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Half-Leg (English); ithifaarv (Torn Tongue)
Description: The half-leg is a type of centipede. It has a flat head with one long and one short antennae. At the base of the antennae are concave discs of sensory cells, similar to the organs of Tömösvary in Terran centipedes. The short antennae are sensitive to time distortions; the long antennae sense vibrations. The eyes are also divergent, with a true compound eye on the short side, which can see time distortions; and a scattering of several ocelli on the long side, which can only distinguish light and dark. The mouth consists of elongated mandibles and shorter maxillae.
Beginning in the first body segment, and extending forward beyond the mouth, are the maxillipeds: sharp crab-like claws bearing venom glands. The short side is always atrophied; the long side is hypertrophied and prominent. Venom varies in potency from moderate to strong; while unlikely to kill a human, it causes considerable pain and can trigger an allergic reaction. It kills small invertebrates and sometimes even vertebrates such as mice. Color typically ranges from fawn-brown through red-orange to vivid scarlet, although other colors sometimes appear. While the correlation between color and potency is not perfect, brighter color usually means stronger venom.
The body of the half-leg starts out with 10 segments, each theoretically producing two legs. However, some of the segments do not have a leg on the short side, giving rise to the name "half-leg." This creature can actually have an odd number of legs! At each molt, a new segment develops, so that these creatures get bigger and longer as they age. The hindmost leg segment produces legs that point backwards, serving as a second set of antennae. Long and short like the frontal antennae, these also sense time distortions (short) and vibrations (long). Then there is a final segment bearing no legs, but only a telson and the reproductive openings.
Half-legs can live up to six years, particularly if they are large and live in an ecosystem with little competition. Small ones and those in busy ecosystems rarely last that long.
Habitat: Like ordinary centipedes, the half-leg requires a moist place to live because it lacks the waxy coating of insects to retain water. In dry climates they must find pockets of moisture, such as a cave or oasis. Still, they live in a wide range of habitats including tropical rainforest, temperate forest, savannah, taiga, mountains, even tundra and desert. In urban areas, they thrive in garbage dumps, trash heaps, gutters and alleys. In farmland, they inhabit compost heaps, barns, and even outhouses. Half-legs are fond of dark, moist areas such as rotten logs, leaf litter, dead animals, rock crevices, and caves. Since the Upheaval killed many natural species and created favorable conditions for time-sensitive species, the half-leg has taken over a great deal of territory once shared by many different species of centipede.
Size varies according to habitat. Half-legs tend to grow larger in warmer environments than in colder ones; and larger in wetter environments than in dryer ones. Also, Torn World's ravaged ecosystem has reduced competition from other tiny predators and predation from larger predators. In fast-running time shards where a lot of time passes, the half-legs went through many generations and had time to grow larger. In smaller time shards that killed off much of the ecosystem, the half-legs had little competition and grew larger than they have in bigger time shards with more biodiversity. In shard boundaries, the half-legs can tolerate more temporal distortion than many other creatures, so they can live closer to the boundary and cut down competition that way. Thus, near a stable boundary, they also tend to grow larger. In most areas, half-legs grow about 3" long. In some parts of the South, they can reach 10" long. In at least one warm, moist, fast-running time shard, they reach 35" long -- nearly a yard!
Breeding Habits and Family Units: Half-legs are solitary, territorial, and aggressive. When fertile, the female emits a scent that attracts males. Approaching males "tap-dance" in a particular courtship rhythm, informing the female that the nearby creature is a potential mate and not just prey. A receptive female replies with tapping of her own, and the two engage in a courtship dance together. This dance leads over considerable distance, and they stop periodically to deposit eggs.
Half-leg males produce relatively few sperm, diluted through quantities of seminal fluid. They package their semen in spermatophores (small sticky bundles) for the female to pick up. One spermatophore will fertilize a dozen or so eggs, which the female lays in a hidden place. Then the pair must move on to a new location and repeat the process, distributing 150-300 eggs in this fashion.
