At first, Ren thought it was a dream. Though even that didn’t feel right. He was tangentially familiar with some video game characters through association with Futaba, but he wasn’t enough of a gamer to be having such vivid dreams about Super Mario and vampire hunters and all of these clone swordsmen. It wasn’t until the big monkey hit Ren like a truck that he knew this wasn’t a dream. Ren figured this must be some kind of Velvet Room thing, but he actually hadn’t talked to Lavenza, so maybe he had just stumbled into a completely separate paranormal phenomenon totally disconnected from the Metaverse. Still, he had his weapons, his enhanced physical abilities, and Arsene was back, so he had a fighting chance in this multiversal conflict.
Thankfully, there was a lot of downtime too. When it wasn’t time to fight, many of these characters who had just been wailing on each other moments before stepped aside and struck up friendly conversations, had little picnics, and explored the various slices of each other’s worlds that had been recreated in this strange dimension. As the new guy, a lot of them took interest in Ren. First the fat yellow guy approached him upon learning he was a thief, but Ren found him too grotesque and greedy to hang out with. In some ways Wario kind of reminded Ren of Ryuji, except he was totally lacking in any charm, redeeming qualities, or even basic hygiene. This is the kind of guy whose heart he would usually change. A couple other villainous types approached him, like Bowser and King K. Rool, and while they were somewhat palatable, they just weren’t really the kind of crowd Ren was looking to associate with.
But after some time, Ren started to find some individuals he could get along with. The Pokémon Incineroar, for example. Sure, the big fiery cat acted like a haughty jerk, but there were moments where Ren could see the noble heart hidden underneath it all, not unlike another feline companion of his. Plus, he had to appreciate the creature’s aesthetic, and although it couldn’t talk, it seemed like the feeing was mutual. The Pokémon trainer named Red was also someone he clicked with. The guy didn’t say much, but there were times that Ren didn’t speak up unless he had to, so they felt like kindred spirits. And a number of the fighters reminded him of his own friends. Princess Peach’s high-class grace, femininity, and chipper demeanor reminded him of Haru. Cloud was a much more reserved guy than Ryuji, but his yellow spiky hair and this jockish feel to him under the angst was similar to Ren’s best friend. The warrior called Chrom didn’t act a lot like Yusuke, but he had similar blue hair and an incredibly similar voice. The Inkling was a dead ringer for Futaba, at least visually, though her competitive spirit wasn’t all that dissimilar from Futaba when gaming or in the Metaverse. And then there was Kirby. The little pink puffball had a personality all his own, but watching him devour entire cakes at once, it was hard not to imagine him with a set of long blonde pigtails.
But the person Ren gravitated towards the most was Bayonetta. A few of the other fighters joked on looks alone that Bayonetta was Ren’s long-lost mother, but between her theatrical flair, propensity for firearms, and ability to summon demons to help her in battle, Ren was starting to wonder if maybe there was some version of him from her world that he was related to. And there was one more huge thing they had in common:
“You killed God by summoning the Devil too!?” Ren and Bayonetta sat at the edge of the Final Destination, watching the ever-changing, sometimes-heavenly, sometimes-hellish horizon play out before them. “This is a mindfuck.”
“Watch your language, dear.” Bayonetta punctuated her admonishment by taking out one of her inexhaustible supply of lollipops and sticking it into Ren’s mouth. “The locals aren’t used to such harsh words.”
“I’m just saying…” Ren took a second to appreciate the flavor of the treat forced upon him. He didn’t really eat candy much, but he was starting to see why Iwai was always sucking one of these things down. “It’s a pretty big coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps it isn’t.” Bayonetta unwrapped a lollipop for herself. “Perhaps God needs to be given a good spanking across all universes.”
“You really think the death of God is a necessity through all of reality?” Ren took off his mask and stared into the chaos in the sky before him. “What does that say about the nature of creation, then? If the almighty needs to brought down by lower forms in creation-“
“I am lower to no one.”
