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.