The courtship dance frequently ends with the larger partner eating the smaller partner. This also happens if the courtship dance does not go well, or if two half-legs who are not sexually receptive encounter each other. Smaller ones sometimes flee, but the species is so aggressive that they often fight anyway.
The hatchlings are cannibalistic. Usually the first to emerge and/or the largest one eats the remaining eggs or hatchlings. So each mating results in 1-2 dozen tiny, well-fed, vicious young.
Ecological Niche: All half-legs are predators. They are opportunistic feeders, however, and will also scavenge dead prey or even vegetable matter such as rotten fruit. Favored prey includes other arthropods, insects, spiders, worms, snails, and slugs. Larger half-legs may also go after small vertebrates such as mice, baby lizards or snakes, frogs, birds, and even bats. They are important detrital predators in any ecosystem they occupy.
Half-legs are so aggressive that few of them will flee, even from an obviously larger creature; many of them will attack anything that moves. Whatever they can't kill and eat, they often try to drive away from their territory. As with wasps and other venomous creatures, half-legs are daunting all out of proportion to their size. After being bitten by one, few animals will risk a second encounter.
A primary predator of the half-leg is other half-legs. Outside of actual copulation, they are enthusiastic cannibals. In some ecosystems they are the largest surviving predators. Healthier ecosystems provide bigger predators, but not many are willing to risk the half-leg's bellicose temper and venom. Notable exceptions include various types of scorpion and snake, who have some armor; spiders who spin webs large enough to trap them; shrews, who have their own venom; and long-billed insectivorous birds such as woodpeckers, who peck off the business end and then consume the rest. Young or otherwise tiny half-legs may fall prey to a wider range of predators including frogs, toads, and more birds.
Interaction with Humans: Humans often find half-legs repugnant, especially the larger ones, but these arthropods do have their role to play in the ecology. Northerners may kill them indoors, or scoop them into a container and move them outside. However, half-legs don't get very big in the North. Southerners have to contend with various sizes of larger half-legs. Attitudes vary; in some places, half-legs are appreciated for their role in eating insect pests, while in other areas people scream and throw things at them.
Half-legs are a particular nuisance in mines. The cave-like environment is favorable to arthropods; there are small insects and bits of garbage to eat. Also, resistance to temporal distortions gives the half-leg an edge over centipedes and other competitors. Half-leg bites are a hazard of working in or near a mine.
Because half-legs are aggressive to the point of cannibalism, they are popular with people who enjoy blood sports. Aficionados will collect or raise half-legs and then put them together to see which will win, betting on the outcome. Those with an odd number of legs are considered "lucky." Large, experienced gladiators can become quite valuable. "Trained" ones are a common scam; they don't have enough brain to learn anything, and they are already single-mindedly bloodthirsty. In the South, blood sports are underground rather than officially sanctioned. A point in favor of half-leg gladiators is that they can be caught anywhere ... and released anywhere if the authorities approach, with the additional benefit of creating an instant diversion if they're sizable ones.
Lore: In the North, the half-leg is recognized as a valuable if annoying part of the ecosystem. People understand that without this insectivore, insect pests could boom out of control. Although they do not know the full story of its background, they recognize it as a denizen of "disturbed" or "dangerous" places. In Northern folklore, the character "Half-Leg" is a belligerent and unpleasant personality but also a formidable hunter. It appears in some cautionary tales about breaking taboos, to illustrate that uncontrolled aggression is unacceptable but also that simply destroying or ejecting disruptive people is not a good solution either.
In the South, attitudes vary. Some subcultures like the half-legs and others do not. It often depends on the size (larger ones are scary) and the local pest population (the worse the other pests, the more welcome the predator).
Relatives: Half-legs are related to centipedes in general, as several types were combined to create the original "designer predator." However, they are not cross-fertile with centipedes, and tend to eat them.
The half-leg began as a single species, genetically engineered from natural centipedes. Due to distance and varying temporal depth, speciation is in progress as widely separated populations are evolving in different ways. (In particular, the mating habits discourage mixing among populations of different sizes.) People often use the term "half-leg" to describe any arthropod with the distinctive lopsided development, but more detailed names should emerge as people discover more different varieties.
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