“Point taken. But still-“
“Oh, hush.” Bayonetta rolled her eyes. “Philosophy is for people who don’t know how to have any fun. I can think of a million better things to do than blather on about dead gods.” Bayonetta stood up and looked down at Ren. “I’ve heard rumors that a spectacular new city from the plumber’s world has been brought here. What do you say we go shopping?”
“Are there working businesses in this world? Can we bring stuff we get here back home?”
“I don’t know. Never tried it before. Let’s find out.”
There was a growling, snapping sound coming from nearby. Ren and Bayonetta both pulled out their guns and turned to the source. At the edge of the stage was a weird plant, unlike any Ren had ever seen. It was a few feet tall, with a long green stem and two large spiky green leaves coming out of a simple brown pot. But the main feature was a large mouth, with a tongue and giant, razor-sharp teeth, all kept in a red head with white dots and large white lips. The plant faced them directly, slobbering a little bit.
“Oh, it’s that thing.” Bayonetta put her guns away.
“What is it?” Ren asked.
“Another newcomer. It showed up shortly before you did.”
“That thing’s a fighter?”
“Well, as competent as anyone else here is.” Bayonetta crossed her arms. “It’s from the plumber’s world. I believe one of the princesses referred to it as a ‘Piranha Plant’. Just ignore it.”
“But… it’s staring at us.” Ren looked over the plant again. “Or, well, whatever something without eyes does instead of staring.”
“It probably wants food.” Bayonetta turned away from the plant. “As far as I can tell, its only reason for existing is to eat.”
“What does it eat?”
“Whatever it can sink its teeth into. Pay it no mind.” Bayonetta started walking towards the edge of the stage. “Come, little one. I’m sure we can find you something more seasonal to wear than that coat.”
Ren lingered behind for a moment, staring at the salivating plant. He took the lollipop out of his mouth and tossed it at the plant out of impulse. The plant’s head shot towards the candy when it got within a few feet of it and chomped down on it aggressively, stick and all. Ren chuckled and waved goodbye to it, then followed Bayonetta off the stage.
“Wait for it… Wait for it…”
Ren was hiding behind Whispy Woods, eyeing Metaknight from a short distance away. The pint-sized swordsman had just begun meditating with the Pokémon Lucario, slipping deeper and deeper into a trance. Between fights, Ren had made it one of his personal goals to remove the tiny warrior’s mask and see what he was hiding underneath. Peach had told him she heard a rumor that he looked like a dark blue Kirby, but considering how vastly different the two were, he really couldn’t see it. So far, he hadn’t been successful, Metaknight being on almost-constant alert, even when everyone else was relaxing. But now, Ren watched as his breathing got slower and his body seemed to relax more and more. Ren came out from behind the tree, creeping up slowly on Metaknight. Lucario’s ears perked up as he began, and the fighting Pokémon opened one eye and stared at Ren, giving him pause. For a second, Ren thought the Anubis look-alike was going to blow his cover, but he stared at Metaknight curiously, apparently also wondering just what he was hiding underneath the mask. Lucario looked back up at Ren, and something in his stare seemed to communicate that it was safe to proceed. Ren continued his approach, looming over Metaknight, his hand going for the mask.
“HEY! THIEF BOY! SPIKY SWORD GUY!”
Metaknight turned around and Ren pulled back in an instant. The short knight looked at Ren in annoyance before looking around behind him to see the source of the noise. Ren looked as well and saw Bowser Jr. floating above them in his clown car. Neither Ren nor Metaknight dignified his cry with an answer, just glaring at him.
“My Papa says to invite you masked weirdos to a big bad guy meeting! We’re gonna strategize so none of the good guys ever win another fight again!”
“For the last time, I’m not a bad guy!” Ren yelled.
“You’re a thief!”
“I’m a thief who steals from- Oh forget it.” Ren sighed and tilted his head towards Metaknight. “I’m pretty sure this guy isn’t evil either…” Ren looked down at Metaknight. “You’re not, are you?”
