Hellsborough & The Dark Peak

Discovering the unexplored parallel world of Sheffield, S6 -- Hellsborough and The Dark Peak


The Legend of Loxley Bottom -- The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe

Also known as "The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe", this is work based on research that I have undertaken into the recent modern age of the history of Hellsborough under the rule of the nascenti. A local girl and simple shop worker, Sophie Hinchcliffe, who -- inexplicably -- becomes the first CEO of the DPDC -- that is the first Chief Executive Officer (the original boss, if you will) of the Dark Peak District Council, the local government that administers Hellsborough and The Dark Peak for the nascenti overlords.

Sophie is a major character in the forthcoming sequel to "Dark Peak -- Hellsborough Chronicles book one", so it is only right that I do the research to uncover her backstory, most of which I have gleaned from the local library in Hellsborough -- an awesome resource for research, because, as you would expect, those nascenti overlords want the populace here and hereabouts to understand the importance of local characters that have helped to define their rule.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter one: Sophie.

It came from above -- that sound. Piercing the squall and murk, a strangled yelping that chilled Sophie to the bone through her soaked overcoat.

She didn't have time to look up -- her scream caught in her throat as she fought for breath. She zoned out long before her comfortably closeted toes lost contact with the gritstone kerbside.

Always wear sensible shoes, her boss said, they'll see thee reyt. They didn't see her right this time -- one of those comfortable shoes was left behind on the pavement. Her limp body was carried, talons biting into her shoulder flesh, into the damp murknight.

Sophie left school at 14. No-one expected much, she certainly didn't. She'd flunked most of her exams, and she wasn't expected to achieve much. It was, what it was. She didn't much care, she was happy with her lot.

A job in retail seemed like plenty and she was content. She had a job on the shop floor, it paid her chits, she had a boyfriend, her world was complete. What more does a young lass need, eh?

#### HMM::IN('Have you had a fall? No win, no fee.')

hits:: 499722 // [this]2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:9b7a:111d:97d4 [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//1189]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.

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That was the last thing that Sophie remembered -- that ad on the hivemind.

After that she felt nothing. She was nothing.

Faranteeeeeees!! That's the sound that opens all of their shops every morning. Farantees owns all sort of shops -- hair dressers and barber shops, take-out joints, gruizer showrooms, coffee shops, flower shops. They have insurance places, and book shops, off-licenses and places that sell art, and places that sell nick-knacks and local produce; gardening equipment and plants, pet food and ironmongery, haberdashery and homeware.

Farantees sells pretty much everything that you could ever need -- and all their shops open with the same refrain: Faranteeeeeees!!

If you are lucky enough to live on the Bradfield road or the Middlewood road between the junction and the park, or on Hawksley avenue, then you can get anything you would ever need, without ever having to cross the road. Farantees has it all.

Sophie always got to work fifteen minutes before opening, as she was supposed to do -- and she never missed a single day; she turned up seven days a week. Sophie did what she was asked, and that worked just fine for Farantees -- they trusted Sophie and they valued her as a solid member of the team. And that's the way it should be, isn't it?

That's the way that things work in Hellsborough: A place with no social security or health service, a place where you need to work hard to not just better yourself, but to provide for basic needs that your family might need.

We're not talking food, since that -- as a basic commodity -- if available freely from community feed points like those at Corner News on the Middlewood road or the Green shop on Wadsley lane -- these places are dotted about every two hundred paces or so -- you won't starve in Hellsborough. These days, if you desire more than basic nutrition -- and most do -- you have as many choices as you can think of, and Farantees will see thee reyt whatever it is tha fancies.

It was a Mard'y, the day after Splend'y -- and everyone loves Splend'y. The murk was heavy in Hellsborough, and the day had been drismal, something to do with the time of year: It was 79.rain-rooter.4.14 -- nothing special, just a regular Mard'y, and folk were staying at home in general, it weren't a pleasant day for shopping, so the only ones out were them that needed supplies after the weekend.

It had been a steady day for Sophie. She had been on the checkout, but she hadn't exactly been rushed off her feet. A couple of customers an hour was about it, so she had also been consigned to stacking shelves and stock-taking, which is what tended to happen on quiet days like these.

The rain continued to fall, and the roof continued to leak. Buckets had been positioned throughout the store to collect the incoming stream, but the squall poured in through those holes like Dunlocksyn had decreed an injustice on the holy trinity.

As the gloaming approached, the number of customers stifled from a trickle to nothing, and Sophie's manager gave he go-ahead to shut up shop.

Tha should all get 'ome, he said, get thasen away for the neet. I'll see thee all tomorrow.

And with that, they all did as they were bid.

Murkfall was upon them as they left the closed shop. Most lived local enough to walk, but Sophie was a trolley bus ride away at Winn Gardens -- just a couple of stops. Most of the time she would save chits and walk, but on a night like tonight, she opted to stay a little drier and wait for transport -- that rain were still siling down, and it were best to stay under the cover of the tram stop until something come along.

Sophie waited. Alone at the tram stop. The Middlewood road was deserted. The drizzle and mizzle continued.

The lights of the trolley bus shone dimly through the murk. The tram itself wasn't visible, just those searching lights that said that it might be on the way. Sophie waited for those lights to come closer.

Then the whining and whelping began. Sophie ignored it. She concentrated on the hivemind, on the messages, on the music, even on the advertisements. But that whining got louder and more persistent.

It infiltrated her mind, cutting through the hiveshout like a shard cutting out the throat of a xinian.

She couldn’t ignore it any longer. It was driving her insane. She ran from the cover of her shelter, into the rain and the murk. Her slender frame was soaked instantly, but still she ran, away from that piercingly shrill whining that sliced into her brain and drove her to the edge of madness.

The gabbleratchets saw her and swooped, pecking at her hair, making her swot them away. Flinging and flaying her arms about, she defended herself as best she could, but there was too many of them, they were too strong. They took her under the arms, two on each arm, their talons biting into her, squeezing, piercing her flesh, drawing thin streams of crimson blood. They lifted her into the sky. She screamed and shouted. She kicked and splayed her legs, trying to impede their ability to fly. She failed. They took her from the street and kicking and hollering, she was lifted into the air -- up, above the tram stop, up above the first and second floors of the nearby buildings, up above the roofs.

The gabbleratchets screeched and squabbled and carried Sophie away into the murknight.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter two: Naval.

They dumped her body in the Loxley pond. She was pecked and bitten, her eyes rendered to sockets, her body stripped.

These man headed beasts, the flying dogs known as the gabbleratchets -- gabriel ratchets, angels of evil -- did heinous things to what was left of Sophie.

They are the most bitter of all Dunlockslyn's creatures: Bloody scars on the faces of the great one, the deity: D'divi.

Those Gabblratchets sucked her soul right out through them empty stares.

Naval was just a boy, as Sophie was just a girl. They were both fourteen. That is the age of consent in Hellsborough -- does that seem weird? It's the same in Italy, or so I'm told, anyway.

Ordinarily, Sophie would have been home and in Naval's arms a few hours ago.

Naval was an impatient young man. He paced about, wondering where is girlfriend might be -- who she was with.

To be fair to her, this was unusual, but Naval was nothing if not the jealous type. All sorts of scenarios flooded through his immature mind. But never in a million years could he imagine the real truth of what had happened.

Livid with rage and with the passion of the green-eyed monster that he was, he set out from their home in Winn Gardens, heading back through the murk and drizzle down the Middlewood road towards Hellsborough centre.

All the way, he ranted.

How he would punish Sophie when he found her in the company of her friends, enjoying herself an laughing at him behind his back. He wanted to punish her, he was angry.

He went into the park, knowing that his mood was vile and he needed to chill himself down for a while.

He sat on a bench and inhaled deeply on a vape-pipe, muddling his brain with intoxicating fumes and letting the bliss reach him, if only for a short while.

It dispelled his anger, temporarily at least.

Again he was filled with a sense on concern for his late and missing girlfriend, and he let this drive him now, allowed his concern to displace the jealousy that raged within him -- but if he did find her in the company of others, and she hadn't let him know, then D'divi forgive him, he didn't know how he'd react.

