By no means did Peter feel that the time was dragging. No, nothing like that – the time was whipping him more like, for his attention could only dwell on its passing for a short period before it was distracted by some sound or sight. Over the course of another hour or more his awareness of the library's contents had grown more and more acute. The great canyon or cavern, he had come to realize, was populated. The Librarian was there and was, probably, a living thing. The same could have been said of the domed molester.
A few of the visible artifacts seemed to have been once-living creatures, preserved specimens perhaps. Peter wondered if there were organic components to some of the devices he saw, or if perhaps what appeared to be a biological specimen could possibly be another tool for storing data. What was the human brain if not that? It was not inconceivable (not at this point, in this place) that what seemed to Peter to be a worm in a jar might have been someone's phonograph.
He had not yet seen anything quite like a living specimen, however – the closest he had come to that had been twenty minutes before, when he and the Librarian had passed by a lower level shelf apartment which had apparently been filled with a giant aquarium. All that remained was jagged sections of glass, as tall as Peter, jutting up from a metal and plastic frame that had been set into the compartment itself. Inside, there looked like there was still about a foot of greenish water standing. In their path, away from the shelf (which Peter had little interest in exploring further), lay a brown, segmented, flatworm-like creature. After a moment of thought, Peter identified it to his satisfaction as some kind of finless, armoured fish. He did not have much time to inspect the throwback – he had heard of the body impressions of such creatures found in the cliffs of Dover – before it disappeared under the Librarian's cloak. There was a brief sucking sound, an expansion and deflation as before, and nothing left of the fish but a trail of pungent smelling moisture in the Librarian's wake. What the aquarium had demonstrated was that there were both living things held captive here, and that there were, perhaps, forces or beings here with the will, possibly the need, to devour them.
There were other creatures, Peter knew, though he had not seen them. There had been the squeaking noises which he had first detected at his entrance to the gallery, and which periodically resurfaced in sudden waves of chatter that quickly faded into a few stray squeaks and then silence. There had been other noises, too, from somewhere in the orange glow above, long, solitary whistles. He had thought he had heard the flapping of wings as well.
But, yes, the question could be asked – and what else would Peter do as he followed his loathsome guide at distance – were these things living? Surely they moved, uttered foul noises, and at least one of them ate or performed some function analogous to it, but were they alive as animals and plants?
The spaces between shelves were on the scale of highway intersections. Burdened by the certainty that he and his guide were not alone in this arcade of relics, Peter found passing through these intersections a dreadful experience: he felt terribly exposed.
The Librarian had come to a stop, right in the middle of some hundredth intersection like this. It abruptly leaned leftward, into the space between two of the edifices. There was a smacking sound from somewhere underneath the cloak and, as if following a scent, it set off in that direction with no hesitation.
Encouraged by the prospect of coming to the end of his journey, Peter followed.
The Librarian was moving more quickly than usual, and Peter began to jog to keep up. "Is it this way?" he called ahead, halfway to the canyon wall. His shout was thrown back at him, "This way!"
The ground rumbled. Peter felt and heard a long-wave humming. Ahead of him the Librarian seemed shorter for a moment – no, it was descending – there was an opening in the floor, a square, man-sized portal, cut right from the floor with no embellishments. His guide disappeared down the shaft.
(Peter failed a sanity check for the progressive strain of being in the arcade: -1 sanity.)