distinguished residents. He would like to express his gratitude for all the compliments he received on his neck, and no, he would not like to donate any blood to the aristocracy, and no, he is not that keen on parties, thank you very much. He prefers quiet nights of tea and découpage whilst listening to the shipping forecast.

Deadman and Doudle Fly to the Rescue

On the ground below us we could see the druids’ van as they drove towards Knave Hill, our dear Malkyn in their clutches. They drove slowly because of the thickening mist, and on a few occasions we saw Malkyn tumble out of the back door and try to run towards the office before the van would halt and two druids would leap out and hurry to pull Malkyn on board again.

‘Go down!’ I urged Edward, locked together in a death grip in mid air. ‘We can stop them now.’

‘No, no, we’ve got to go on to Knave Hill,’ he said. ‘They might have more victims.’

As you can imagine, this is exactly what I did not want to hear, but we pressed on through the fog. Due to the necessity of not flying into any trees, we were forced to travel at the same slow speed as the druids. Still, under the circumstances, I think we did quite well until, at last at Knave Hill, we descended the last 10 feet or so rather too quickly and landed with a thump behind a small hillock. Fortunately my fall was broken by Edward.

‘That’s not what I had in mind,’ Edward said, rather grass-stained and muddy.

As the martyr said. But look on the bright side: it could have been you landing on top of me. It’s much better this way.’

‘Oh, is it –’

And then we found ourselves surrounded by the druids.

We tried to stare them down. Edward and I had forgotten to discuss the question of numbers, and there were more of them than of us. We recognised Brother Colbert, Brother Kyle, and Brother Maxim, and behind them we could see Malkyn, looking mutinous.

‘Well, well, well,’ said Brother Maxim. ‘Look what the cat dragged in.’

‘If it isn’t Mr Doddle,’ said Brother Colbert, ‘and his Auntie Deadman. Oh, our plans are thwarted!’

I rose to my feet. ‘First of all, his name is Mr Doudle, not Doddle,’ I said. ‘And second of all, I am most certainly not his auntie! Of all the useless pompous idiots in Kinwick, Mr Whinery, I’ve never met your equal.’

‘This is our time now, Ms Deadman,’ said Brother Kyle. ‘Go back! Zâl will be arriving soon to reward us.’

Edward jumped to his feet too, brushing the grass out of his hair quickly. ‘You dare to meddle with dark forces, the forces to which I belong …’

We’re not falling for that again,’ said Brother Maxim. ‘We remember you and your speeches, oh yes. Quite the thespian, aren’t you, Mr Finger Puppets.’

There was an awkward silence. Then Edward hissed, incensed, and his eyes glowed red. His teeth lengthened. He leapt. He sprang forwards.

He fell among the druids amidst a mass of flailing limbs. The druids squawked and shrieked. Edward dragged two to the ground, twisting and kicking, and began to swarm the form of Brother Maxim, intent it seemed — for the first time since he had accidentally launched himself at the Anonymous Source — on biting the druid who had so insulted him.

I took advantage of their distraction and pulled Malkyn out of the way.

‘Are you all right?’

‘Fine,’ said Malkyn. ‘Should we help?’

‘Help who? Actually, no. In either case, no. I don’t think there’s any need to get in Edward’s way.’

It was Brother Kyle who called the retreat. The druids abandoned the fight with great alacrity. Brother Maxim cast one last terrified look back over his shoulder, clutching at his torn robes.

‘Fiend!’ he cried. ‘Villain! You wait!’ And then he was gone, stumbling away into the trees.

‘Edward, are you all right?’ I asked. ‘Do I need to stake you now or anything like that?’ (As a friend, of course.)

‘Certainly not,’ said Edward, picking himself up a little unsteadily and rubbing at the mudstains on his knees. ‘I got a mouthful of druid-beard. I’ve never felt less consumed by bloodlust in my life.’

‘Well, you did look a bit bloodlust-ish for a moment there.’

‘Hm. Maybe. I don’t know. Did you hear what he called me?’

‘Mr Finger Puppets?’ enquired Zâl.

It was only then that we noticed the terrible figure of the demon, standing at the mouth of the dragon’s lair. In his arms he held Malkyn hostage — Malkyn trying valiantly to kick him in the scaly shins. When he had appeared, and from where, I could not have said.

I heard, or perhaps felt, the faint rustling sound that heralded Edward’s transformation into a cloud of bats, but he managed to resist the impulse. I felt selfishly relieved not to be facing Zâl alone.

‘The dragon of Knave Hill has waited too long for this day,’ Zâl said. ‘Kinwick shall return to the worship of the old ways. Blood and fire shall reign supreme. There is nothing you can do to stop it.’

Malkyn elbowed Zâl hard in the stomach. He showed no sign of pain but he seemed to grow bored of the fight; and he pushed Malkyn away so that ze staggered forward. I could see he was playing with us. There was a glint in his eyes that did not bode well for us.