#### HMM::IN('Struggling with your mental health? Doctor Farantees can help!')

hits:: 347196 // [this]2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:9b7a:1422:bb2a [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//73]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.

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Pffft, nowt wrong with my mental health! Naval left the bench and park behind, heading towards the nearest bar on the Middlewood Road.

Sophie wasn't there. He asked the bar keep, not being able to help his passive-aggressiveness, but the bar keep hadn't seen her she said.

He had a beer anyway. He liked his beer. This place had a very pleasant sour on offer, which caught him in the gills.

He asked more folk -- customers -- whether they had seen Sophie. They hadn't, but they knew her, they knew who he was talking about. She was the lovely little lass that worked in Farantees supermarket. Many of them would make a bee-line for her checkout, she was such a pleasant lass, they said -- always ready with her lovely smile -- and she had a wicked sense of humour too!

Pleased on the outside, but his jealousy raging on the inside, Naval crossed across the Middlewood road to the next bar along.

He asked the same question to the bar keep and received the same answer. He drank more beer. He asked the other customers the same questions he had asked in the first bar, and got the same fondness for Sophie that he had found before. They loved his Sophie. They all knew her from Farantees supermarket.

Naval fumed into his beer. And so this theme continued as he visited each and ever bar on the Middlewood road. The same on Bradfield road. The same on Langsett. In each bar another beer.

Then, full of ale, he moved on to shorts -- knocking back rhum like it was going out of fashion. He started to forget why he was here. He started to enjoy himself, but something inside of him knew that that wasn't the point -- that wasn't why he was here at all.

#### HMM::IN('Hexikid! Hexikid! Hexikid!')

hits:: 196 // [this]2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:9b7a:1422:bb2a [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//73]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.

Hexikid! Hexikid! Hexikid! Hexikid!

The hexikid street cleaner ploughed along the road, siphoning dirt and grease, spraying detergent into the gutterways. Gorging itself on detritus, cleansing the street with its bulk.

Naval watched as it passed, mesmerised by its impeccable sanitation.

Then, maybe, he was too far gone. But he kept asking his questions. He was like a rabbid grizzler with a dyapnid in its jaws. He was like a crazed ashpeep singing the song for all to hear, over and over and over.

But the answer everywhere was the same.

They all knew Sophie. They all loved Sophie.

Many of them knew Naval as well, he was no stranger here and hereabouts, so that made him feel better, but his jealousy raged within him, just as his concern for his girlfriend grew more intense.

The time approached midmurk.

Did you know the gabbleratchets were abroad tonight? Someone said.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter three: Wandering.

Blind. Soul-less. The cadaver that was Sophie wandered, an animated corpse. A zombie in your modern off-world parlance, but such a word doesn't exist on this side of The Hinge.

The supernatural exists in The Dark Peak -- to us humans at least. But the denizens of the hex -- the clowns, the xin, the nascenti, they're not so concerned by what us humans think of as supernatural.

To us humans, the supernatural is a real thing -- gabbleratchets are proof of that. But you'll never tie a clown down on the subject. For instance, they can physically see Shad, Van's barghest that spends so much time by my side. They tolerate him, at least here in Hellsborough -- not so much out in The Dark Peak, as Van attests in Chronicles one -- but they do not fear him like many humans do. It must be something to do with the hivemind -- and the indigenous hivemind at that -- maybe it's just something that psycmasks just cannot ascertain at all.

There are also the murk wraith -- the ghosts of the tormented. Sight of which, like a barghest, with burning eyes the size of saucers, is a sign of impending doom.

The Boggarts and the syncarids, the morivarids and murk dwelling cryptids like the Loxley kraken, the bracken man of Wadsley common, the giant raptor of Worral and the Dun Bog Beast. All are supernatural to us humans. To the denizens, not so much supernatural as naturally super maybe. Anyway, I digress.

The shell that used to be Sophie stumbled aimlessly along the banks of the Loxley river in the direction of the Damflask. "She" had no need for food any more. A dead person -- even when animated, as she was -- has no need for food, the organs no longer function, so there is no need for fuel.

Her psycmask had been ripped from her face by those rabid gabbleratchets as they devoured her oneness, their toxic saliva melting it away like it was nothing. But as with food, she had no need for a psycmask now, the murk could do her no harm.

That viscous saliva though, laced as it was with the rockcrust of generations, animated her corpse and drove her towards water. She knew somehow that the Loxley flowed in the wrong direction to where she needed to get to -- she headed upstream towards the Damflask.

That great source of water dragged her forwards like iron filings drawn towards a magnet -- or an alcoholic towards a full bottle of rhum.

The mud on the banks of the Loxley grabbed at her bare feet and sank between her toes, making her slip and slide. She stumbled over devilish rocks and grasping roots. Bracken and thistles stung and bit at her unclothed flesh. But she felt no pain -- there was no pain any more for Sophie.

The damage to her skin, to her body, went nowhere. The nerve endings didn't register any pain. Her brain had no feeling.

She was spotted by an slipperman, alone on the banks at this time after murkfall. He was dirty from a day on the banks, covered in muck and filth, almost invisible in the murk. He watched with a lecherous glint in his eye as this young woman approached through the murk.

This slipperman, although human, didn’t believe in the supernatural.

All that is reyt daft, he were known to say in the pub when someone raised something out of the ordinary as the subject, tha lot 'as to be crackers to believe in any o'that rubbage.

I doant believe in none of that stuff, tha daft buggers, he would say, before pitching back another pint of ale.

But Jed, what about the skull moon, his friends would say -- Tha ain't supposed to go out when the skull moon is up. D'divi knows, tha is not supposed to go out, tis dangerous and tha is likely to come a cropper.

Just a trick of t'murk. Just tha lot go on believing that, and I'll keep tekin me share of them slippers from the river in the murkneet. I’m not taking any effing smelt from you D'divi worshippin' chuffers. If tha lot is too scared to come out of tha 'ouses at neet, that's tha own business, nowt to do with me.

Me, I'd rather be deed than live in fear like tha lot does.

Sophie was almost on top of him.

Stumbling in the darkness, she pitched forwards landing in his lap. She turned what was left of her face towards his. Gargling half-words that meant nothing, expelled from a brain that no longer functioned, screaming like a murk wraith from a ripped throat that could no longer form human sounds.

Is tha reyt? He stammered. His words caught in his throat, he said no more.

She stared in his direction. Her empty eye sockets and vacant face howling at him.

He dropped her into his slipping tackle and ran for home, not stopping until he was back in doors.

By the time he got back to his home up the hill in Dungworth, he was panting worse than a barker that had been without water for a week.

When his wife came into the kitchen to find out what all the noise about, his terrified eyes made her scream.

Scrabbling back to her feet, Sophie shumbled like an automaton along the Loxley trail. She passed onto the long lane, and beyond -- into the emptiness of the wisewood proper, and followed the scent of the Damflask.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter four: Rescue.

I've got to sit down, I need to relax, I'm too angry. Naval raged inside his own head.

Naval was pissed and off his head on rockcrust. His frame of mind wasn't the best, to say the least. He slumped himself down on the bench outside the bar and pulled on his vipe, trying to calm his anger with a little bit of bliss.

Empty. No pull to be had. He swore and violently through the vipe into the gutter. Shaking, he controlled himself and realised -- No matter, it was an easy thing to rectify.

#### HMM::OUT('Need juice.  Get me juice for me vipe.  Mandarin orange.')
`ask:: Oakey, Naval // stat:: accept[ok]__ // src:: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:037g:7334 [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//4259]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.`

`HMM::IN('..Order received, delivery 1m_`

`..50% Non-refundable deposit of 30¢hit taken__  Balance on delivery__')`

Naval didn't have to wait long, as promised. Thirty seconds later a clown ran into the park, palmed him his order and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. Naval didn't even have time to say thank you, Piers -- as that was who he thought it was, but the clown apparition appeared and disappeared so quickly, he didn't have the chance.

Between them, the nascenti, the fungai and the clowns have delivery sorted. In this world -- or the off -- sure, you can go into a shop and buy what you want. You can get a deal on a street corner, if you're in the right place at the right time and know your man. You can get a package delivered next day, maybe even today if you're lucky.

