The former army general Ren Krawler was officially back in shape – his civilian shape. He had removed the damaged army outfit with pliers, washed himself, fixed himself up with patches and stitches in places where loose splinters had found their way through, and put his old comfortable black coat on. He had had it redone; he had grown a bit taller after all. He had also made his coat tails longer for serious looks and the gorgeous golden fur where all Gundalian girls dreamt to bury their faces into was replaced by a rather modest purple-and-silver fleece. For better ensemble, he had opted for black trousers and boots. Ren kind of wanted to underline that his dreams about light were over and the result satisfied him very well. He took the last look into the bathroom mirror: a fine young Gundalian nobleman with a patch on his cheek. If necessary, he might visit the Ambassador like this! Or maybe, better with a scar instead of a patch? Ren decided to leave this important choice for later. He still had two lifeless Bakugan balls in his pocket, a lingering why question, and a bunch of other problems – start with a Neathian, who was waiting for Ren in the remains of his destroyed lobby to give him a sermon.
Linus wasn't in a mood to preach, actually. He seemed quite happy. Dusty yet satisfied, he greeted his friend lifting a bag of trophy Bakugans victoriously: "You look great, Ren! Here, I have something for you, namely five Subterras, two Aquos, two Haos, and two Ventus. The smugglers have left with nothing and this is officially the greatest number of trophy Bakugans I have even seen!"
"You should have been there after the defeat of Mag Mel when Chaos Bakugans went down like a rain of marbles." Ren thoughtlessly said and instantly bit his tongue.
"That's all right." Linus gave him a wink. "Keep talking! If you're right about the evil plan, Rubanoid can't hear us."
"How about rescued Bakugans? Can you wake them up?" Ren checked the bag before adding his Ventus Bakugan to the others.
"Unfortunately, I can't! They'll need a proper health check. What about you? Have you decided anything regarding your meds?"
"Yes, I have. I'll quit." Ren threw the pillbox in the dust next to the injection pistol. This could be quite a still life painting!
"Are you sure?" Linus looked at him with obvious concern in his eyes. "You can't quit just so if you are using stuff like this. There will be consequences."
"Sure I can." Ren stared back. "I have been through many things. How bad can it be after all?"
"You should consult a pro. What if you come with me to the Embassy and see Serena's physician?"
"Maybe later." Ren couldn't wait to use everything he would be able to remember. "Nurzak has plans about me. He wants me to start a new laboratory as soon as Serena approves it. It would be good to check the old Kazarina's lab before I do. If this is an evil plan, Barodius might have left some evidence there."
"Well, you can ask Serena's permission right there in the Embassy." Linus gave him another wink.
Ren couldn't deny he'd save even more time this way.
"All right, let's go." He nodded. "I don't think that Bakugans can carry us but there is an inbuilt portal to get Gill directly to the Castle and the Embassy is right across the street."
The Neathian followed Ren over the ruins of furniture to a closet that didn't remind a transportation device at all: "Are you sure it works?"
"I'm not. I never used this particular machine before but tonight I don't fancy walking." Obviously Ren looked rather pale when Linus threw a glance at him because the Neathian said nothing, just stepped into the transporter.
For several seconds, Ren felt like it will never work but then it suddenly did making Ren transportation sick. Or, was it because of the darkness and close air of their destination? Ren had experienced lots of this and these were no pleasant memories.
"I don't like it!" Linus expressed similar opinion.
"Where else could Gill's transporter take us, right?" Ren lit up his BakuMeter display. Apparently, it was the only source of light they had. "These are the personal quarters of our defeated Emperor. The residence has been forsaken but I remember details like door handles."
"I'm so thankful that you just quit your Memory Antidote pills!" Linus was honest.
Ren regretted his decision equally earnest. Because of his lack of patience, they might lose an eternity before escaping this labyrinth filled with the worst nightmares Ren could recall! There was no simple way out. It had been a one-way entry, Ren could feel no draught, and he couldn't even tell if he had been to this particular spot before.
First and foremost, he shouldn't panic! Ren lifted his BakuMeter to shed around the tiny light. The room was bare; wallpaper had come off and mildew ruled everywhere but the surroundings still caused some stir inside. Too many years this had been the den of the beast that his followers entered filled with awe. It might well be the reason why this part of the Castle was in so miserable state! Despite that Barodius's stuff was moved, there persisted some kind of superstitious fear to utilize his former home. It was easier to leave it like this, locked up and forgotten. Eventually there was a choice of doors to go from where they stood but Ren had serious doubts if it was good news.
"Remember anything?" Linus was looking at him with hope.
"Not yet. Wait!" Ren stopped, staring at the ceiling. Its specific pattern felt somehow familiar in this weak changing light! He might have actually been here once, long ago, and the realization made him writhe. It was the very day when Barodius had rocked the isolation of young Ren's life like remote thunder.
"What is it, Linehalt? Is it an earthquake?" Ren was playing with his Bakugan in one of the cathedral-like caves of the Underground when they heard it.
