Fits into a larger AU. Will be added to that collection if and when said series ever gains a name. No knowledge of said AU is necessary to read this piece, though.
They were two days into their trip to the Dragon's Gate when Sokara noticed a group of cacti he was sure they'd passed before. He remembered, because it was near where they'd set up camp for lunch the previous day and Corasta had nearly tripped into one.
"Marco," he said after a second, turning his head to look at the dracoknight tactician, who was holding the map with an air of confidence, "Are we doubling back on our route?"
"Hm?" Rubio looked up, peering into the endless desert as if he could tell one way from the other there. "Of course not."
"It's just that I'm sure we've been this way before," he solemnly shrugged, indicating the cacti-which, surely Marco would remember that too?
"Impossible," was the firm declaration from Sokara's crossed arms and smirk. "It's just a similar plant, that's all."
"Because I could swear that's the piece that broke off when Cillia hit it to keep her mother from falling into it-"
"It's just your imagination," Rubio chuckled, waving a hand carelessly. "Probably knocked off by some desert animal."
What animal? Do you see any animals?
He refrained from saying that part, though, since it seemed unnecessarily rude. What he did say wasn't much better. "...Are you sure you know where we're going?"
Marco halted, and so did he, everyone else tripping to a stop behind them. When he spoke, his voice was low and dangerous. "What did you just say?"
Sokara felt as though he'd said something gravely wrong and accidentally stumbled into range of a dozen mages. "Uh. Uh. I don't mean-that is to say, of course I think you know what you're doing! It's just...I think we...might be...lost?"
He hadn't actually seen Marco ever give someone a look like that, with the exception of someone he was about to draw a Tempest tome on. "We are not lost. We have a map."
He peered over at the map, and suddenly noticed something their mapping sessions at night times hadn't quite conveyed to him. "...Do you know where we are on the map?"
Silence. The temperature seemed to drop about fifteen degrees around them, which was actually rather refreshing.
"Of course I do," Rubio said finally, the same frost in his tone.
Feeling as though he was pointlessly jumping in front of a feral blow, Sokara plowed on recklessly. "Do you know where the Dragon's Gate is on the map?"
More silence. There was a very slight tinge of pink to Marco's cheeks now. "Well..."
"All right. Find the nearest village near Themis then." Sokara sighed, speculating in thought ahead at the low railed hoizon. "I had hoped to do this without alerting the Gudorians in any way, but it looks like we'll need to ask directions."
"We don't need directions," was the immediate objection. "We have a map."
"Is the Dragon's Gate on the map?" he asked warily.
"Of course it..." Rubio trailed off but then he remembered his immediate objection. "That's not the point! We'll find it. Look, we don't need directions."
"How are we going to find it if we have no idea where it is?" Sokara demanded bitterly. "It's not even on the map, so we need directions."
"Do you trust the map, Sokara?"
"What?" At some point, he had become as lost as he knew they were.
"Do you trust the map?" Rubio waved the parchment in his face. "Trust the map, Sokara! You know the map! You love the map!"
He was very, very confused. "I...you aren't talking about the map, are you? Because if you are, that doesn't make any sense."
"He means trust the person reading the map," Reuben piped up from several paces behind them, apparently abandoning all pretense that the entire army wasn't listening to them argue.
"Yes, thank you." Marco waved the map in front of Sokara's face again, and he resisted the urge to swat at it. "Trust the map, Sokara! We don't need directions. Let's keep going."
"Keep going where?" he asked, feeling exasperated from the heat. Which was rather a weird irony for Rubio since he came from the Sunshine State! "If you can tell me where we're going-point to a place on the map-then I won't lead us all to the nearest village."
"Going...this way!" Rubio exclaimed, pointing to a clearly random place on the map which was approximately half an inch off where he seemed to think they were standing. "See? Not far."
"Then, where are the Gudorians?" It didn't make sense that they wouldn't be marked. "If we're nearing the Gate, shouldn't they be around to try and stop us?"
"Obviously Krotos is already using them all as sacrifices."
He felt the urge to throttle Rubio, although he was certain he could claim later it was out of love. "Then where are these sacrifices?"
"At the Dragon's Gate."
"Where we are not," he felt moved to point out.
"Not far now!" Marco proclaimed.
"Now dad's going to tell him we're going to go ask for directions again," Reuben stage whispered.
He ignored her through a supreme act of will. "We need to find out where we're going. Where's the nearest village near Themis?"
"We don't need to go to the nearest village near Themis," Rubio insisted with a uncaring tone. "We have a map. We're fine."
"I am asking you," Sokara said, patience wearing thin, "to look at the map and find us somewhere to go where people can tell you where on the map we have to go. Then you can use the map and tell us how to get there so we aren't stuck wandering through the desert until the end of the world! All right?"
"What on earth are they doing?" Eleanore asked, probably not half as quietly as she thought she was due to the absolute silence aside from people talking. "Shouldn't we just keep moving regardless?"
"I love it," Reuben gushed in hearts and sparkles. "They are such a married couple! This is a classic argument."