But you ain't going to get what you order from a park bench in thirty seconds, I can guarantee that much. Maybe you will, one day, but in Hellsborough capitalism is so advanced and fine-tuned that you can get almost anything your heart desires mind-bogglingly fast.

You can hardly blame me for staying here when I get this level of service can you?

#### HMM::IN('Transaction complete.  Total transaction value 60¢hit.')
`hits:: 1 // [this]2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:037g:7334 [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//467]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.`

And that's the other thing. For the level of service, things can be extremely good value. 60¢hit that's around £6 in your money today -- as I write it's December 2023 in your world, so it's not breaking the bank is it!?

That's capitalism for you: Fast delivery and a great price!

Naval plugged in his new cartridge and sucked on that vipe pipe long and hard.

It relaxed him. He felt a sense of bliss as the chill Windstrom breeze of the murknight closeted him in his own melancholy.

Something stirred deep inside him. Something inside him said he needed to act. Maybe it was that statement by one of the other customers at the end of the night before they left the bar, about the gabbleratchets being abroad. That struck a chord.

Something's not right, things are not how they should be and now he's worried and feels foolish for the way he has acted and behaved tonight.

He'd been to half a dozen bars, all of the closest ones to where Sophie worked. Everyone, in each of them, well most of the drinkers at least, knew Sophie. It would have been really out of character for her to go into S1. Someone would have said something if that was the case. No. Sophie stayed in S6. Always. That was what they did. This was where they lived, this was their home.

And she was never home late, not without leaving a message anyway.

This was unusual behaviour for Sophie.

Naval finally came to his senses and realised the obvious.


The thought finally entered Naval's head that Sophie hadn't gone on a drinking binge with her work colleagues, that she hadn't decided to go into town by herself, that she wasn't having some affair with her boss or another colleague, that she actually wasn't out partying with anyone at all on this D'divi-foresaken night.

The realisation was that she had been abducted.

Then Naval started to panic.

He needed supplies he realised. He needed to mount a rescue mission.

Where had the gabbleratchets taken her?

What had the gabbleratchets done to her?

Where was she now?

What was she feeling?

Could he get her back?

The questions raced through his mind, bombarding him with feelings of dread and guilt. His throat was dry as his anticipation grew with alarm, distaste and reluctance.

There was no time but the present.

Naval didn't need supplies, he just needed to get after Sophie. But something inside him said that it would still be a good idea to pick up some provisions -- He would still need to eat himself, and Sophie would be hungry.

The Corner News was still open, he went in and grabbed some food pouches, they would do fine. His mind raced, there was no need for anything fancy, this was about basics, this would do, nothing fancy, nothing fancy, cheap and cheerful, quick and easy.

There'd be time for something more substantial when he got her back home. And then he'd treat her to a meal out. They'd go to that nice little tapas place on Bradfield road, he'd spare no expense -- she could have whatever her heart desired. He'd even stretch to tiramisu for dessert.

Naval knew Van Hallam. Everyone knew Van Hallam. He had explored in The Dark Peak, and that was where Naval knew in his head that he had to go now.

There were three main routes through the wisewood. The Loxley, the Rivelin and the Dun. He felt sure that Sophie lay in one of those directions.

But which one?

The bars were emptying now.

Which route? He said out loud to someone at random.

Which one what, fella?

Where did they take her? Where did the gabbleratchets take Sophie?

The Loxley, said one guy who heard his plea.

Yeah, alway the Loxley. That's always the direction the gabbleratchets head, said another.

They don't ever go down the Dun, the skewerwings hunt there, and the banks of that Rivelin, they is too muddy -- tis always towards the Loxley pond that them gabbleratchets head, you should try there first.

Good luck young'en, tha's gonna need it on a neet like toneet.

Naval sucked on his vipe pipe, trying to regain his senses. The murk was suddenly thicker than it had been and the drizzle started again, getting heavier and heavier. Then the wind got up, blowing stuff about hither and thither; wailing through the streets like a mourning murk wraith.

Before long, Naval was soaked to the skin, his clothes sticking to his skinny frame like muck thrown at a window in a storm.

He had a destination -- he would go into the wisewood. He had to. It was his only choice. he knew that no-one entered the wisewood, but he wasn't scared.

Van Hallam had been through the wisewood. He had met demonspawn and D'divi knows what else, but he had survived.

Naval looked around, he looked within, he looked up.

He longed for a source of light, a sense of lightness, as he began to climb out of that well, thumb by painful thumb. But the rain just lashed down and the wind howled like a ripperthroat on the edge of madness.

It felt heavy, the air, the murk. But he remembered —- he remembered he was not alone in this brokenness. Not alone in this anger and angst and disappointment —- he had Sophie's spirit to help him through -- her pretty laugh, her sweet smile. The thought of her drew him forwards, pulled by her attraction. That was when he understood he had to do everything in his power to get her back, despite the risks of the wisewood.

The wisewood it can't be that bad? Can it? Surely not...

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter five: End.

An animated body with no life force is a strange thing. It will shamble along seemingly forever. But, as we know, nothing can go on forever. Without fuel, a machine, an engine, a human body, will fail. Forget anything that you may have watched or read about those things in your world that are known as zombies -- they need live meat to survive, that is their fuel -- or so we are told in those old stories, sometimes they seem to survive on magic. But there is no magic in this world. And Sophie had no appetite for fresh meat -- if she had, she'd have attacked that slipperman -- but she didn't.

The relentless rain continued its ceaseless descent, as if nature sought to cleanse this most macabre of scenes. Sophie, a mere shell of her former self, devoid of life force, pressed on with an unsettling determination. The landscape, drenched and disorienting, mirrored the internal disarray of her vacant form.

She walked steadily along the banks of that Loxley river, it flowing downstream, her walking towards its source. That rain continued to sile down, the ditches and dykes and sykes filling with fresh water and rushing fast past her legs and feet, disorientating whatever inbuilt tracking mechanisms continued within her.

The water broke the banks of the sykes and the river, but did little to impede her relentless journey.

The water flowed this way and that, the Loxley draining away towards the Dun, but the dykes and sykes being sucked into the hungry mouth of the Damflask. The deluge overflowed the banks of the waterways, creating an environment that confused any remaining tracking mechanisms within her. The Loxley's currents swirled, joining the relentless flow away from the Damflask, a hungry reservoir awaiting its next offering.

The beating rain and the unforgiving murk blasted the body of the vacant form that used to be Sophie Hinchcliffe, driving her into the ground. With no fuel, that walking cadaver eventually failed and slumped, sliding into the mud and was washed in the flood into a syke. She was now near to the Damflask, and her body was sucked into that great body of water.

Her lifeless form, the semblance of existence that lingered within her expunged, collapsed into the mud. The Damflask, a voracious maw, welcomed her lifeless body into its depths. Now no longer moving, her prone form was pulled under the water. It floated on the surface for the briefest of moments, and then sank, dropping to the bottom of that stormy miniature ocean. The nutrients of Sophie Hinchcliffe would't be wasted. The water would break her down and she'd become protein for the feeding of the inhabitants of Hellsborough.

The silt and muck and the bones of a thousand dead fish at the bottom of the Damflask cushioned her naked frame as she sank into the depths. The mud ate into her every crevice. It coated her breasts, it seeped between her tiny cleavage, it entered the holes between her legs, it filled the gaps between her fingers and toes.

The storm persisted, a malevolent symphony of rain and hate, as Sophie's body sank into the reservoir's abyss. The mud and silt, mingling with the bones of countless fish, embraced her form, cushioning her descent. Naked and motionless, she became a part of the aquatic ecosystem. The silt invaded every inch of her, coating her body with the remnants of decay. Her descent into the Damflask became a gruesome ballet, with the water breaking down her remains, converting her into sustenance for the aquatic denizens below.

Sophie Hinchcliffe came to rest in the dark and haunted depths of the Damflask. D'divi protect her.

Above, the storm still raged, an unforgiving onslaught, torrents of water cascading down the hillsides like lava from a volcano -- a flowing miasma of putrid hate.

Slippers nudged about her mud clotted frame; the odd one had a nibble -- already they found nourishment coating her skin. Then a shoal of sticklebacks entered her eye sockets and began to nibble at her brain. The soft tissue sucked away in moments. Then other varieties of slipper began to enter her other orifices, following the paths that the mud and silt had previously laid.