‘Ah, Malkyn. So painfully average in all your undertakings. You want so desperately to do well, to earn respect, even to be liked — and yet you failed in your last undercover mission and spent it tied up in a cellar. Perhaps “master of disguise” is something of an overstatement.’

Malkyn turned very red. Edward took a step closer to zir, his eyes showing a little pink again. I hoped he wasn’t about to try to bite Zâl — and wondered what would happen if he did. I had a nasty feeling he’d end up in an urn.

‘And Edward,’ said Zâl. ‘You cannot expect to ever be taken seriously as a vampire. You must realise you will spend your eternity absurd, mocked and alone.’

I patted Edward’s arm. If we all escaped alive (or safely undead, as in Edward’s case) I would tell Malkyn that Zâl was clearly harbouring a grudge over Malkyn’s entirely successful attempt to spy on his rendezvous with the druids. As for Edward — well, I would tell Edward that Zâl was evidently projecting his own existential anxieties onto an innocent vampiric bystander.

‘Well, at least I’ve never been summoned by druids,’ Edward spat.

Oh goodness, I thought, not the urn. I did my best to keep Zâl distracted.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, drawing little closer, since Zâl appeared to be avoiding my eyes. ‘Good sir. Mister. What do you have to say about me?’

He paused. He stared at me with his burning yellow eyes. He cleared his throat — an odd mannerism for a demon. ‘You,’ he said. ‘Well …’ He tried to sneer. ‘Foolish,’ he said at last. ‘Very foolish.’

I was quite astonished; indeed, I felt rather let down; I still needed to keep him too busy to incinerate Edward or simply kill us all; I was moved to demand: ‘Is that all you’ve got?’

Very foolish –’ Zâl began again, rather feebly.

But then the conversation was cut short. Ahead of us, some way behind Zâl, a figure came into sight — a dishevelled, urgent figure.

‘Hey! Hey, you! Over here!’ I do believe Algie was hopping up and down, waving his arms. ‘Yes, I’m talking to you! OVER! HERE!’

Malkyn, Edward and I had by this time drawn together in a protective huddle. As one reporter, we shuffled aside to look.

Zâl seemed as puzzled as us. ‘He has the look of a natural victim, don’t you think?’ he said, and he strode towards Algie.

‘Oh god,’ said Edward, ‘he’s not really trying the “hey you” routine, is he? On a demon?’

We watched as the figures of Algie and Zâl were swallowed up by the mist.

MS EUMENIDES DEADMAN comes from a long line of gravediggers, and from their stories she acquired an interest in investigative journalism. She is regarded as the definitive source on Kinwick history.

A Reporter Has Been Taken!

Is this the darkest day ever to befall the Gazette? Let me tell all, as calmly as I am able.

It was a misty day in July and the Gazette staff were quietly minding everyone else’s business. Ms Deadman, who keeps the office accounts, had gone to the Post Office for milk. (Going to the Wythmail Post Office is no light undertaking, even for one as fearless as Ms Deadman, and so we did not expect her back for some time.) Mr Boyle had taken this as his cue to put the kettle on. Mr Doudle was catching up on his paperwork; Mx Friday was sorting mail from readers concerned about the likelihood of being sacrificed to the dragon, and from a few readers trying to nominate possible candidates; and Mr Ilbert was crafting another diatribe against Mayor Mountjoy’s handling of recent events.

It was, in short, an ordinary Saturday morning in the office.

But alack! This peaceful idyll was abruptly shattered by a thumping at the door. Moments later it burst open to allow in a swarm of druids, who shouted in triumph when they saw us.

Mr Ilbert leapt up bravely, but was knocked down by a large druid before he could say ‘fisticuffs’ and hit his head against his desk on the way down. Mr Doudle leapt up too, but with his usual lightning vampiric reflexes he somehow found himself clinging to the ceiling. Mr Boyle looked around for somewhere to set the teapot, but failed utterly in all the confusion.

The druids set upon Mx Friday, whose desk is nearest the door, and dragged zir from zir chair. Mx Friday made a resourceful attempt at self defence with the letter-opener — but to no avail.

‘For Zâl!’ cried the druids, as they attempted to leave all at once. ‘To the dragon!’ And with that, they finally succeeded in pulling our youngest reporter out through the door.

I took up a mournful cry (keening, I believe it is called). We had been outmanned and unprepared — and now one of our own had been seized as a sacrifice to the local dragon. Words cannot express the horror. All I could do was wail, wail, wail.

Mr Ilbert, looking rather dazed, picked himself up — and collapsed again with a groan, clutching at his head. Mr Boyle put the teapot down miserably. Mr Doudle, very pale, crawled down from the ceiling.

‘Algernon, please take Denholm to A&E,’ he said. ‘Typewriter, please stop making that shrieking kettle noise.’ (I obliged, of course, a little reluctantly.)

‘But Malkyn —’ said Mr Boyle.

