The data of the expedition, stated in the logbook, marked the position of the fortress, too. Starting with just an estimation of the area where the target should have been, the Imperials managed to find it a few days after they had landed. It was easy to the pirates to follow those directions and get to the fortress.
It was built under a small cliff raising along the border of the island, not too distant from the place where the abandoned cruiser was. The front gate was covered by herbs and plants, but the knowledge left by the imperial research team allowed the pirates to walk with confidence among the fronds. A thick stone architrave rose above two steel sliding shutters. One of them came out crooked by the left side, the other had been uprooted and thrown away a few feet forward.
In front of them stretched a dark hallway, so large it could have been crossed by all five of them at the same time and high two times a man. The Captain made the first steps in the inside, with prudent caution, followed by Maghbel. The roots at her feet snapped in the moment they touched the fortress floor. The sound boomed across the entire tunnel, similar to a stick fallen on the ground.
Mayweather sprang up and drawn his saber, waiting for something to jump out from the darkness. Vince pointed his gun towards the hallway, while the echo still spread in the dark. Silence followed, charged with tension.
Every group member throw out a sigh of relief since no reaction came from the inside of the fortress. The Captain turned to Maghbel with an irritated grimace.
The creature shrugged. «I’ll be as silent as possible»
«Maybe you should just go away» said Mayweather.
She frowned and shook her head vigorously. «No way! You’re here thanks to me, so I come, too. Try to stop me»
The Captain sighed. She seemed harmless, but Maghbel was a creature of the Islands nonetheless and try to challenge her could be a reckless act, even for him. And she could be of more help there. He turned to Damian and Kieran. «Make some light»
The two gunners had lamps hanging at their belts. They tinkered with them for some seconds until a small area around them lit up. The lamplight fought against the dark ruling the fortress, but it wasn’t strong enough to allow a sight of the entire corridor. The end wasn’t visible yet.
They explored the first floor without any problem. In both sides there were numerous doors placed at regular intervals, which brought in the living areas of the fortress: the chambers were full of beds, chairs and furniture of different kinds. A pair of them were united in an unique hall which the pirates identified as the canteen. Two long marble tables crossed it, and at the end there were the remnants of a kitchen. The hallway ended in two flight of stairs that went down to the lower level.
The sound of Maghbel’s feet, who walked just behind the pirates, kept on echoeing lowly around the building despite she attempted everything to be silent. When she got to the second floor, something reacted to itand started to slither in the dark. This new hallway had the same length of the one before and there, too, the lamplight couldn’t reach the end, preventing them to see what was hidden there. In the darkness, though, they managed to distinguish a huge mass moving towards their direction.
«Stop» murmured the Captain.
The being covered by the dark repeatedly sniffed the air , crawling forward a bit at a time. Two big yellow eyes glittered, while it hissed. Two reptile eyes.
The pirates jumped the moment the monster revealed itself. So big to fill the entire space in front of them, a gigantic alligator moved vibrissae as long as an arm, which come out from the point of its muzzle. The scale were covered by sparse hair relatively thin. At the tip of its forelegs, pale claws, as those of a rodent, scratched the hallway tiles. Legs that could crush them, if slammed against them.
The monster focused its gaze on the group and roared a deep and deafening cry. The men put their hands on their ears, terror-stricken while the giant in front of them was bristling. Maghbel stepped back, making herself as small as she could.
The Captain ran towards the stairs, preceded by his comrades. He took Maghbel in his arms and jumped over the stairs railing, landing with so much heaviness his legs were about to buckle. Puffing, he used all the strenght he had in his body to stand up again and run towards the others. They had already dashed to the nearest door and now were making sign to hurry up.
The alligator was trying to rush down to them while Mayweather followed his men inside an armory. Various sabers and weapons similar to muskets filled cabinets and shelves ordered in many lines, near cases containing ammunition and other military instruments.
Maghbel giggled softly while the Captain put her back in the ground. «For a moment I feared the worst. I’m not so fast»
«The worst isn’t over yet» he answered. «Everyone, hide behind the shelves and stay still»
Everyone crouched where it most suited them and focused on the sounds made by the monster.
«And let’s hope it’s enough» said Mayweather through clenched teeth.
A thudding and the crashing of a collapse announced that, sweeping away every obstacle, the monster had made his way to them. The rubbing of hair and scales on the walls and the floor was every time nearer to them, until it went further the room. The alligator was checking the entire floor.
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