There, these slippers found a veritable banquet. Whilst the gabbleratchets had had Sophie's eyes and mind, whilst they had raped and defiled her, they left so much more for the slippers of the Damflask.

Her internal organs, her heart, her lungs, kidneys and liver, ovaries; the eggs of her unborn children -- all were slowly and softly devoured.

Even the secretions the gabbleratchets left behind.

The slippers fed for hours, when they were finished, Sophie was nothing more than brittle skin encasing filth encrusted bone.

The organic network watched all of this activity, relaying a live stream to the nascenti headquarters which lay beneath the Damflask.

The motion detectors had sensed her body descend to the bottom of the reservoir, this macabre scene had not gone unnoticed.

The organic network, had tracked her long before that. They knew when the gabbleratchets discarded her at Loxley pond. They knew when her body had been violated of all worth. They had tracked her progress along the banks of the Loxley as she shumbled along, every detail had been monitored.

The nascenti, didn't know who she was, but they had been anticipating this opportunity.

The grotesque transformation into nutrient-rich filth beneath the stormy surface of the Damflask triggered a response.

The nascenti. Their moment had arrived.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter six: Search.

Hellsborough is close to the wisewood, and to the North and West, it encroaches on the city landscape.

Often creatures from the wood lose their way in the murk, finding themselves wandering through the streets of Hellsborough, terrorising unsuspecting residents.

Many an over-intoxicated jellyhead has been found by the exacids at the bottom of a ginnel or on some lonely lane, half devoured with horror in his or her wide and starey eyes.

Naval wasn't scared, he had a mission -- he would find his girlfriend, wherever she was and whatever mess she had gotten herself into, and he would bring her home -- back to their home in Winn Gardens.

Despite the amount of drink he'd taken on, he felt sober, and he knew his feet would carry him forwards with purpose. His mind was set and his body was ready -- he was on edge, sure, but he was focused and knew what he needed to do.

The Loxley pond -- that is what one of the stragglers who'd left the last bar had said. It was but a few thousand paces away, and so that was where he headed. He knew where to go, he'd been there many a time -- but never when the murk was so thick or the dark was so black. He covered his face with a shroud; he knew his psycmask would allow his to breath freely, but the extra warmth of the snood gave him comfort -- and he needed some comfort from something at that moment.

As a child, he and friends had ignored their parents advice and headed out in the direction of the pond, messing around in the muck and mud and water, not worrying about what might lurk beneath its surface.

He had no fear then, none of them did. But when he thought back on those friends from those days -- few of them were still about. One, Ellen Gobsthwaite had made a name for herself -- she had become someone in the Farantees retail empire, but many other names that he remembered: Phil Turner, Ronnie Sykes, Jim Savage, Davey Hawley -- there were all long gone. Suffering some unexpected demise for some terrible, yet inexplicable reason.

It was always an inexplicable reason -- always a tragic accident -- always something that shouldn't have happened.

But they did happen. Those names were gone now. Laid to rest. Just gravestones in the grounds of Wadsley church or Wardsend cemetery.

Naval tried not to dwell on the gory details. He tried not to think about what might have happened to those old childhood friends.

He tried even harder not to think what might be happening to his Sophie, or might have already happened while he fumed and raged around the Middlewood bars.

All that he cared about now was finding her and rescuing her. His little love, his precious girl.

Got any ¢hits fella?

A beggar looked up from the filth, nestling a drainpipe that spewed filthy water onto the flagstones by the junction.

Naval's lip curled upwards -- what was a beggar doing on the streets of Hellsborough?

Surely the exacids wouldn't put up with this?

Yet here he was, this decrepit individual, asking for a hand-out.

Naval bit his tongue, not answering, just staring at the hobo.

#### HMM::OUT('Transfer 5 ¢hits to him')

ask:: Oakey, Naval // stat:: accept[ok]__ // src:: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:037g:7334 [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//4259]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.

HMM::IN('..5 ¢hits delivered to 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:3492:fd31:abfe__')

Grateful fella, grateful! The beggar said, snoughing into his filthy lapel and clutching the drainpipe for support. I'll not forget thee fella. Tha is a diamond tha is!

Ten minutes later Naval was at the Loxley pond. Now, after midmurk, all was quiet. The flat surface of the pond reflected the murkmoon like a dirty mirror.

How does it feel to be on your own, baby? Naval knew Sophie was here or hereabouts, he felt her presence was here -- or at least had been. Something on the breeze, something in the air. He could smell her, he could sense her, she had been here.

But Naval knew he was by himself now. All was quiet on the pond. Even the quackers and the clownfeet were sleeping at this hour.

But he knew Sophie had been here.

He searched in the darkness for signs of her, stumbling along the edge of the pond -- that narrow runway that splits the pond and the Loxley river itself.

He picked a fragment of cloth from an ensnaring tree branch that grew into the pond.

It was hers, he was sure.

It could have been anything, it was filthy and wet, covered in grime and silt, but he knew it was hers, of her. He could feel her presence if that scrap of material.

When a lover walks out the door forever, the short-term pain is enormous. When Sophie walked out of their door on Winn Gardens this morning, it was with a kiss and a gleeful wave, the full shock of it all hadn't hit him yet.

As Naval followed that narrow tract of land, he saw more bits of stuff -- detritus, fragments of garments, scraps of this and that -- all he felt sure were evidence of Sophie's existence previously at the pond.

He had no choice now.

He was on the edge of the wisewood and the only way was forwards.

He couldn't turn back. Tha can't turn back now, he said to himself.

The hairs on the back of his neck began to stand erect, his fear palpable. His heart beginning to race. And, there's no such word as "can't" -- the words of his mother echoed through his confused thoughts.

Naval felt the presence of another. It wasn't Sophie. It was someone else.

Naval turned around, peering into the blackness and the murk.

There was a shape -- A shambling form behind him, maybe a hundred paces back, maybe less -- it was hard to tell in the lack of light.

Who's there? Shouted Naval.

There was no response, but a tell-tale snough was enough to inform Naval that the beggar from the crossroads had followed him.

What do you want? I know who you are.

Aye fella, tha knows who I am, I is just 'ere to 'elp.

Help? How can you help?

Sophie is deed, tha knows that reyt?

The beggar came closer, hobbling through the murk.

Dead? What do you mean dead?

You've seen the evidence fella, you've seen her bits and bobs strewn about -- ain't that evidence enough that tha Sophie is no longer in t'land of t'livin'?

She's alive! I'm searching for her now, I'm going to rescue her! I have provisions, I'm going to get her home safe!

She's gone fella. Them gabbleratchets took her and brought 'er 'ere. I saw 'em carry 'er off mesen from t'crossroads. And them things doant leave nowt much behind. Them scraps of cloth that thas 'olding close to tha chest, that's all that's left of 'er, believe me, I knows about these things.

You're wrong, my Sophie is still alive. I know them things have done her wrong, but she is stronger than that, she is stronger, she is stronger, I know she is, I know her, I'm gonna save her, I'm gonna take her home.

She's gone fella. Doant enter that wisewood -- that's all I 'as to say to thee.

I have to go in, that's where she's gone. I have to go in and get her back.

She'll come back fella, when she's good and ready. Tha doant need to go in there looking for her.

You're wrong. I have no choice. I need to go into the wisewood.

Do as tha pleases then. I 'as said me piece.

Wait, what? -- how do you know she'll come back?

I's milting fella, I maybe old, but I's seen all this an 'undred times before.

Milting? What's milting? Naval shouted into the darkness. Naval had never heard the word milting before.

But the beggar had turned his back and was gone, away from the wisewood, back towards the grime and filth of Hellsborough.

Indignant and annoyed, Naval ran down the towpath -- The only thought in his mind now: Finding his Sophie.

Up the steps by the weir, past the pumping station -- he and it running at full pelt in the torrential rain that slewed from the murky night.

Up above the pumping station, on that dirty and discarded track, lives the Gosava tree.

The Gosava tree eats meat. A rapacious predator, albeit one that is rooted to the ground; but one that extends its reach into all corners of this part of the wisewood, it's tangle of dark dripping branches blackening the canopy, cutting out what little light the murk allows to enter.

