We bid you welcome once again, you courageous and daring few, willing to investigate more terrifying creatures of the wilderness! In this episode of Fridays in AEthrem, we leave the HORRORS of the sea behind to look at the most TERRIFYING arachnid of the deep jungle!
Rictus spiders are native to Tefira, and lair in natural caverns or the hollowed-out remains of old trees, spinning elaborate webs to ensnare their prey. They are jet black, with the exception of ghostly white markings on the back of their abdomen, resembling a leering human skull (from whence they get their name). Most noticeably, they are huge by the standards of most other spiders found throughout the world, growing just over three meters long at full adult size.
However, the rictus spider's most terrifying quality is not its size, but its venom. The bite of this creature contains a paralytic, but is not fatal - except to smaller organisms. To higher animals - including humans - this venom also has a stimulating and euphoric effect that is highly addictive.
Over time, members of the species have learned to envenom anything caught in their webs, but to release victims they do not have a need to feed on immediately. Typically, those released will return within a few days - possibly when the spider's web doesn't have so quite a large bounty. As an added bonus, communal creatures will sometimes bring along a handful of unwitting companions - doing the work of luring in new meals for the rictus spider.
Elder members of the species can learn to recognize returning victims, and favor feeding on newcomers over repeat visitors. Those who have returned once typically continue to do so - bringing new meals with each time - provided the spider gives them another dose of the venom they now crave. Intelligent creatures can likewise learn to take advantage of this, bringing along one or more unwitting victims for the rictus spider to consume, while they receive their "reward" and survive the encounter.
Primitive settlements have occasionally built cults around a single, long-lived rictus spider or an extended family of the creatures lairing nearby. These spiders can count on the cult to provide the majority of their food as sacrifices to their living god in exchange for the blessing of its divine bite. Of course, these cults are always in need of outsiders to offer up as sacrifices, lest they need to sacrifice too many of their own number. Explorers and new settlers to a region are prime candidates for capture for these purposes, of course.
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