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Fish Stocks Limited

decidedly chilly. Ambrosius lay still on the damp, mossy ground for a good thirty
seconds before he realised what had happened. By good fortune and the mysteries of
Providence, a Piscador's Hook had caught on his trousers a short distance above the
ground. Had he stopped instantly because of this he would have died, for such a quick
stop would have had the same effect as hitting the ground. The Hook, however, had
torn a line up his trousers, had caught on his waistband and with one final jerk pulled
the trousers clean off him. The speed of the fall had been checked and, whilst
knocking the wind out of him, his final contact with the ground was not fatal.
Recovering his breath, Ambrosius stood up shakily. The Mist was cold and damp,
and he shook with the terror of it. Shapes coalesced and meandered at the edge of his
vision, threatening spectres of things he could not describe. In his mind the tendrils of
mist formed bats, rats, wolves, spiders, terrible monsters that were beyond
classification. Above all other imaginings, however, he trembled because he knew
that in the mist, somewhere, his father was coming for him. Was that really a fork of
mist in the distance, or was it the fumes from a Stone pipe? His blood ran icy in his
veins.
For the first time in his life he had his feet on the ground, and the bone-trembling,
spine-chilling horror of it was indescribable. It was taboo to even talk about the
ground up above, but he had heard the occasional furtive comment or whispered
allusion. People said that the Mist was the ghosts of the dead, and that if you breathed
it in you turned into a flesh-eating zombie. Ambrosius didn't feel like a zombie. He
patted himself down. Only a few bruises. His father was there in the mist somewhere,
high on Stone and displeased at Ambrosius' puny parting gift. He didn't want to meet
him. How could he look him in the eye after his fishless funeral? Suddenly Ambrosius
was very eager to get away, to run away from his failure to his father, to escape this
world of fish and death. Panic did not come naturally to him, but certainly there was a
more than pressing desire in him to get back to the safety of the canopy. The Hook
Trees had rough bark, easily climbed by the strong hands, prehensile feet and tail of
the well- adapted Piscadors. He could be back up in the land of the living in ten
minutes.
Ambrosius turned to the nearest tree trunk and found a hand hold. He was just
about to start his ascent when something made him take one last glance over his
shoulder. Just what made him do this he would never know. Could such a careless
movement of one's head change one's life for ever? What did those swirling mists
hold that could channel the full force of fate into such a lowly outcast? He looked
through the coiling vapours and blinked, trying to dispel the sleek vision that had
materialised before him. But there was no mistaking the streamlined shape that
undulated through the mist.
For just one millisecond, Ambrosius made eye contact with the Infinite in its own
habitat. It is difficult to describe the effect of this. Suddenly every single atom of the
world had meaning; all was connected and living; everything was pain and rapture all
at once. The swirling of the mist was the swirling of stars, the scales of the fish
reflected a thousand different Ambrosius' back at him. But most of all Ambrosius
could see in that fish's eyes an everlasting blackness, a void of such unmentionable
depths that it seemed to suck in Ambrosius' very soul. Suddenly the blood rushed
from his head and the world swam fishlike before his eyes. Before he knew what was
happening, Ambrosius collapsed onto the ground and the Mist rolled deathly pallid
around him.
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