The Gosava tree is hungry. The Gosava tree is ravenous. It hasn't eaten for days, weeks maybe. As Windstrom turns to Bleak, pickings in the wisewood are few and far between -- there isn't much meat to be had here or hereabouts at this time of year.

It has extended its roots and rhizomes searching for nourishment -- clawing and climbing into every gap and fissure in its hungry search.

The gift of live human flesh doesn't come along very often. Maybe once a season, maybe less. Rarely at this time of year.

Ensnared by those tangling dendritic threads, the Gosava tree brought Naval down, encasing him in its spiralling web of tendons and branches.

Naval could no longer move, his legs gripped by the voracious plant. One of his arms was pinned to his side, his other grasped at a tender stem.

Behind him, Naval heard the most horrid of moans -- subsonic it was -- a deep, penetrating growl.

Naval has never felt fear like this before. The darkness, the murk, the sudden cold of the wisewood making his teeth chatter in his head. He pulled the sapling towards his mouth with his free hand and put it in his mouth, his teeth bouncing up and down on the springy twiglet.

In his mind he remembered the legend of Van Hallam, and he resisted biting on the twig.

He shouldn't have resisted; worse things happen by resisting.

The Gosava tree forced itself on him, into him. His remaining free arm captured, and his prone form splayed into a cruciform.

Dunlockslyn thanked Naval for his sacrifice to nourishment of The Dark Peak.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter seven: Nascenti.

The nascenti clicked and clacked. That is their mode of communication: Clicking and clacking.

If you're on the hivemind, you'll get a translation -- that's what the hivemind does, it converts the language of the insectoids, or in this case the langoustides, into a common language -- if you're not on the hivemind, then, forget it, you ain't going to understand what they're talking about.

The clicking and clacking was because the nascenti had observed -- or rather the organic network had observed, and tracked -- the dead body of Sophie Hinchcliffe sinking to the bottom of the Damflask, and her internal organs being devoured by the fish who called The Damflask home.

The nascenti had no need of Sophie's internal organs.

The nascenti were only interested in one part of her.

The nascenti needed Sophie's DNA.

The absence of brain, liver, lungs, kidneys, ovaries, that made no difference to the nascenti; the fish could do what they would with those. As long as a scrap of Sophie's skin or bone was retrieved from the Damflask, the nascenti would be happy with their haul.

The quiddity of Sophie was dredged from the dank depths, the mechanical arms of the nacenti machine juggling the slimy husk, a putrid lump of meat.

You wouldn't recognise as what was left of Sophie as human, just rags and tatters skin and gnawed bone. A wet soaked mass of protein.

But that protein, that flesh and bone, contained the DNA the nascenti needed to rebuild her.

Deep in their laboratories, they grew Sophie anew.

They started with a strand, they grew a pupa.

A new organism so small, it was invisible to the human eye -- but not to their advanced equipment.

They grew an embryo. An embryo that was a combination of human and nascenti: Of Sophie Hinchcliffe and the great lord B'enderclaw, a revered deity of the nascenti from many a year passed, whose own DNA had sat it wait for an occasion such as this.

The nascenti scientists had many attempts and many failures, often a little lifeform would last no longer than a few moments.

The nascenti scientists -- these bio-formers, these creators of new life -- were under great pressure of their own. The DNA of their former great leader had laid in wait for many generations, but was not in unlimited supply.

The controllers of the scientists -- the vegahorn -- as they are known, who the scientists worshipped as the nascenti embodiment of Dunlockslyn, kept a close control over the scientists successes (which were few) and failures (which were many).

A number of the scientists gave their lives to their research, as one after another of the tiny lifeforms withered in the nascenti equivalent of test tubes and petri dishes.

Gradually, painfully slowly, the nascenti scientists began to lean on the mycelium of their fungal "friends" to provide a framework for growth. They managed to culture -- and stabilise -- new life.

And so, the nascenti cultured a new Sophie. A new B'enderclaw.

They knew what hey had.

A new and special species. A precious new species. The infusion of human and nascenti. The ultimate species, they said.

The vegahorn didn't agree.

But, they allowed the scientists to continue their work.

The new Sophie grew quickly.

There are reasons for that: Not just the help of the fungal network, but the nascenti are as adept as any species in the The Dark Peak in the medicinal use of rockcrust.

And advanced quantanic technology, far beyond the understanding of anyone in the off-world.

From a foetus they grew her. They grew him. They grew them. This new species, forever now conjoined.

In looks, the new creature was a double of Sophie, but she was better than the Sophie that passed at the Loxley pond. Her brain was larger. Inside her, beat the many hearts of B'enderclaw.

Like B'enderclaw, she had larger lung capacity. Like B'enderclaw, she could regenerate.

In a few more days, Sophie was a fourteen year old "woman" again.

They had to teach her to breath. Out at the Damflask, the murk is heavy, and this embryonic new Sophie had to learn to deal with the murk, but of course, her DNA was now part nascenti, so she was able to breath the murk unaided, without the need of a psycmask, like the one those disgusting gabbleratchets had ripped from her face.

Outwardly, to anyone looking, she was human. Inside her body, and her head, she was nascenti through and through. Human on the outside. Nascenti on the inside: Nascenti blood coursed through Sophie's veins.

Her head was empty for now, that's to be understood. How wouldn't it be? The nascenti were just rebuilding her body, her mind would come later. A fully developed brain, waiting to be filled with facts, information, experiences, details. Eventually, she would be taught to speak Ing, like any human in Hellsborough or the netherlands, but that would come later.

But she would always think in the nascenti dialect of The Dark Peak language. She would dream nascenti dreams. Her indoctrination was nascenti.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter eight: Remade.

The physical work was done. Anatomically, Sophie was complete -- better internally, but externally whole -- a fully functioning human body.

Now, the nascenti scientists started in earnest on what they knew could be a more demanding task -- that of cerebral work, of filling Sophie's brain with the knowledge that would allow her to become the powerful new creature that they knew she could be.

It was constant, gruelling, grinding, back-aching, hard work, and again, the scientists' masters, the vegahorn had set stringent deadlines of what they considered to be positive and necessary progress.

The nascenti scientists turned to their old "friend" the fungal network in their quest to inject the required longing and curiosity that Sophie would need to jump start her learning.

Plugging her brain into the fungal network was a trivial affair -- the fungal networks' mycelium was allowed to mesh with her neurons and infiltrate he brain, filling her with knowledge of the environment via the fungai's connections to its organic network -- its eyes and ears, that saw and heard, its fingers and tongues that touched and tasted and smelt the environment without: The colours of the sun and moon through the murk, the sounds of the wisewood and the Damflask, the feel of the fishes and the grubs and the flits, the growl of the grizzler, the howl of the ripperthroat: The beauty of all of Dunlockslyn.

Sophie absorbed deep knowledge of the forest floor and the contents of the murk, she was at one with the nature of The Dark Peak -- an inginous warrior able to melt into her surroundings like a backflit melts into the gloaming, like a syncarid or the dun bog beast melts into the murk.

The fungal network guided Sophie's learning, atuning her to her environment, filling her, flooding her with electric impulses of the world.

The next step was exposing her to the hivemind. This, the nascenti scientists expected to be the hardest and most dangeous task they had undertaken since they had synthesised life out of her passive DNA many days before, and the vegahorn watched on with interest about how this stage of the process would pan out.

Too much exposure to the hivemind is well known to induce fear and repulsion. This the scientists feared more than anything else, and secretly the vegahorn knew this was the riskiest part of Sophie's journey to date. It was feared that all the hard work thus far acheived could be for nothing if Sophie's immature brain simply went into overload and spasm -- she would likely be rendered nothing more than a shell, a fully functioning body, a barely functioning brain -- and in fact, the scientists and the vegahorn had been to this point before, with another subject, many decades past, when they had last tried this procedure:

In similar circumstances, a young boy -- about Sophie's age, history doesn't remember his name -- had been resurrected with nascenti blood in his veins (admitedly, it wasn't B'enderclaw's, but the DNA of an exacid -- the exacid are the the genetically engineered enforcers for the nascenti, originally bred from their own selves, but the principle was essentially the same). The boy was exposed to the organic network with no ill effects. His body was strong, he was fit and his organs operated perfectly. It was only when the fungal network jacked into the hivemind that the boy began to contort and convulse, his neurons exposed to supercharged frequencies that fried his brain from the inside and rendered him nought more than a hulse of flesh and bone. Just dead staring eyes. A useless cadaver, much as Sophie had wandered through the wisewood after the onslaught of the gabbleratchets.

