The winter darkness came early to the small town of Glastonbury. Spread beneath the ancient vastness of the Tor, which reared defiantly against the oncoming night, the connecting street and lanes were swiftly swallowed by shadow.

It was a freezing December evening. Already the frost was creeping over the roads, sparkling in the pale glare of the street lamps and turning the windows white. The high street was deserted, neither vehicle nor person skidded or slipped down its sloping length. It was too cold to venture out and even the public houses were empty.

The interior of every shop was dark, save for the sporadic flickering of alarm lights which blinked and winked like the fiery eye of a small crouching goblin.

Yet within the courtyard of The Glastonbury Experience, a collection of New Age establishments set back from the main street, alone amidst the surrounding dark, a sheet of light spilled from a single window. The cheering illumination fanned out to the far wall, but gradully the glow grew dim as soft curls of mist began to roll stealthily into the square.

Through the narrow entrance it poured, until the cobbles were hidden beneath a shifting grey sea which whirled swiftly around the centre, climbing and spiralling upward - forming a column of seething, swirling smoke.

Like a fountain of fog this billowing pillar reared until, gradually, within its clouded depths, a shape began to form. Indistinct at first, the dark silhouette quickly assumed the outline of a man swaddled by a great, enveloping cloak and hood and, when the figure was complete, it strode from the surrounding mist to stare into the brightly-lit shop before it.

Unaware of the ageless force observing her from outside, the proprietor of the shop Moonshine busied herself by clearing the shelves and arranging her new stock amongst the old.

The many bangles and bracelets which dangled from Dulcima Pettigrew's wrists clattered and chimed whilst she dusted the display surfaces, and grouped various pottery figurines and bowls together into what she considered to be attractive collections.

It was going to be a good year, for both her and the shop. Flicking the duster over the ceramic head of a squatting earth mother, she grinned as she stepped back to survey her wonderfully eccentric emporium.

Behind her the door was abruptly pushed inward and the bells of the nearby windchimes clattered and jangled their announcing alarm.

"I'm closed!" Dulcie said, annoyed at the unwanted visitor. "I could have sworn I locked the..."

Her voice melted as she saw a thick wall of choking mist surge over the threshold and sluice hungrily inside.

With the fog wreathing about her knees, Dulcie shivered.
It was hideously cold to the touch - but that was not the reason her flesh crawled, or why beads of icy perspiration pricked over her brow. Standing in the doorway was the tall, hooded figure. Its cloak was of darkest green, and from the shadows of its dank folds which reeked of mouldering death, the chill grey mist steadily flowed.

"What...what do you want?" The woman demanded shakily, desperately peering into the blank recess of the cowl to catch a glimpse of the unseen face before her. In the blackness of the hood she thought she saw a bitter glint as the intruder considered her, and any nerve that remained fled before that merciless, stabbing gleam.

"I'll call someone!" She tried to threaten, but her voice was weak and fretful.

"No you will not," came a harsh, hissing whisper.

Dulcie felt her throat tighten as though invisible fingers were clamped about her windpipe and she could do no more than croak in terror.

"Who... what are you?"

"You live beneath the shadow of Ynnis Witrin yet you fail to guess? No common wanderer has sought you out this night. Old as the buried bones in the hills am I. You know this to be true. The horror which engulfs you tells you this, you feel it in your fear of me."

Dulcie nodded dumbly and her thoughts flew to the legends associated with the Tor, to the myths of King Arthur.

"M...Merlin?" she stammered hoarsley.


A foul mocking laugh issued from the hood. "I am the Allfather!" came a strident hiss. "Yet your words contain the germ of truth. Was this Merlin not accompanied by two ravens? So was I remembered, but no more. He who was the Captain of Askar, who was nailed to the World Tree and contested the might of the Fates, has returned from the trackless paths. The time of The Cessation is near, the Three are failing as was foretold, and the Captain must command his army once more."

As he spoke the figure stirred, and from the deep sleeves of his cloak his skeletal hands brought out a large sackcloth bag.

"From the dead lands I have called them back into my service." he whispered lovingly. "Yet still they are formless, awaiting only their hosts."

Her limbs numb and rigid with the cloying cold of the churning mist which pressed and coiled about her, Dulcie could only watch as the cloaked stranger untied the neck of the bag and reached his bony fingers within.

"Twelve are they in number," the voice told her, "and each must find a form before they are restored to their fullest power."

From the sack, the slender hand brought out a curious effigy made of fabric and held it up for the woman to see. The image was fashioned into the shape of a doll, complete with checkered dress, embroidered calico apron and a spotted bonnet. Yet the head of the small object was that of a crow, and the feet and hands were made of twigs.

"Take it," the stranger commanded. "Let it own you. Be the first of my ancient army to return to me."

Dulcie grimaced and shook her head. The crow doll looked evil. She didn't even want to touch it.

"This night the Allfather has come to bestow gifts," the hissing voice rasped at her. "Accept that which he gives!"

"Please!" The woman begged. "I don't want it."

"Then your agonies will be tenfold," came the assured whisper. "The Valkyrja shall invade you whether you wish it or no."

Before she could wonder at the meaning of his words, the letters stitched upon the calico apron of the crow doll suddenly blazed with fire and the word "Skogul" burned into Dulcie's mind.

At once the effigy began to squirm and the cloth head jerked towards her. The fabric arms began to flap and flail, anxious to escape the grip of its master.

"So be it," the cloaked figure chuckled. "Be restored to me my nightmare." With that he loosened his grasp and the wriggling doll catapulted itself through the air.

On to the woman's shoulder it sprang, the twiggy limbs crackling as they stretched and grew, clawing at her neck, hooking into her skin as she vainly tried to tear it from her. But there was nothing she could do, against this horror there was no way to save herself. Upwards the woody barbs spiked, up into her bleach-blonde hair, raking through her scalp and twisting their way inside.

No one heard Dulcima Pettigrew's feeble shrieks as the base spirit seized control of her frail, mortal flesh and a vile transformation began. Scale covered skin, whilst bones snapped and splintered as clumps of raven-black feathers speared from her quivering body.

Unmoved by this hideous change and coldly indifferent to the tortured howling, the hooded figure placed the sack upon the counter and retreated through the door.

"Select the other hosts with care, my Skogul," it hissed. "Eleven others must be found, and quickly."

In answer to his words, a horrific squawk resounded within the shop, followed by the clatter of mighty quills.

Retreating to the courtyard the hooded figure lifted his hand and, lumbering through the doorway, the apparition that had taken the place of Dulcima Pettigrew followed.

"Go then," the voice said. "Slake your thirst. But this grave task of recruitment I am compelled to leave in your care, for other matters call me.

"Thought and Memory must be roused. The time of Ending is upon us at last. When all twelve are united, then I shall bid you. Till then relearn the way of slaughter and carnage."

There was a flurry of huge black feathers and the fog scattered to the corners of the yard as a pair of great, newly-formed wings dragged on the air and the huge bulk of the monster rose into the night.

Alone in The Glastonbury Experience, the cloaked figure waited until the raucous shrieks were lost in the high distance, before the mist returned to wind about the dark green folds and silence settled upon the courtyard once more.


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