“I am not interested in such labels” Metaknight said. “But I do not care to plan strategies with others either. I will formulate my own battle plans without aid.” Metaknight sat back down and began focusing on his meditation.
“There you go” Ren said. “Neither of us in int-“
“Do not speak so hastily, Joker.”
Ren looked around for the source of the deep voice he’d just heard. He didn’t see anybody new present.
“If those who walk the path of self-interest are conspiring against the rest of us, it would be to our advantage to have a spy among their ranks.”
Ren realized the voice was in his head, but it wasn’t Arsene. He looked around anyway and locked eyes with Lucario, who gave him a wink. Ren grinned and turned back to Bowser Jr.
“Oh, what the heck.” Ren tightened his gloves and looked up at Bowser Jr. “Why not? I’ll come along.”
The meeting was being held in the Brinstar Depths, the giant monster lurking in the background mercifully absent, meaning they didn’t have to worry about the stage rotating. Ren noted that there were some powerful enemies native to certain habitats who seemed to completely disappear when fights weren’t in session, leading him to wonder if they were hollow copies instead of real beings transported to this world like the fighters were. And yes, perhaps Ren would’ve been better served taking Bayonetta’s advice and not worrying so much about the nature of reality, but this meeting he’d come to spy on was boring as all hell. Unsurprisingly, getting a bunch of monstrously powerful megalomaniacs who were also egomaniacs together wasn’t fostering the spirit of cooperation. Bowser and K. Rool’s suggested strategies mostly involved brute force. Wolf thought more strategically, but none of his cohorts seemed equipped to execute his stealthy strategies, save for Ridley who didn’t see fit to execute a plan from a creature he considered weaker. King Dedede seemed completely uninterested, which didn’t surprise Ren since the guy didn’t seem like much of a villain to begin with, and Ganondorf just kind of sat there looking down on everyone else. The only person Ren seemed to be on the same level with was Incineroar, the two of them exchanging smirks the entire time. There were also several seats left empty, one for Metaknight, but also a couple for Dark Pit and Mewtwo, who similarly declined their invitations.
And then, just when Ren thought this little spying session couldn’t get any more ridiculous, the Piranha Plant showed up.
“What’s that thing doing here?” Wolf asked.
“He’s in my army” Bowser answered. “He should be in this meeting.”
“It’s a plant.” Wolf turned his head away from the plant, not even allowing it the dignity of being in the peripheral vision of his one good eye. “It can’t even talk.”
“Ridley doesn’t talk, and he’s here!”
“Ridley is intelligent” Ganondorf said. “And you already have your prodigy parroting all your notions zealously. Get rid of it.”
“Fine, fine.” Bowser looked at the Piranha Plant and pointed off the stage. “You. Beat it.”
The Piranha Plant lingered for a moment then moved away, roots poking out through the bottom of its pot acting like feet. It disappeared into the distance, holding its head a little lower than usual. Ren spaced out after that, leaving a few minutes later. The fact-finding mission was wholly unnecessary.
Magicant was one of Ren’s favorite places in this world. From what he understood, it was like the inside of a person’s mind, kind of like a Palace, but without the part where malignant energy was constantly present in the air. And yeah, it was very weird, but just being inside a mental scape felt familiar somehow, like a little slice of home amidst all these alien landscapes. It especially helped to see the projections in the sky of children embarking on some quest. Aside from recognizing Ness, Ren didn’t know who these people were, but a group of friends making their way through the world was just one more thing reminding him of home.
As he thought about Tokyo and wondered just how long it’d be until he could finally go back there, Ren heard a chewing sound from below. He looked down to the main platform to see the giant tomato had sprouted again, and the Piranha Plant had taken a bite out of it. The Piranha Plant seemed to be eating with less zeal than Ren had seen before, chewing a small bite very slowly. The logical assumptions that a plant wouldn’t particularly enjoy eating another plant or that a tomato that size would be hard to chew ran through Ren’s mind, but when he gave the scene a good look, the toothy weed seemed depressed somehow.