The scientists and the vegahorn remembered that last experiement well, and they knew that the answer to the conundrum was likely redily available -- The missing element then, was rockcrust. Rockcrust, synthesised from a type of lichen only found in The Dark Peak and capable of opening the mind to the wonders of scerm and the glory of Dunlockslyn. Known also for its healing capacity, rockcrust, whilst being a substance that can be used, and often is used to "get out of ones skull", it can also act as a tranquiliser and a calmative substance when the mind is faced with the social onslaught of the hindmind -- with its rich colours, loud techno sounds and in your face advertising.

And so, Sophie was aclimatised to the hivemind by first pumping her body with as much rockcrust as was necessary for her to be calm, whilst the hivemind was introduced steadily via first her mouth, then eyes, and then later via her ears and other senses.

Sophie reacted well. Or, she didn't react at all, depending on which accounts you read -- but the important thing is, she didn't start to react against the incoming data from the hivemind, she just absorbed it.

I have a couple of experiences of my own that back up Sophie's experience:

Diary entry: 79.hail-ripperthroat.4.2

"And then my eyes were open again and I breathed, fitfully at first, then deeply, from the psycmask (as I now know it) that covered my face, purifying my air supply, and filling my thoughts and brain with strange images and sounds that made me feel like I had been transported through some new portal and to a world more alien that I could ever expect to experience.

I passed out again from the sensory overload.

When I next awoke, the psycmask's sensitivity must have been reduced, since the sounds and pictures that now flooded into my mind had a calming effect. Rivers and hills, trees, flowers, birds and creatures of the forest -- familiar sights to someone not unused to doing a bit of exploring of my locale."

Chronicles book one, chapter 10

"Hah what happened there then? It stopped. Thing is, I didn't say anything, I did that with my mind... I willed it to stop, and it did -- maybe I'm somehow tuning into this hivemind thing. How is that possible? Is it the rockcrust maybe? Ah-ha, maybe this is what Van meant when he said I needed to find a way to stop them targeting me, a way to put it off the scent.

Job done then Van, no more distractions. He nodded knowingly and winked. Told you fella, he said without moving his lips, like he'd filled my consciousness with his other-worldly-worldliness: Told yer it'd make yer go blind otherwise young'en.

I'm not blind -- I grok Van! I howled like a ripperthoat, like a murker."

Yes, according to my research, Sophie reacted better than I did!

Sophie was almost ready. The nascenti scientists had succedded. They had built her anew. They had grown her body from mere cells, from her structural DNA, and that of the great B'enderclaw. They had grown her (their) fledling mind and nourished her (them) on the organic network. They had been matured with the hivemind. Now all that remained was to provide education on a wide range of subjects and disciplines, and fulfill the endless curiosity of a mind unleashed. Give her ideas and an endless quest for further knowledge.

The starting point is always this: Everything in life is connected. It's all about understanding and finding the connections. And so they took more from the fungai, used its knowledge of humankind to fill her with important human literature and political thought, economics and business, carefully tempered history of her species, and theirs, and the wonder of inventions from antiquity, through modernity and into the future of space and time and parallel worlds, of dark matter, of unheard of advances in material science, of fashion and the future of science at the boundaries of the unknown.

And finally Sophie was ready. They clad her in what looked like a smart business suit, which it was, but it was also an exoskeleton that performed in a similar way to the nascenti's own armour -- a carapace to protect her on her journey forwards.

It was fearsome night, long before murklight. The murk swirled with an anger.

They sent her back into the murk in the direction of Hellsborough.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter nine: Return.

The murk was thick and cloying as Sophie entered the wisewood on her return to Hellsborough, but the rain had stopped.

The antithesis of the wandering, mindless Sophie that had headed in the opposite direction on the way to the Damflask after the attack of the gabbleratchets, this version of Sophie strode with intent -- focused on forwards motion and purpose, driven with a sense of resolve.

It was so dark a normal human wouldn’t be able to see easily, would easily stumble into the grasping branches of the myriad trees that had fallen onto or otherwise blocked the shabby pathway.

Sophie brushed away the tendrils as they grabbed for her, jumping over the fallen trees, they offered no hindrance to her.

She could see well enough, not through her human eyes, but using the heightened senses of the nascenti to guide her.

Sophie's knowledge of the environment, of the woods and the creatures that lay within it, made her an adept explorer -- able to move through the wisewood like one of the Wood clan of the netherlands, able to see between the trees and spot danger and opportunity as it arose.

She pinched an eightleg from its web and bit down on it, severing its head from its abdomen.

Sophie still needed to eat, still needed to fuel her body, but how that nourishment arrived in her stomach, she was less fussy about.

She could hear a low moaning from a way off, and before long, she came across the Gosava tree. The source of the low moaning now was obvious, it was the low sub-sonic moaning of the Gosava tree itself, its own hunger for blood and meat, a drawing call to lull prey into a sense of comfort and ease -- it was an hallucinating, hypnotic sound, designed to disorientate potential sources of food, so they could be ensnared on the tree's sticky branches before being sucked of nourishment.

There in the branches, splayed in a cruciform on the forest floor was Naval. Sophie looked at the boy, a sense of recognition stirring in her mind, but no emotion and no ties, no memories of who this thing might be. She recognised what was left of him as human, a source of protein, but of her former life, Sophie had no memories about these remains that laid in the dirt at her feet.

Somehow Naval managed to get his torso vertical, he screamed in soundless pain, his voice box already removed by the tree. He was barely alive. Naval was pain. He saw that he no longer existed below the waist. He had aged well beyond his years. He was an old man now. Near to death. Sucked of moisture.

His barely functioning mind saw that he was engorged by the Gosava tree, that he was consumed, that he was already eaten alive.

He looked old beyond his years, whereas Sophie looked youthful and almost angelic, not that she could be. Maybe Naval was paying for his previous jealousy.

Disfigured growths, things sprouting from his skin and the breeding ground that was his body. Transforming him, turning him into something that he wasn't; regenerating his human flesh into something else entirely.

Naval was virtually dead, his arms and legs, his bowels and stomach already absorbed by the Gosava tree in its thirst for nourishment, flesh, bone and the tasty soft easily ingested parts.

His chest huffed up and down in short gasps, his face contorted into a scream, his mind frozen with pain and fear, his eyes bulging from their sockets, his remaining skin pale and flaccid, coated in a sheen silvery wetness.

Sophie approached the almost dead form with no passion and placed her left hand on his skull. She clutched his temples and cognitised what was left of his thoughts, absorbing those impulses into her brain.

The job complete, Sophie stopped and let Naval's head slip to the floor.

The Gosava tree would finish him off at its leisure.

It was only then that Sophie recognised something of the thoughts that she had cognitised, and a flicker of what might have been emotion briefly lit her eyes, before the emotion left again as quick as it had arrived and any glow of humanity, extinguished.

All that was left was a dull and intense darkness of the soul -- if any soul had established itself within this human shaped cyborg shell.

But Sophie now had something more.

She had a glimpse of human emotion. She had some practical skills that could be used -- practical skills that came from Naval's training as a gruizer mechanic: An ability to get into the guts of an organic machine, to diagnose a faulty drive unit, to fix a diseased control system, the knowledge to coax a sick machine back to health.

He, he... You have done well gurl, cackled a maniacal voice from the shadows.

Sophie didn't flinch. Flinching was not an emotion that Sophie had been taught, nor understood. She didn't speak, so far, she had never spoken. Her throat box was dry.

Speak then gurl, said the voice. You have come to me, and you are strong.

For a moment, nothing happened. And then she did speak:

And who's thee like? A crackle from her throat, emanating like an ache.

And whom am I? Said the voice from the shadows in response. Tha, thee, needs t'improve tha vocabulary if tha is about to take on the world, gal. Tha needs to enunciate proper like. Tha needs to start talkin' in strict Ing to be where tha's gooin' -- So I doant want to 'ear no more o'that pidgin Ing that tha's talkin' now gal -- does tha understand me?