"No, it comes from above." Linehalt took a minute to listen.
"It's the Entrance! Somebody's breaking through the door!" Ren jumped on the shoulder of the equally excited Bakugan to take a flight towards the noise. The Entrance was not the narrow path that baby Ren stepped down to enter his vast underground prison; it was a mythic monument that Ren and Linehalt discovered later, a large carved arch that enclosed a blind brick wall on top of a broad stairway that led up and up again for about a mile. After Ren had realized that Grandpa was not going to return and take Ren home, all his dreams and fantasies were about the mysterious arch. He dubbed it the Entrance. It was not a fantasy about the darkness that he would leave behind. It was about the new world to step in! He kept telling himself and Linehalt how that wall would disappear one day and they would enter a better, lighter place to stay there forever.
That day had come! He couldn't believe that his dreams were coming true! The bricks crumbled under the force applied from outside and trembling beams of light broke in.
Ren's first instinct was to rush forward and shout for help; only awe, disbelief, and strange shyness held him back. A creature of darkness, Linehalt had his doubts, too:
"We don't belong to their world. Shouldn't we hide and wait?"
Agitated, they waited in the shadow of the cliff. They watched how the Entrance arch was freed to let a strange procession inside. It was headed by a grey-and-purple haired Gundalian in regal outfits. With him there was a red-dressed lieutenant, the entourage of torch-bearing soldiers, and a giant dragon-like Darkus Bakugan. It was the first time that Ren saw Barodius, Gill, and Dharak; but it was something else that Ren was fascinated by:
"They have light, Linehalt! They have light!" Ren repeated like hypnotized as torches were lit on every step the procession took on its way down.
Finally, the visitors reached the ground and stopped.
"What now? No one's here!" Gill laughed nervously.
Barodius threw a glance at his Bakugan.
"He is around." Dharak snorted like a hound dog. "A Darkus Bakugan is here and he has a partner. They're watching us."
"I'm not sure if my Pyrus Bakugan can fight so deep underground. We might be unable to outnumber them. Shall we retreat?" The news had made Gill insecure.
"Nonsense!" The Emperor snapped and stepped forward to shout into the darkness: "Protector of the Dark Bakugan! You're forgiven. Come and serve your Emperor!"
"It's you!" Linehalt said to Ren quietly. "He talks about you. You're Protector of the Dark Bakugan! You have to decide. What will you do?"
"Protector of the Dark Bakugan! Do you hear me?" Barodius repeated again, louder.
"Oh, why only am I waiting?" Ren whispered and dashed to the man that he thought was his savior. "Yes, yes, yes! I want to serve my Emperor!"
To most of his bafflement, the monarch and his followers burst out laughing.
"What, he's a little boy!" Gill exclaimed. "Are you Protector of the Dark Bakugan? Is there no one else?"
"It's only me here." Ren responded, bewildered.
"And you – you want to be my servant?" Barodius asked, chuckling. Ren should know that he had met a wicked one. Those piercing eyes and disdainful grin brought a clear message but Ren misinterpreted that. He thought that his Emperor was strict, not evil. He was mistaking so much! So he got what served him right.
"Do you think you are worth it? I doubt very much. See this!" The Emperor raised both hands and snapped the fingers, calling a flash of thunderbolt out of thin air that fell striking on both Gundalian kid and his Bakugan.
Ren had no idea about the danger imposed by lightning. Neither had he had experience of paralyzing pain: for a short moment, Ren thought he was dying. With a corner of his eye, Ren saw Linehalt falling down and shrinking into a ball. Then, the next wave of pain followed when his own body hit the ground.
"He's weak!" Gill laughed. That was how Ren felt: weak, powerless, and clueless about what had just happened. He was unable to escape or make a move. He could only think about the worst – about what he then thought was the worst:
"No, please no, don't leave me here!" He moaned. "I will grow up. I will become strong! Please, give me a chance!"
Barodius bent over to give him a cold inspecting sight: "Tell me one word. Why should I?"
"I will serve my Emperor." Ren whispered. "I will be loyal."
"Will you?" The Emperor straightened with a strange grin. Then, he turned away and barked a short order: "Take them to the lab!"
Ren only remembered an injection before the picture in front of him blurred.
"Ren?" Linus's worried voice brought him back to the empty room. "Are you all right? You are awfully pale."
"I'm perfect." Ren got up, reeling. Had he fainted, seriously? "I know where we can go from here. Changed plans! We will inspect the old Kazarina's lab first."
About this chapter:
Reference to anime: see ch.1 for main theme; BBB S3 E10 (Story about Ren's past) Themes: Main theme; Past and previous experience of Ren theme. Statement: Cannon statement Ren worked for Barodius because he wanted to exit darkness vs F2N statement he did because he wanted to enter a better world. Characters: (featured) Ren Krawler, Linus Claude, Linehalt, Barodius, Gill, Dharak; (referred) Ren's Grandfather