Edmund couldn’t help but feel discouraged.
He tried to smooth the thick rock in his stomach with the remnants of the rat’s half-eaten bread, but it didn’t help. The thick crust filtered into his bowls and sat there like congealing cement. He stopped eating when he realized he couldn’t taste the food any more. Instead, he began to aimlessly flick small crumbs of the stale bread across the large library table and onto the floor.
Perhaps he would have to ask for help? He didn’t travel much further down that line of thought–Matron might be the only one who could help him at the moment, but somehow he didn’t feel she knew anything about machines, even if she would be inclined to help him, which he doubted.
All of a sudden, the rat darted out like an arrow from a nearby shelf, ran over to one of the crumbs, stuffed it into his cheek like a squirrel, and vanished again into the stacks. The little rodent could have holes all over the hall, Edmund thought. He wondered if there was anywhere the rat couldn’t go.
Where could the missing piece have gone? The clasps looked like they were designed to attach to a piece of metal, and metal didn’t rot. At least, not for a very long time. And the rest of the inner workings of the statue looked perfectly fine. Had whatever this piece had been somehow fallen off? Probably not; there hadn’t been any metal pieces under the tube.
The rat snatched another piece of rock-like bread.
It had to have been taken off, then, hadn’t it? Maybe someone had torn off the piece before covering the statue up. But why would anyone do that? If the statue had run down, why bother removing another piece? And then why hide the statue with a tapestry? Unless the Vitae had run down after the statue had been hidden, but then why cover up the statue if it could still function? The more he thought about it, the less sense any of it made.
The rat appeared and vanished.
Slowly, Edmund stood up, staring intently at the stacks as he carefully aimed and tossed another piece of bread. After a moment, the twitching of the rat’s whiskers peeked out from under the shelves followed very slowly by the head. Then, like a lightning bolt, the rat came and went with the crumb.
Or, Edmund thought, perhaps it happened after the tapestry had gone up? Perhaps an inquisitive and hungry thing, a thing used to hard bread and crunchy insects, had sniffed around too close, squeezed through one of several small holes, and maybe thought this strange thing was food? Maybe it pulled too hard on a weak spot as a result, or nibbled on the catch. Perhaps it was building a nest, and thought whatever the piece was would make for good bedding.
Perhaps, Edmund thought, just perhaps, he should follow the rat.