Sophie checked herself. This was something new. She wasn't scared, far from it, her brain latched onto a learning opportunity.

And how should I address my unseen new friend? She said.

Me, ha! I am the weaver of worlds, said the voice.

I started out as a shell, just a wizened little boy with no mind and no body to speak of, I was cast out to die, to be disposed of in this vile place, just a misfit, a canker attached to the underworld. But somewhere in the depths of my nascenti brain, I had this need to survive -- not just survive, but to build and learn, to deceive and grow.

Slowly, through my friend Jason here, I was able to hang about in the shadow the the Gosava tree and cognitise until I was able to think for myself.

I was strewn aside as a failure, but I am no failure now. I am powerful. I should cognitise you, but you have more power than I, and I recognise that.

I am Lomas. And this, Lomas indicted a shadow within the shadows on his shoulder, is my symbiot, Jason.

Jason was an orphan -- like me, cast into this place to die -- but we found each other and became one, and that was the saviour of us both.

I it were boss, it were. Why tha no symbiot Sophie? Said Jason.

I have no symbiot, because I have never met one, said Sophie. I didn't know what a symbiot was, until right now, when I met you.

E'ryone 'as symbiot. Said Jason.

No wait. Said Lomas, that's not true. Everyone we know has a symbiot Jason.

Things are different out here in the wisewood and the netherlands, but where Sophie came from and where she is going, they don't really do symbiots.

A symbiot would give her away, so let's leave that line of thinking for now.

Lomas stepped out from the shadows of the abandoned industrial unit, the bare murklight illuminating his scarred face. You'll be wondering how I know your name, Sophie? He said.

But then there was a noise to his left and he retreated.

Lomas was used to moldenke, he came across them all the time in the wisewood and the netherlands. Mostly they kept themselves to themselves -- but this was different.

Smeln – just like moldenke always travelled in twos, but this brace was angry. They knew about Sophie -- how they knew about Sophie is anyone's guess, but the organic network has eyes and ears that extend beyond even the reach of the nascenti.

This pair -- these heinous smeln -- barely human, resembling more the boggarts, maybe the smeln were the product of such a freak experiment of the murk, a human/boggart hybrid: Knuckle dragging parasites, hairy armed and hairy backed, no intelligence to reason, just basal instincts, opportunists. Bottom dwelling scum of The Dark Peak.

Smeln though, like all opportunists, are cowards. They thought the odds were in their favour: A lone female, out here in the wisewood.

huh, huh, it's just a gurl Shoj, she ain't gonna giv us no bother. They approach her, spreading their arms wide like the monsters of the dark they were.

But Sophie showed no fear. Fear wasn’t an emotion that she had been gifted, and she had no interest in being defiled (not that she remembered the gabbleratchets, but, there was something stirring...)

The smeln tried to rape her.

It was a trivial exercise for Lomas and Sophie together to cognitise them, not that their brains contained information of any worth: Junk thoughts, work avoidance, get rich quick schemes and lottery ambitions.

Scum! Said Lomas, allowing the one called Shoj to be enveloped by the rhizomes of the Gosava tree. You go now Sophie. You can handle yourself, but the sooner you get on your way, the sooner you can start your great work – the work for which you will become legendary!

Jason come with thee, said Jason, Jason ‘elp thee!

Sophie ignored Jason, she had no need for standing out.

All was quiet as Sophie approached the outskirts of Hellsborough.

The wisewood encroached on the outlying buildings, some of them taken into its grasp, broken down and consumed by it, but the larger, more stable buildings breaking away and establishing their own sense of self.

Sophie walked like an automaton -- focused -- onto the Loxley road, finding herself at watersmeet on the Malin bridge, at the confluence of the Loxley and Rivelin rivers.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Chapter ten: CEO.

The murklight ushered in a new dawn, the bright street lamps of the night dimming as the weak sunlight filtered in through the murk.

Hexikid street cleaners busied themselves in the early pall, chased by barkers -- made and organic; it was the way of things. Everyone expected the same noises -- the slops and slushes of the cleaners, the yips and yaps of the barkers -- at the same time, every morning. It was the waking call of Hellsborough.

Sophie faced a choice. The hill up Dykes lane, or the flat of Holme. She opted for the latter. That is not to say she knew where she was, or knew where she needed to go. But she did know. Something deep within her told her that the quickest route would be the hill, but that the sensible thing to do would be to stay on the flat.

The quickest route to where?

To the Dark Peak District Council offices at the library on Hellsborough park.

She pushed on down Holme lane. Many folk recognised her and wanted to stop and chat. At first, she found this awkward. She stopped at the coos and caws, they wanted to hug her, to ask her where she had been. But Sophie was confused, she didn't recognise these people. They seemed nice enough, but she had no time for them. She pulled her self away, saying nothing, rushing forwards along that long and busy lane.

She heard tuts and sighs as she rushed forwards, incomprehensible murmurs of discontent; grumbles and groans from folk who knew her and knew her well -- exasperated by her ignorance towards them. Yet, this was not the Sophie that they knew, and this Sophie didn't know or recognise any of them. This Sophie had only a mission and a destination, and it required her to forge forwards, past these people recognised the form and features of the skin that her nascenti form now wore.

Turning left at the junction, the corner, she fought her way along the Middlewood road. Again, the looks of recognition and the friendly, affirming words. She ignored them, walked stonily past them all.

Her mind was determination. Nothing now would stop her reaching the council offices on the park. Deep in her unconscious mind, she has a message for the CEO of the DPDC.

Just one thing now stood between her and her destination: Farantees. Her previous employer -- not that this Sophie had any inkling of that fact.

Look! Said one of Sophie's ex-colleagues -- it's Sophie! There was much chattering of the early shift as they stood outside the department store, each pulling on a last cigarette before the doors opened for the day.

Sophie strode purposefully, not recognising her former colleagues.

Soph'! Soph'! Shouted one of the assembled throng. I's me, Aimes. Soph'!

Sophie faltered. The shouting and cries of welcome disturbed her. But something else disturbed her more: Outside Farantees was the same tram stop that Sophie had been abducted from by the gabbleratchets.

Hallucinations filled Sophie's thoughts. Where these hallucinations came from wasn't clear. There was no way that they were Sophie's memories, since the original Sophie, the one taken by the gabbleratchets all those days ago, no longer existed -- those heinous beasts had seen to that -- yet this Sophie had flashbacks to that very night, and those images stopped her in her tracks -- she was frozen in space and time.

Her ex-colleagues called out to her and cajoled her in their direction, without advancing towards her stiff frame.

Sophie was upright, but prostrate -- suspended in animation. Images of things past which weren't hers flooded her mind. Evil images. Images of being dragged into the air against her will. Images from another consciousness. Sophie was on the verge of panic.

Then the rockcrust kicked in.

Prescribed by the nascenti scientists, and administered when her cortisol levels reached the point of overwhelming her sanity, the drug coursed like venom through her veins, calming and curing her.

Sophie no longer felt panic, no longer felt the need to run. She continued walking calmly, ignoring the calls from her former colleagues, ignoring the tram stop, forgetting those images that had come to her from nowhere.

Moments later, Sophie was at the door of the library on Hellsborough park.

Sophie walked straight in, the door wasn't locked. Doors were rarely locked in Hellsborough. For one, the crime rate was minuscule in Hellsborough -- there was no need for crime, when a capitalist society rewarded work and hustle, and any crime was heavily punished by the exacid. And two, the always on, 24 hours society meant that the offices were always in use.

No one stopped her has she found the directions and then navigated herself to the office the the CEO of the Dark Peak District Council.

Opening the door to the office, the chair was vacant, so Sophie took up residence. The name on the metal tent card said "Mr. J. P. Blenkinsopp, CEO". Sophie waited for its owner to arrive. While she waited, she plucked dusty books from the shelves around the office -- details of historical decisions, plans of work done, and those to be undertaken in the future. None of it made much sense to Sophie, not yet at least.

