The white pikmin led us to a tree stump with a small hole at the base. It reminded me far too much of the crevice we had to stay in the first night.
"Is everything alright?" she asked. "You look upset."
"I am, a little. We had to sleep in a similar place once. It was very uncomfortable."
"You're in for a pleasant surprise, then," she reassured me.
I was. The narrow entrance gave way to a wider, roomier cell, and the floor was matted with soft moss.
There were other pikmin present, of course. They all had flowers and looked at us eagerly.
"Who are they?" asked a blue pikmin.
"I found these two alone in the forest. They were left behind by their Onion days ago. Luckily, they survived long enough for me to stumble upon them."
"Well done, well done. You two are welcome to join us in our cozy little nest here."
"Please, don't mind if I do. We almost had to sleep in a hollow tonight," I said.
"Yeah, this looks like a nice place to settle down. I guess you were all left behind by your Onions too?"
His question was followed by an uncomfortable silence. Brief, but still uncomfortable. Something about his question had thrown them off.
"...Not exactly. But before we talk any further, let's all introduce ourselves. I'm the leader of this group and I go by 'he'," said the blue pikmin.
"I'm second in command and I go by 'he'," said the yellow pikmin. He was unique in that part of his ear was missing.
"I go by 'she'," said a second yellow pikmin.
"You already know about me," said the white pikmin.
"We both go by 'he'," I said.
The concept of gender was embedded in our instinct, because according to the oldest group of pikmin in the Red Onion, the earlier generations reproduced individually. The flowered males would provide what was known as "pollen", and the flowered females would use it to bear seeds. However, this practice ended for reasons that are no longer known. Our self-awareness of our own genders remained, though.
Introductions out of the way, the blue pikmin returned to the previous topic.
"To answer your question, we weren't left behind by our Onions. We left by choice."
My friend produced an expression that reeked of both disbelief and wonderment. I was taken aback by the blue's words, too, but not as much as he was. He tried to say something before the blue continued.
"We've all known each other since before we became strays. Our friendship was possible because all the Onions were traveling together."
I perked up.
"Together? But that only ever happens when..."
"When there are leaders," the blue finished.
I had never actually seen a leader; only heard about them. The most recent leader had left before I was born. Same for my friend.
"There were three leaders. Two of the leaders directed us to collect random objects and do battle with our enemies. Normal leader behavior. But the third, an orange one, treated us differently. It would refuse to give us commands, and instead pushed us to do something... different. We couldn't comprehend it at first, but then we figured out what it wanted. It wanted us to direct ourselves."
My friend and I looked at each other. At this point, the sun had disappeared. The only light in the nest was from the glow of our stems.
"It gave us a vine once and coaxed us to do something with it, but without providing any guidance. After a lot of confusion, we used it to make a game. Each end of the vine would be held by a pikmin, and a third would stand in the middle. While the first two would swing the vine around and around, the third would jump over it. Over time, we got more and more creative with our activities, and the leader was greatly pleased. Thanks to it, we discovered our true potential. After the leaders left, those of us who had followed the orange leader made a pact to leave the Onions and live out here in the forest. There were more of us at the start, but unfortunately, not everyone was able to survive. Some were eaten, others became victims of the elements."
He looked at the others.
"This yellow had part of his ear taken by a Wood Eater, and this white has been the most unfortunate of us."
"Oh, I get it. The white has no Onion, so she was left homeless after the leaders left. I'll bet she's the reason you left your Onions. You didn't want to abandon her," he said.
"Actually, that's not the reason. If we really wanted to, we could've just thrown her into a Changing Flower. That's what purples and whites generally fall back on when they become 'homeless'."
"Then why'd you leave your Onions?"
The blue looked at the male yellow, who nodded at him.
"We left our Onions..." started the blue,
"...Because the life of an Onion-dweller has no meaning."
"What? No, it's the opposite!" my friend protested.
"That's what the other pikmin said when we tried to convince them to leave with us. But it isn't true."
"What leads you to believe this?" I asked him.
"Very well, then. Let me tell you everything that happened after the orange leader left."
My friend and I looked at each other. The uneasiness on his face mirrored my own.