It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.
In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…
Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.
Mrs Scattergood tried the latch; but the runesign held it fast. She turned to glare at Maddy, her fierce little teeth bared like a ferret’s. ‘You open this door right now,’ she said.
‘You really, really don’t want me to.’
‘You open this door, Maddy Smith, if you know what’s good for you.’
Maddy tried once more to protest, but Mrs Scattergood was unstoppable. ‘I’ll wager you’ve got that scally down there, helping himself to my best ale. Well, you just open this door, girl, or I’ll have Matt Law down here to take you both to the roundhouse!’
Maddy sighed. It wasn’t that she liked working at the inn; but a job was a job, and a shilling a shilling, and neither was likely to be forthcoming as soon as Mrs Scattergood looked into the cellar. In an hour or so the spell would wear off, and the creatures would crawl back into their hole. Then she could seal it up again, sweep up the mess, mop up the water . . .
‘Let me explain,’ she tried again.
But Mrs Scattergood was beyond explanations. Her face had flushed a dangerous red, and her voice was almost as shrill as a rat’s. ‘Adam!’ she shrieked. ‘Get in here right now!’
Adam was Mrs Scattergood’s son. He and Maddy had always hated each other, and it was the thought of his sneer-ing, gleeful face – and that of her long-absent friend, known in some circles as the one-eyed scallyman – that finally made up her mind.
‘You’re sure it was One-Eye?’ she said at last.
‘Of course it was! Now open this—’
‘All right,’ said Maddy, and reversed the rune. ‘But if I were you, I’d give it an hour.’
And at that she turned and fled, and was already on the road to Red Horse Hill by the time the shrill, distant screaming began, emerging like smoke from the Seven Sleepers’ kitchen and rising above slumbering Malbry village to vanish into the morning air.