“Uh…” Ren sat at the edge of the platform and waved to the plant. “Hi?”
The Piranha Plant swallowed and looked up a Ren, licking some tomato juice from its lips.
“You don’t really seem to like that.”
The Plant kept staring at Ren, mouth closed.
“Do you just eat with your mouth?” Ren dropped down onto the main platform. “Or do you need the stuff normal plants do?”
The Piranha Plant tilted its head in confusion. Ren took a couple steps towards it, but there wasn’t any reaction. He slowly got closer, and when he reached what he thought was biting distance the plant still hadn’t snapped at him. Ren looked down into the Plant’s pot. The soil seemed to have lost some of its luster.
“That doesn’t look good.” Ren pointed to the soil. “You ever change that stuff out?”
The Plant looked down to the base of its stem, then back up to Ren and shook its head.
“Ok. Well, I don’t know if any of the places in this world have good soil, but I still have some of my stuff from before I came here. I wonder…” Ren reached into his coat pockets and rummaged around. A number of soda bottles, old pills, and unused Soul Drops were still in there. Finally, he found what he was looking for a pulled out a bottle of Mega Fertilizer. “I knew I still had one of these!”
The Piranha Plant watched in curiosity as Ren opened the bottle and squirted some of the liquid fertilizer into the pot. There was a delayed reaction, but the Plant started wriggling around. Ren took a step back, unsure what was happening, but then the mouth formed into a huge smile. Ren realized that the Piranha Plant was dancing in joy.
It was a strange thing, being friends with a plant. The two didn’t spend all their time together, but shared small moments. When they wound up in a fight together, the two would hesitate to attack each other until they were the last two standing. Sometimes the Piranha Plant would suddenly appear before Ren holding an apple between its leaves. Once or twice they even had races to see who could climb something high, like the New Donk City Hall building, Ren pitting his thief acrobatics against the Plant’s natural grappling hook abilities.
Time passed, nobody truly sure how much. A few new fighters showed up, and eventually, the Master Hand gathered everyone together and opened portals back to their homes. Ren looked upon Tokyo, and it was exactly how it was the moment he left it, no time having elapsed. He stuck around for a bit and said goodbyes as the other fighters started to shuffle on home, before finally stepping through his own portal.
What Ren did not notice was the Piranha Plant lingering behind, not following Bowser and the other residents of the Mushroom Kingdom back to their own world.
Ren awoke in Leblanc with no memory of ever having been in that other world. There were some vague subconscious memories, but not of anything in particular. Ren just suddenly recognized characters in Futaba’s video game collection, figuring that as pop culture-inept as he was, he must’ve learned their names through osmosis after enough time spent with Futaba. And so life went on as normal, until one day in the Underground Shopping Mall…
The manager of the flower shop waved to Ren from across the hall, beckoning him over. He hadn’t worked in the shop for some time, but he still stopped by from time to time.
“Hey.” Ren approached the storefront. “What’s up?”
“We got the strangest thing in recently! You have to see it!”
As the shopkeeper explained it, there must’ve been a mix-up with the seeds she ordered, because while growing a bunch of flowers, a new plant had grown out of the soil too: A Venus Flytrap. And not just any normal flytrap. Most were red on the inside and green on the outside, but this one’s mouth was red inside and out, save for some bits of white on the tooth-like spines. Ren couldn’t explain why, but he took to the plant immediately and bought it on the spot.
“I still don’t get it” Morgana said as Ren placed it on the worktable in Leblanc’s attic. “Why did you bring that disgusting thing here?”
“I don’t think it’s disgusting.” Ren began looking up flytrap care instructions on the net. “I think it’s cool.”
“It eats flies!”
“That’s what’s cool about it.” Ren smirked at Morgana. “You don’t catch bugs like a normal cat would, so now we have something that does.”
“But you already have a plant!”
“And now I have another one.”
“I don’t know.” Ren ran his finger down the plant’s stem. “It just makes me happy for some reason.”