Author: David Penn

On this world in the Pica region each house has a bell. It calls constantly to the families in every other house and the bells there call back. It is the business of all Tzogg-Charans to keep these bells ringing, and so sacred do they hold that duty that if one stops they will scythe off parts of their own glassy flesh to repair it.

The clamour of the bells is considered beautiful and something that must be allowed to grow to perfection. Over many decades the bells may be shaved, re-layered or otherwise modified, as households tune each to its own individual sound, or “ke-ra”, a term for which there is no adequate English translation.

The tone-field, shape, harmony, pitch and clarity of each bell must reach certain levels of perfection which are beyond the capacity of human ears to distinguish. An achieved perfection of tone-field is particularly important as it will please the whole household, with its many levels of occupants. It is intended that it will also please the community at large, though it is well understood that this is not easy, given the differences of tastes between households, which can be profound while at the same time subtle and hard to discern. Nevertheless, it is the avowed desire of every Tzogg-Charan community, however large, that one day all its bells will chime in harmony, and the highest and most skilled levels of tuning and re-tuning are dedicated to this probably impossible goal.

The tuning of the bells, however, cannot go on indefinitely. Though the bells are extremely long-lived, each one reaches a point after many decades when adjustments, modifications, grafts, and shavings and so on no longer have any effect, and at this point a bell is considered to be in decline, indeed “dying”.

Through some interior agency or process that no outside observer has ever understood, at a certain point the sounds of the bell will begin to convert to light, which pulses in a vast range of dazzling colours, many unknown to the human eye. When the bell is fully agreed by the whole household to be, now, a lamp – or a “krin-girri” (again, translation into English can only be very approximate for this term) – it is placed on a long, tough kind of Tzogg-Charan leaf, much like a banana leaf though gold in colour, and “given to the river”. This is floated gently and with much ceremony on the surface of any local flowing body of water and allowed to travel downstream.

Tzogg-Charans wear special metallic red and blue feathers for this occasion, giving their intricately plated armour a tinselly effect, which is a sign both of mourning and celebration.

Strangely, as the lamps float along the river – particularly after they reach the community’s outskirts or disappear out of sight of the mourners – they begin again to emit sounds, often more beautiful than they ever gave out during their whole life as bells. When this happens, the guardians of each bell-lamp will find each other and embrace, however estranged by distance or time they may have become over the course of their lives.

It is outlawed for any Tzogg-Charan to see what forms the bell-lamps have taken during this final transformation, an edict which all obey out of the deep respect they hold for their planet and the unseen ocean beyond the rivers, and so no living Tzogg-Charan has any idea what the bell-lamps in this last stage look like, though the flashing lights seen above the jungle in the distance, and the occasional clear, mesmerising note of music, provoke endless speculation.