Ravens play a pretty large part in alchemy. Classical alchemy sought to conjure gold from base metals and to create the elixir of eternal life. There are seven processes the alchemist must accomplish in order to achieve a perfect transformation: calcination, dissolution, coagulation, sublimation, mortification, separation, and conjunction. Ravens are the symbol of the mortification stage, the stage of alchemical death.
While creating the magical world of MERCURY RETROGRADE, I was pretty fascinated with the history of ravens in alchemy. In MERCURY RETROGRADE, ravens became familiars for a group of undead ranch hands called the Hanged Men. The Hanged Men have haunted the small western town of Temperance since the Gold Rush days. The town was founded by an alchemist, Lascaris, and they were one of his incomplete experiments on the road to figuring out the secret of eternal life.
The Hanged Men were made at the feet of the Lunaria, a magical tree standing in an empty field. The scarred tree stands above a warren of tunnels that creep miles underground – so deep that the no one really knows their full reach. The Lunaria symbolizes the “as above, so below” alchemical principle, as its roots dig into the earth and the branches brush the sky in perfect symmetry. The Hanged Men were executed at this tree, and the tree grants them immortality…of a sort. An archaic term for a gallows is the “raven-stone,” a place they can never escape.
As far as being undead goes, these guys got a raw deal. Some of the early Hanged Men have retained most of their memory and self-awareness, when it isn’t being partitioned off into the bodies of ravens to spy on their enemies. But later generations received less consciousness as the power of the tree waned. Some can’t talk, and a few aren’t even passably human.
The men must return to the tree each night to decompose and regenerate, and they can’t wander very far from it. And that decomposition and regeneration? Not a pretty process. They’re stuck in the mortification stage of alchemy, experiencing death over and over each night.
Gabriel was one of the first of the Hanged Men. He came to Temperance more than a hundred years ago, as a Pinkerton agent sent by Lascaris’s investors to figure out where all the gold was coming from. His specialty was the arcane and supernatural – the nineteenth century’s answer to the X-Files. Alas, things did not go so well for him. He was hanged by Lascaris from the branches of the Lunaria, and has remained in Temperance ever since, pretending to be a ranch hand for successive generations of cattle barons. It’s like a coating of dust on a rattlesnake – camouflage that works right up until someone steps on the snake.
But times have changed. The tree is dying. It’s shedding leaves out of season, dropping branches, and the energy slips away from its brittle roots. The Hanged Men have tried all they know to feed it, but it is clear that it will not last much longer…and neither will they.
Their last hope is to find a magical creature – a basilisk, awakened by seismic tremors in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, leaving a trail of poisoned bodies in its wake. The blood from the right side of the basilisk grants eternal life, while blood from the left is certain death. The Hanged Men send their ravens far and wide, hoping to find the creature before humans capture it for their own purposes.
It’s a terrible risk, with a terrible price – the Hanged Men are as vulnerable as any other men to the basilisk’s venomous powers. But they must find it and make an offering to the tree before it dies…and the Hanged Men, along with it.
A Dark Alchemy Novel
About the Book:
Geologist Petra Dee and the citizens of Temperance, Wyoming come up against a venomous enemy, not to mention a biker gang that’s hell on wheels, in the second book in Laura Bickle’s Dark Alchemy series.
Something venomous has come to Temperance…
It’s been two months since Petra Dee and her coyote sidekick Sig faced off against Temperance’s resident alchemist, but things are far from quiet. When an Internet video of a massive snake in the backcountry of Yellowstone goes viral, a chase for the mythical basilisk is on. Monster hunters swarm into the area, and never one to pass up the promise of discovery, Petra joins in the search.
Among the newcomers is a snake cult on wheels - the biker gang Sisters of Serpens. Unlike some, the Sisters don’t want to kill the basilisk - they want to worship it. But things get complicated when the basilisk develops a taste for human flesh that rivals the Sisters’ own murderous skills.
Meanwhile, the alchemical tree of life is dying, and the undead Hanged Men of Temperance who depend on it know the basilisk may be their last chance for survival.
With time running out for everyone around her, Petra will be forced to decide who survives and who she must leave behind in this action-packed sequel to Dark Alchemy.
About the Author:
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology - Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs. Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.
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