‘I’ll deal with it,’ said Mr Doudle, unhappily. ‘I think only mortals get sacrificed to dragons, so I’ll … go and … scare them again, I suppose.’ (We must all remember Mr Doudle’s sterling work at intimidating druids once before.)

‘But —’ said Mr Boyle again — ‘what if the dragon eats you anyway? And then you’d be in pieces for all eternity and I don’t know anything about dragon digestive systems but —’

‘MR BOYLE,’ said Mr Doudle. ‘PLEASE GO.’

‘Oh, of course, sorry.’

Mr Boyle hurried to help Mr Ilbert to his feet. Together, they left for Belleurdine Hospital.

Mr Doudle, now alone but for my faithful self, looked around for a means of pursuit, and spotted Mr Boyle’s bicycle, just inside the door. He picked up the bicycle with a shaking hand, mumbled, ‘Oh, fuck me,’ and was about to wheel it out of the office  when Ms Deadman reappeared. When she saw the disarray and the near-deserted office, she quite naturally demanded an explanation.

‘Ask the Typewriter,’ said Mr Doudle. ‘I have to go.’

With a click and a clack, I began typing out as quickly as I could: DRUIDS! FRIDAY! DRAGON!

‘No, I’ll come too,’ said Ms Deadman, ‘and you can explain on the way.’

I finished, meekly: Everything’s gone to pot.

For a very brief moment, Mr Doudle looked slightly comforted by Ms Deadman’s words. ‘There’s only one bike,’ he said.

‘Ah yes,’ said Ms Deadman, ‘but you can fly, can’t you?’

‘Fly?’ said Mr Doudle. ‘No, I can’t fly — not very well anyway — last time I had a lesson with Farley I got stuck at the top of Ravensrodd tower and he had to talk me down — and the ravens laughed at me.’

Ms Deadman ignored him. ‘And vampires are supernaturally strong, as I understand,’ she said. ‘So you can take me with you.’

Mr Doudle drew himself up to his full height, the effect of which may have been slightly dampened by the bicycle. ‘All right then,’ he said, darkly, ‘we both go down together.’

After a little awkwardness and debate, Ms Deadman and Mr Doudle agreed to embrace each other very tightly, and then, slowly and unsteadily and nervously, they rose some 20 feet into the air. From my position by the window, I lost sight of them until I saw a small dark shape flying towards the horizon in the direction of Knave Hill.

And at that, I was left all alone. Once again I took up my mournful cry.

THE TYPEWRITER has been in the Gazette’s office since 1911. It prides itself on being the best haunted typewriter in Penshire.

Sacrifices to the Dragon Reinstated

The dragon of Knave Hill is angry! The ravens of Ravensrodd have been seen swirling in the sky, signifying bad omens and troubles to come. The witches have described worrying shapes in their tea leaves: swirling lines, crosses and dancing skeletons. The people of Odstone village have heard rumblings.

Since the battle between Zâl and the Portal Creature, the threat of the dragon has always kept Kinwickers wary. Who knew what had transpired inside that lair? But Zâl assured us that he had come to ‘an understanding’ with the dragon. It would not trouble us. Only now has it become clear precisely what that understanding was.

The City Council has long maintained that making sacrifices to the dragon is strictly prohibited, on pain of sacrifice to the dragon. Yesterday afternoon, Lord Mayor Maximilian Mountjoy declared this ban to be lifted.

‘I was sceptical at first,’ the Mayor informed the members of the Council, ‘but Zâl convinced me that this was the best way to ensure Kinwick’s safety. We owe the dragon a great deal for its part in defeating the portal monster, and now that we are free from this terror, we cannot allow old favours to go unreturned.’

The dragon has been waiting patiently for Zâl to honour their agreement, but now the monster’s patience has run dry, and it threatens to leave its lair and rain destruction down upon Kinwick.

Some of my colleagues at the Gazette would like me to assure our readers not to panic. That everything will be all right. That the chances of anyone of you being selected as a sacrifice are infinitesimally small.

But I would like to say: PANIC!

The city has fallen under the control of a wicked demon! The Mayor has no courage and no backbone! He will submit to anything that Zâl tells him! He does not value our lives! He does not value our wellbeing! If the forces of hell do not engulf us, then the dragon’s flames will! Flee this city! Flee Kinwick! Never look back!

My colleague Mr Boyle would like me to stop typing now.

I think my point has been made. This has been a trying day for everyone.

The sacrifices have yet to be named. It could be any of us.

Perhaps a member of the Zâl Âppreciâtion Society will fling themselves into the cave?

Perhaps it will be used as an opportunity to dispose of the witches? They have long been a thorn in Zâl’s side, after all.

Perhaps Lord Titus Calamy? No, sadly not.

There is no telling what the future might hold.

MR DENHOLM ILBERT is a hardened reporter of over 15 years’ experience writing for the Gazette. Early in his career, he investigated the infamous Case of Betton Strange, a story that still haunts him to this day.