I was recently listening to a radio interview about the Paralympics, where the interviewee noted that you should expect, at some close date, the prosthetics of the athletes to push their performances beyond those of non-disabled athletes. He noted that there were already concerns about Olympic marksmen having their eyes improved with LASIK, or power athletes having damaged tendons replaced with synthetics. Human augmentation seems underutilised in Ars Magica, given that we have a House dedicated to making magical items.
In Ars Magica there have been several attempts to design prosthetic limbs as magic items. Generally these are arms that are controlled mentally. House Verditus’s automata mystery allows the construction of mecha, but on a less extraordinary level, it also allows the construction of full-body therapeutic or access suits.
My preferred method of design is for the prosthetic to be the magus’s talisman. This means it shares magic resistance, which protects it from accidental destruction. It automatically has an arcane connection, and its power scales to the magus. The downside of this is that once the magus dies. it’s difficult to pass down, the way you might give your apprentice your wand once you no longer use it. There may be a lineage somewhere of wizards inherit and arm, made by a famous archmagus from the War, that they can only use by cutting off their own arm.
I recently, however, thought of a new approach, which best suits House Merinita.A character could have a prosthetic limb which is a faerie creature. For companions it would be a faerie friend, and if it was tricksy in its nature, that could explain a character with something like Alien Hand Syndrome. For magi it could be a matter of mystogoic initiation. The character severs a hand, and then grafts on a replacement, made by a Faerie sponsor, binding it as a Faerie Familiar. This would place it within the character’s magic resistance and connect it to the character telepathically.
A sponsor for this cult could be found in the Celtic pantheons. Nuada of the Silver Arm was the king of the Tuatha de Danu when they invaded Ireland. He lost his arm, and therefore his kingship, because monarchs were required to be physically intact. The healer of that set of gods, whose name I can never say, made him a prosthetic arm. When that healer’s son dug up Nuada’s severed arm and reattached it, the father killed the son in a fit of the sort of jealousy you expect to see only from Verditus magi. This Nuada turns up in cognate forms in Welsh folklore, as Nudd and Lud, who was the creator of London. He’s also Nodens, mentioned in an earlier episode of water magic.
In the real world, prosthetics tend to become popular after wars. The American Civil War led to widespread use of replacement limbs, as did the Second World War. Magi might not have been inclined to use prosthetics, but the harvesting of humaniform faeries that occurred during the Schism War may have prevented them from just regrowing lost limbs. Even if sufficient vis was available to regenerate magi, only their most favored servants would be likewise repaired. Lesser servants would have little choice but to use some sort of aid: how many, then might be tempted by a new hand or leg even if, for example, they needed to sleep with it in a pail of milk by the bed?
In Against the Dark we mentioned a Hungarian tribe of wizards who can pull off parts of their bodies and send them on missions: hands, eyes, ears. The odd thing is that the parts aren’t just alive and capable of independent action while separated: they retain nervous connection, so a person can hear through a separated ear or see through an eye left in some inconspicuous spot. Even the magus’s heart can be pulled out, and used to revive the dead (although this may only work on people killed by faeries, in which case the whole thing is likely a ruse involving changelings). We had these wizards aligned to the magic realm, because Empedocles, the writer who created the Criamon cosmology, believed human organs were once independent creatures, which moved through the world until they combined into vast, symbiotic communities. This need not be the case: faeries, magical spirits of Corpus, or even demonic parts could be grafted to people.
The magi above demonstrate another frightening possibility: there’s no need to stop at one. A character might have a parasitic eye, and a parasitic hand, and goodness knows what else. In extreme cases, a magus might prolong their life by taking an entire faerie body, and attaching it to their severed head (and idea for which I thank Ira Levin). That is, however, a little less disturbing than discovering that a person the characters know is actually a meat substrate for faerie growths. Having struck the term “meat substrate” I am reminded of Supergod, Jerry Craven, and therefore Steve Austin. He has a prosthetic eye, arm, ear and leg.
If, after the war, a lot of companions took faerie limbs, given that the creatures do not require sustenance to survive: could they still be about? The probably aren’t, as they contain precious Corpus vis, but if they are, can a character get one just by digging it up, much as Mach did for Nuada? If you dig them up and do not attach them to yourself, can they be used to create monstrous human forms, that can be controlled by Vim magic, like the Colossus of Ylourgne. For those of you who are not Clarke Ashton Smith fans, it’s an early horror story in which a team of necromancers use an alchemical process to craft a giant out of corpses, and then terrorize the countryside. They ride around on the colossus in a gondola slung over its neck, as I recall.
It’s possible that some of these faeries control their hosts. I mentioned before the idea of alien hand syndrome, but faeries manipulate humans to various degrees. Some will just colour the mind with a single emotions: the person gets braver, or more afraid, or more angry. Some, however, have a deeper level of control, using hallucinations. Players will hate this if used on their characters, but for enemies, it’s an interesting idea. Even if player characters it might be welcome if remedial. Could a character be braver if monsters were smaller? Happier if colours are brighter?
I’ve been really interested in Sacculina parasites, intermittently, for a decade. I sold a version of them, that looks like a Crown of Thorns starfish, to Atlas Games as the Acanaster for their D&D Bestiary. Sacculina parasites grow within crabs. I suppose, Pokemon players, they are the inspiration for parasects. The sacculina is technically a barnacle. It burrows into the crab, and hijacks its mind. It makes the crab act female, grows roots throughout the crab’s body and brain, and reprograms the crab to tend the brood of the barnacle as they were immature crabs. I can see a faerie hand being like this: a destructive, contagious parasite, leading to a saga arc.
For a level of body horror: what if when you kill an enemy, bits slide away and he seems to be falling apart. Only later do you discover that your enemy was really just the left eye of the body you were fighting, and it has now found a new host? What if each of the growths finds a new host?
Faerie organs also allow xenotransplants. Want a cat’s eyes? Want to have wrist spinnerets? I think either could be gained by mystery cult initiation. Alternatively, some faerie hunter traditions may be able to take pieces from creatures they have defeated, and transplant them either into themselves, or into an alternate form they can assume.
Faeries being so variable, it’s possible that many of these explanations can be true simultaneously. You could be a hero with an arm granted by Ares, fighting a warlock made of click-apart organs, that are coating an involuntary host.
image credit: Wikicommons.