"It is?" Kendora wondered aloud. "There are classic arguments?"
"Pulling over and asking directions is one of the greats," Reuben remarked seriously. "There's always someone who wants to and someone with the map who doesn't want to. And we're witnessing it with our own fathers! Isn't it fantastic?"
"Um," was Eleanore's only hesitant response.
"You're just saying all of that to hide the fact you think we're lost," Rubio declared, evidently pretending the last minute hadn't happened.
"I'm not hiding it!" Sokara exclaimed in playful frustration. "We're lost. I said it earlier! We are definitely completely lost!"
"I'm sure you think we wouldn't be lost if you had the map," Marco muttered bitterly, but still loudly enough for most of the company to hear.
"I don't care who has the damn map!" He felt like tearing his hair out. "I just want us to get where we're going sometime this year, and I doubt anyone feels like combing every inch of the desert for the next hundred!"
"Then let me navigate! It's worked for years." The tactician huffed, and Sokara was seized by the urge to reach over and shake him.
"It works when you know where we're going." It was a good thing there wasn't a convenient post to slam his head into, as he felt sure he'd brain damage himself before getting through. "You don't, I don't, none of us do, so let's ask someone who does!"
Rubio glared at him and waved the piece of parchment in his face again. "Let me navigate."
He grabbed the map, and peacefully studied it's concerting landmarks aged in dark grey. Sokara grew impatient and efficiently yanked it out of Marco's hands. It tore slightly, but the piece didn't come off.
"Sokara!" the dracoknight scolded with an annoyed sigh.
"Now you don't have the map," he said through clenched teeth. "Now I have the map, so if the person who has the map is navigating, then I'm saying we're going to the nearest town near Themis. All right?"
"Give me that," Rubio insisted, reaching for the map as Sokara held it away from him. "You don't know how to read it."
"Then you guide us to the nearest town!" He held it away still, despite Rubio's efforts to reach across his arms and bat the parchment out of his hands. "I'll only give it back to you if you promise to take us somewhere we can ask directions!"
Marco's eyes narrowed, and Sokara really didn't like that calculating look. He liked it even less five seconds later when an elbow impacted his stomach, knocking the breath out of him. He clung to the paper, hurriedly trying to stuff it down the front of his suit.
With a cry, Rubio tackled him to the ground, and they both hit it hard, flicking sand everywhere into a violent storm. Sokara would normally be able to end such an action relatively easily, but not only had he been caught off-guard and winded, he was still trying not to let go of the map for reasons which had escaped him. Not to mention it occurred to him halfway through trying to stuff the parchment down the front of his chest that Marco of all people had no reservations about putting his hands there.
While all this was going on, the Shepherds were watching them with varying degrees of horror, amusement, and plain confusion. The chief thought among them was 'why are our commanders acting like four year olds?'
"This is even better an ending than I could have hoped," Reuben declared as they wrestled on the ground. "Isn't this funny, Eleanore?"
"Why are they acting like this?" Kendora despaired, ignoring her sister. "We don't have any time to waste! Surely getting there is more important than a petty squabble?"
"Five Nerado on the captain," Dakota said, drawing a few looks. "He's got this in the bag."
"I don't know," Vigur mused. "Marco looks pretty determined, and he's kind of scrappy."
"The bangs must be fantastic," Senpai murmured, loudly enough for everyone to hear.
Eleanore rested her face in her hands. "Why me?" she asked no one in particular. "Why my parents? Why don't these things happen to other people, who don't have a world to save?"
"Come on, Kendora. Five easy Nerado!" Reuben waved her hand in the air. "I'll take that bet!"
"You are a princess, you shouldn't be gambling-"
Before long, the entire area had devolved into a series of inter-Shepherd squabbles and arguments, by which point Sokara and Rubio had stopped fighting and were sitting on the sand at the front, nursing their wounds. Sokara poked at his cheek lightly and winced, and Marco was gingerly holding a split lip where Sokara's elbow had accidentally connected in the melee.
"I guess we're making camp here," Sokara declared, frowning at their infighting troops. "I would have hoped to cover more ground today."
"They're acting like children," Rubio agreed with a sigh, picking up the map from where it was half-buried under the sand and rolling it up. He tucked it into an inner coat pocket. "I don't know what we're going to do with them."
"I'm half-tempted to turn them around and send most of them back to Delyra, but we need them." He shook his head. "Are you all right? Sorry about that, I didn't mean to hit you, especially not that hard."
"It's fine." Marco waved it off. "I probably shouldn't have bitten you under these circumstances. So we'll head to the nearest village as soon as they all calm down?"
"Sounds good to me," Sokara agreed, relieved they had stopped bickering like an old married couple-they weren't old, after all. "I suppose in the meantime we should set up for dinner, since no one else is likely to..."
"Such children," was the agreement. "Really, they should learn from our example."
The Exalt opted not to say anything to that, and felt that was probably the smartest thing he'd done all day.
I love it when Sokara and Rubio squabble over each other for a map. It's so cute! xD