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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Ghosts of Celin Forest

 Welcome, listeners, to another episode of our little documentary. Welcome, to Arcanum.

 To any new listeners, we do not deal in magic, conspiracies, or cryptids. Our content is verifiable, based on evidence that is public record. After all, our world is far larger and stranger than many might want to believe.

In our previous episode “Urban Apes”, we spoke about the recently unearthed city built by an ancient group of non-hominid primates. Many of you wrote in to express both your interest and disbelief, and so we hope you enjoy this month’s broadcast. 

Today, we will talk about the Ghosts of Celin Forest.

Celin Forest is located far from most civilisation. Or at least, human civilisation. The forest lies within a mountainous valley, and although its base does meet the fecund plains of Beth, the Bethi tribespeople have long avoided the forest.

The Bethi have a story about the forest. The mountains that ring it are full of caves, which are home to many bats. Bats, the Bethi say, were long ago banished from seeing the sun’s light, but still desire its warmth. When night falls, they fly forth to the west, striving to reach the setting sun. As they fly through the forest, they see glimmers of light in all the colours of the sunset. Beautiful reds, golds, and ambers call to them, flickering among the trees. But every bat who chases a light is lost, and as the night wears on, the bat’s love for the sun turns to fear. When it finally rises again in the east, its reds, golds, and ambers sends them back to the dark of their caves, singing mournful dirges for their lost companions. The lost bats still fly the forest, invisible and unnoticeable save for their own echoing cries, and they curse any who disturb their haunting flight.

A spooky story, and a wonderful piece of folklore, but when explorers from Carposa first made contact with the Bethi and expressed desire to investigate Celin, they were told that it was no story. There were things in the forest, and many people never returned from its depths. 

Of course, as was often the case, this merely emboldened the Carposan gentlefolk, and an expedition was launched. What they found is perhaps one of the most fascinating and least understood species in the known world. 

The expedition made good time, and had a pleasant journey to the forest’s edge. Entering, they found nothing out of the ordinary, save an odd reduction in the numbers of insects and birds. Indeed, several members wrote that they wished that “more of the forests [they] visited had such quiet from maddening gnats”.

This all changed on the first night. Not long after sunset, lights began to appear among the distant trees. At the same time, a haunting song sprung up, whistling and humming all around them. Excited and curious, the Carposan explorers ignored the advice of their Bethi guides and attempted to investigate the lights. They quickly became frustrated however, as no sooner did they approach an apparent source than the lights would fade, and the singing cries grow louder. They made several attempts throughout the night to reach the lights, but all to no avail.

Deciding to investigate the area more thoroughly in the morning, they returned to camp.

The lights followed them. 

Although they remained just out of true visibility, the soft wash of a dim sunset soon grew until it surrounded the camp at a distance. At the same time, the singing grew louder, and none in the camp slept that night.

Come dawn, the light faded, but the singing only grew. The now frantic guides told of the deadly curses that followed failure to heed the song’s warning, but the frustrated explorers made another effort to scour the forest. They took many samples from the forest’s flora and fauna, and unknowingly sealed their fate.

Of the seven expedition members that entered the forest, three left alive. Their group of Bethi porters and guides lost only a single member, and none of the survivors could identify what had killed the others. They had, reportedly, simply cried out once before falling cold to the forest floor.

The samples were sent back to the University of Carposa, and several of the insects and animals survived well enough to be housed in terrariums before eventually dying. Dissections and analyses of the samples showed nothing of particular note beyond the expected novelties of variant breeds and new species, but one sample was almost overlooked.

It was not a very good quality sample, consisting of a large red spider that had been crushed by one explorer as it crawled over zir boot. The degraded corpse led to some difficulty in analysis, but two unusual features were discovered.

Firstly, the spiracles and trachea of the spider were over-developed and more heavily muscled than any other species of arachnid known. The tracheal network seemed to funnel towards the front of the spider’s cephalothorax, which was unfortunately heavily damaged.

Secondly, the ganglia of the spider were far more dense and interconnected than in other arachnids, accounting for a surprising portion of the specimen’s intact cephalothorax.

It was not until almost 40 years later that another expedition led by a young biologist named Sana Jon returned to Celin Forest, and acquired another sample of this strange creature.

This time, the expedition did not make camp, and took no samples at first, instead performing passive observations. Although they too reported the singing, they left the forest before sunset, and did not observe the lights. As they were leaving, acting on Jon’s orders, they acquired several specimens of what is now known as the Celin Crimson Orb Weaver. Protective gear was used, which proved to be quite prudent as the previously-docile arachnids became extremely aggressive on capture.

Once more, the halls of the University of Carposa housed an enigma. Rather than dissect them, Sana Jon placed them in terrariums for further study. 

Sana Jon was a controversial figure in the sciences at the time. Her theories were considered extreme or fringe, and her obsession had always been the Celin Forest expedition. She had personally funded the second expedition to prove what was considered her wildest theory yet, and many expected this to be the final act in a short and contentious career.

Instead, what she found only heightened her fame. Under observation, the spiders were revealed to be the cause of both the lights and the singing of Celin forest. A bioluminescent pulse was used by the spiders at night to lure prey, and the intact specimens had visible nodules behind their eyes that were the endpoint of the reinforced tracheal network. This allowed the spiders to hum and whistle in a wide variety of ways.

This remarkable discovery was not the wild theory of Sana Jon however. Jon posited that the spiders used both light and song to communicate, and cooperatively built large webs to catch larger creatures such as the bats of the Bethi stories.

Testing confirmed this, but the deeper question remained. What of the dense nerve ganglion? Just how smart were these spiders?

There are many animals that communicate using sound, such as song birds, howler monkeys, whales, and yellow urthak, but none of these sounds are considered language.

Sana Jon believed the Orb Weaver’s song was a true language. Unfortunately, she was never able to decode it. She did prove that spiders raised in captivity, separate from their parents, displayed abnormalities. They had limited cooperative behaviour, heightened aggression (including towards each other), and their songs did not match. Indeed, their songs were noticeably different from that of their parents even to the untrained ear, being harsher and simpler.

Sana Jon’s final conclusion was that the spiders were truly intelligent, self-aware and capable of complex language. She claimed that the attack on the first expedition was retaliation for the death of the first sample. The potent venom of the Crimson Orb Weaver, paired with their apparent intelligence and cooperative ability, could certainly explain the quick and invisible deaths that struck that ill-fated team.

Although the wider scientific community never accepted her claims, there was a brief public outcry strong enough to push the nascent Bethi Republic into declaring the Celin Forest a national nature preserve, safe from both exploitation and civilian tourism.

To this day, Celin Forest remains almost completely unexplored. The closest that civilization passes is a train line that borders the preserve’s edge. Passengers on the weekly service still report seeing strange lights and hearing odd sounds during the overnight journey, but the few attempts at either communication or translation of the Orb Weaver’s song that have been made have all been met with failure.

One final mystery, dear listeners. The spiders born in captivity did not reproduce, and their parents were lost during a lab transfer, and never found. 

And the apocryphal tale of Sana Jon’s estate, and the wailing ghosts that haunted it for many years?

Coincidence, I’m sure.

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