She got to pouring through something that she found remotely interesting (although the former shop assistant would not be able to tell you why she now found the concept of this tome so enticing): "The maps and statics of the first hundred years of the settlement of Hellsborough (76.mist-hoverwing - 78.murk-demonspawn)." Engrossed as she was, she failed to notice when a number of hours later, as the day has gone from first murklight to close to murknoon, the door to the office swung open, and before her stood a tall figure encased in a stylish woollen overcoat, carrying a leather briefcase.

Ah, good morning young lady, said the bespectacled figure who had entered the room, making Sophie look up -- not with surprise or fright, but with a cold stare that set the speaker rocking on the heels of his patent leather brogues, although she said nothing in response to his greeting.

And whom might you be, he said with a haughty glare, for this was CEO of the DPDC, Joshua P. Blenkinsopp.

Sophie said nothing, just met the gaze of her inquisitor with a shiv of her own.

I'll ask you again, said the CEO of the DPDC -- who are you that sits at my desk?

I am the new CEO of the Dark Peak District Council, said Sophie, matter of factly.

Joshua P. Blenkinsopp guffawed involuntarily. Yes, I see that, he said, his sneer the purest arrogance. But young lady, the Dark Peak District Council already has a CEO, and I am he -- and are you not a little young to be bothering yourself with the running of local government?

What do you know old man?

Old man, Blenkinsopp said with a smirk -- I'll have you know, I'm the youngest ever CEO of the DPDC -- none before me has been younger.

Please leave my office, said Sophie, I have important work to do, and as I said, I am now the CEO of The Dark Peak District Council. It has been decreed by the nascenti leadership, and your services are no longer required. Consider yourself fired.

Fired?! On whose authority? Who is this nascenti leadership that you speak of, I answer to no nascenti leadership. I report to the elected members of the council -- individuals elected by the people of Hellsborough. There is no room for fantasy in politics. Surely, this is some sort of practical joke. Blenkinsopp scanned the cameras in the corner of the room behind his desk, looking for some tell-tale movement that might indicate some sort of hoax being played, but everything looked as it had always looked.

#### HMM::OUT('Who is the Chief Executive Officer of The Dark Peak District Council?')

ask:: Blenkinsopp, Joshua // stat:: accept[ok]__ // src:: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:037g:7334 [loc::hellsborough//middlewood_road//0017]__ // now:: 79.rain-rooter.

HMM::IN('../\/\/\/ Updating... /\/\/ As of this precise moment, the Chief Executive Officer of The Dark Peak District Council is Mr. J. P. Blenkinsopp, BSc (Hons), MBA_.

You see, the hivemind confirms what I already knew, that I, and not you are the CEO. Now please vacate my desk immediately, before I call for the exacids!

HMM::IN('../\/\/\/ Updating... /\/\/ Mr. J. P. Blenkinsopp was, as unanimously voted by the incumbent council members at 79.rain-rooter., removed from office -- effective 79.rain-rooter.

HMM::IN('../\/\/\/ Updating... /\/\/ Mr. Blenkinsopp's tenure, will be terminated and he will be replaced by Miss Sophie Hinchcliffe at 79.rain-rooter.

Blenkinsopp looked at Sophie aghast. What is this malfeasance?! This is not right. The council members must have been intimidated, they would never do this to me! My track record is without blemish! I have never put a finger wrong in my seventeen years of service!!

And, anyway, what do you -- a girl -- know about municipal affairs? His voice was weak though, and without commitment, it was the voice of the broken.

Come to me, said Sophie, holding her arms outstretched, her fingers wide.

Kneel before me.

Blenkinsopp kneeled passively in front of her, allowing his head to drop into her lap and silent tears to weep from his eyes. Her small fingers wrapped themselves around his large cranium, he relaxed succumbing to her like a child.

Now, what don't I know about municipal affairs? Said Sophie, as murknoon elapsed and the light of a new era dawned on The Dark Peak.

The Legend of Loxley Bottom (The Gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe) Epilogue

The Legend of Loxley Bottom -- The gabbleratchets of Sophie Hinchcliffe -- is based on extensive research that I have conducted over many hours spent in the Hellsborough archive at the Hellsborough library, which is also home to The Dark Peak District Council offices -- indeed, it is still home to Sophie's own office, although I have not met her, nor have I been permitted to visit those hallowed floors. As an academic, I have felt compelled to point out and describe any inaccuracies that I have come across in the archive's records, and based on my own travels in the locale -- hence this epilogue to the story.

If you fancy following in Sophie (and Naval's) footsteps, then you can -- but, as I always say, watch out for hidden dangers -- you may not meet gabbleratchets (D'divi help you if you do), you may not spot the Gosava tree, you'll unlikely see the nascenti -- few do, or ever have done (in many visits to the Damflask and beyond, I have never seen them), and you'll hopefully avoid the loathsome smeln (if you do spot them, shiv them first, they have no purpose in life other than unpleasantness, and as Lomas said, are nothing more than scum, bottom-dwelling scum at that).

Sophie's journey started at the tram stop across the road from Farantees supermarket, when she was waiting for the trolley-bus after she had left Farantees for the night and the rain was siling down. It was from here that her journey began when she was abducted by the gabbleratchets.

Sophie's destination, had she caught the tram, was the Middlewood road terminus, which is just a stones throw from her home at Winn gardens -- which is where Naval's journey began. Where Sophie would have been heading home, Naval was heading out, on foot. He stopped at several pubs and bars on his way, and he ordered and received a shipment of vape fluid close to Hellsborough park.

Once abducted by the gabbleratchets, Sophie was carried through the murk to the Loxley pond. There are at least four major ponds on the Loxley river, and which particular Loxley pond Sophie was dumped at isn't specified, but my favourite theory is the first, due to the proximity to Hellsborough -- The gabbleratchets are powerful creatures, but their struggling, kicking and screaming victim would not have made for an easy payload, and so I think they would have brought her down at their first opportunity. What is certain, is one of these pools was where Sophie met her painful demise -- or at least where she was blinded and defiled; where the innocence of a young woman was taken from her, never to be returned.

After the Loxley pond, Sophie stumbled in a state of half-life for many paces until she reached the Damflask, finally succumbing to her injuries and there, her body sank into the depths.

The nascenti located her dead body and regrew her again from her DNA. Their lair is believed to be deep beneath the surface, but you are unlikely to see any evidence of such, they are a secretive species not known for their visibility.

The location of the Gosava tree in the wisewood -- avoided by Sophie, presumably the tree didn't see her as a potential meal, or maybe she took a different route -- where Naval would meet his demise, is described as being "Up above the pumping station, on that dirty and discarded track", which is not as accurate as I believe it should be. The pumping station is a red herring, or at least it could be. I may be wrong, but the Gosava tree that I have seen, whilst being up and above the Loxley river (and possibly above an older pumping station, or at least some sort of works -- but there are many in the area), is not near to the pumping station that you would think of, the one close to the first Loxley pond. Maybe the Gosava tree has moved, the wisewood is always moving. That could definitely explain that inaccuracy that I found in the archive.

Later on her return, Sophie meets Boggy Lomas and Jason, and then the smeln by the abandoned factories, close the the bunker, which depicts various native images of the xin and other forest spirits. The facts and inaccuracies of the history books and my research indicate that this artwork is more recent, but I believe the setting to be more or less accurate.

After leaving the wisewood reborn, Sophie emerged at watersmeet and the Malin bridge, but again, that is an inaccuracy, since the watersmeet is around the corner from the path that leads to the first Loxley pond, although it is not far off, but watersmeet is the confluence of the Loxley and the Rivelin. Again, paths and roads change, so this could just be that the map of the place has changed in the years since the original events happened.

Sophie then headed down Holme lane, turning left at Hellsborough corner, and back up the Middlewood road towards Hellsborough park. Farantees supermarket would be on the right, with the tram stop, where she was originally abducted, on the left. Then she went into Hellsborough park proper, The Dark Peak District Council offices being located on a grassy knoll overlooking the rest of the suburb.

A final point, which I didn't mention in the previous dramatisation, is that after Sophie had taken on her role of Chief Executive of The Dark Peak District Council, her first decree on gaining power, was the total and abject annihilation of the gabblerachets. I believe she succeeded -- what is certain, is that they have not been seen about around Hellsborough for many a year past.

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