Friday, 7 June 2013


Demänová cave of freedom, "Emerald Lake"

This image used under license from here.
In the some parts of the world there are no rivers. The rain falls on the soft ground and seeps downwards, exploring and carving out deep places in the dark - caverns, sink-holes, underground lakes and rivers. In one such region, as the water eats away at the rock, it absorbs a glowing mineral. Luminescent fingers of rock grow downwards from the roofs of caves to meet others inching their way up from the floor.

A faintly pearlescent world of shadowy caves beneath the farms and houses.

Animals wander into the larger of these caves. Some to make a lair or nest. But many are more transitory, seeking out the water that can be rare on the surface; pilgrimages in the glowing dark to shining streams of frigid water.

Predators lie in wait for them, snatching in the shadows, dragging corpses off down bolt-holes or under the surface of the gleaming pools.

One predator in particular owns a fearsome reputation: The mirror spider. It makes its home in caves and twisting passageways, skittering over the irregular walls, and spinning its web of glass. It layers a thin sheet of molten glass onto all the surfaces of its lair. The glass then hardens into an almost invisible glossy layer on the rock. In the flickering light of a torch, or the dim radiance of the stone and water, you might never notice it was there.

Orb weaver spider

It waits, and watches, as its prey - sheep, deer, humans - wander deeper into the winding tunnels of its domain. And then it screams, a single, piercing, drawn-out note that echoes around the caverns, throwing its victims into a panic. The screech, pitched at just the right frequency, brings about a change in the spider's trap: The glass changes from an unnoticed sheen into hundreds of shining mirrors. Where before were clear, if shadowed, passages, the prey is now lost in a multi-faceted, bedazzling maze of mirrors.

The spiderglass surfaces shimmer in and out of transparency in unpredictable patterns, constantly changing the routes apparently open. The prey panics and runs, bumping into walls, spinning around in confusion. And then the spider appears. Dozens of spiders in fragmented images, leaping around as the mirrors appear and disappear. But always creeping closer and closer. Perhaps the prey lashes out, shattering a spiderglass mirror and lacerating their flesh. And then it is too late, and the spider strikes from behind.

Some entrepreneuring souls have become experts at harvesting still-liquid spiderglass from the caverns without being eaten alive. They are called glass miners, after the original deception as to the source of erethri  (lit. liquid glass). Sealed in airtight containers, the fluid is sold at exorbitant prices. Many wealthy people will pay for glass that you can pour into moulds and which sets in less than an hour. Glass that can switch between transparency and reflectivity at the right note.

Glass miners have developed tools for dealing with mirror spiders, but they are guarded secrets of the trade. One is a tuning fork or other instrument capable of shedding a tone that is carefully discordant with the particular variety of spider being stolen from.

Some have tried to keep the mirror spiders in captivity, but even allowing for the danger of keeping large, poisonous, man-eating monsters, and the fact that they lay thousands of eggs that emerge as tiny, also poisonous critters that can creep through cracks, there is the problem that mirror spiders spin inferior glass when out of their native habitat. For now, the glass miners will continue to take their lives in their hands, and enter the softly shimmering realm of the spider.

* * * * *

Apologies for the purple prose - I would write better if I could! So this is a somewhat silly I idea I had today that nevertheless tickled my fancy. Perhaps you or I will use the mirror spiders in a story someday. What other ideas do you have from this starting point? I'm eager to hear them. Not just about the spiders - what uses do you think a fantasy / steampunk / whatever world would have for the spiderglass?

I was thinking that perhaps some varieties could themselves continuously extrude or coat themselves in liquid mirrors, further camouflaging themselves in the maze of glass.

I deliberately left the spiders' size undetermined, although the fact that they might eat a deer sets sets a definite lower limit - a lower limit that's completely fantastical compared to spiders in real life. (Although see here for the Scary Truth).

For more on my love affair with scary underground places, you could also read about my idea for a video game about cave exploring. Huh. More purple prose. What is it about me and caves at this time of year?


  1. The very wealthy commission erethroni, those combinations of stage design and composition that give a dazzling display of light, altering in time with the music.

  2. I like! :) How about:

    When news of the true origins of spiderglass reached Tregenne, greatest city of the Rel Principalities, the famed erethroni composer Irlen produced what some say is his masterpiece. Skilled dancers and acrobats dressed in black and silver spin suspended from silk ropes, flashing and weaving amongst the glass and evoking the spiders themselves. Since then, this has become a common motif in works throughout the three kingdoms.

  3. Testing the new comment system to make sure that it is working.

  4. Testing the new comment system.

  5. Also, The spiders don't have to be super big to catch deer. As you say, they live in shallow caves and lay many eggs.

    "While many would say that the spiders habits of catching deer or humans is absurd, seen as to it's actual size, scholars have uncovered some peculiarities that might put this claim on it's hind legs, or sweep it's feet from under it entirely. Cave dwellers often have to wait days or weeks for prey to come and wander into their habitat. So the idea of killing a large creature is less absurd, even more so if we take into account that rot in the flesh does not pose any threat since the spiders first inject the piece of meat they want to eat with a highly acidic digestive fluid. This causes fungi and bacteria and even the occasional virus to be no threat to them. Furthermore it has been discovered that these spiders lay their eggs inside a large prey, so that the larvae have a ready supply of food as they hatch."

    Or they could share the food in a symbiotic relationship with another cave-dweller, which might eat or scare the creatures that prey on these spiders.

    Of course, they could also just be as big as a cow.

  6. Very true. But instead of injecting them with the digestive fluid, how about they keep their food stores safe from scavengers by coating them in the spiderglass. Then as you walk through their dimly lit lair you suddenly come face to face with a dead animal, expression distorted with fear, floating in a block of glass...

  7. That. Would. Be. AWESOME!