Someone said when Avatar Storytime came out that this bit would've made a nice mini, and I had a couple of minutes to kill, so I made it into one.
Xinqisan, Shieryue 9, 166 ASC
Wednesday, December 9, SY 2285
The South Pole, Dìqiú
Korra fastened the last of the straps, performed a careful walkaround to double-check that everything was secure, and nodded with satisfaction at her handiwork.
"Well, girl, what do you think?" she asked. "Shall we see if it works?"
Naga eyed her dubiously before casting a wary glance back over her shoulder at the strange contraption her young friend had just affixed to her back. She gave herself a shake, causing said contraption to rattle and jingle, then turned back to Korra, still looking very unconvinced.
"Oh, come on, you big baby, it'll be fun," Korra said, reaching up to pet the broad expanse of the polar bear dog's forehead. Naga sighed, her ears drooping with resignation, but Korra just laughed, put her foot into the near-side stirrup, and swung herself aboard. The maneuver was a little clumsy - she'd practiced it a few times with the saddle affixed to a railing, and the experience was not really the same - but effective, and she figured she'd get the hang of it soon enough.
She reached down and rubbed Naga's withers with the palm of a hand, then took up the reins and said, "All right, Naga. Let's go."
With a sound that might almost have been a grumble, Naga set off out of the storage building where Korra had prepared her surprise. Outside it was a glorious summer day, clear and bright with nary a cloud in the sky, and Korra's spirits, already high with optimism about her new experiment, lifted further once they were out in it.
They took it slowly at first, walking around the little courtyard between the storage area and the living quarters, each of them getting the feel of the new arrangement. Korra had ridden other animals before, of course - you didn't grow up in the South Pole without learning how to stay on an arctic camel at an early age - but Naga's gait was completely different from theirs. At walking pace, her broad back rose and fell a lot more than a camel's, and there was a curious roll to her movement that took a bit of anticipating to ride smoothly. After only a couple of laps of the courtyard, Korra knew her thighs were going to be aching at the end of this test ride, the muscles there having been worked in new and unfamiliar ways, but that was all right; part of the learning process. It would be no worse than learning that one earthbending stance had been, and she got through that all right.
After a few more minutes, Naga paused and looked back over her shoulder as if to ask, Can we be done now? Korra grinned at the sight.
"Getting bored, girl?" she asked. "Well, this has gone pretty well so far. I guess we can take it up a notch." With a wiggle of her hips to make sure she was fully seated, she twitched the reins in her hands lightly and made a clicking sound with her tongue.
Naga's response to this was not to break into a trot, which had been Korra's intention, but to stop altogether. Looking quizzical, Korra tried it again, receiving no evident response. Naga didn't seem to be paying any attention to her at all; the dog lowered her head and shoulders, her front legs bent, giant forepaws flexing in the snow like hands.
"Naga?" Korra wondered, leaning forward. "What's the matter? I thought you wanted to go - "
With an explosive burst of energy that nearly left her rider behind, Naga suddenly lunged forward, going from a standing start to a run in a second and skipping over anything as weedy as a trot altogether. Clods of snow flew in her wake as her great claws dug into the ground for maximum purchase.
" - FASTEEEEER," Korra finished, seizing the saddle's pommel to keep her seat. "Whoa! Naga, whoa! What's gotten into you?!"
At this rate they would reach the courtyard fence in seconds. Korra shifted her weight, rebalancing herself, and took up the reins again, thankful that she'd had the foresight to route them through loops at the front of the saddle so they couldn't fall to the ground if she let go of them.
They weren't much more than handholds themselves, truth to tell. She hadn't wanted to put a bit or some other similar arrangement in Naga's mouth, as one would with a camel; her teeth weren't suited for that kind of thing, and besides, the principle had always struck Korra as rather cruel. Instead, the reins were attached to part of the rigging that encircled Naga's neck, so that pulling on them would exert mild pressure there. They weren't meant to control the dog so much as make suggestions - and it appeared that Naga wasn't really interested in taking suggestions just at the moment.
What she was interested in, apparently, was jumping over the fence and heading for the White Lotus compound's main gate. For all that Korra had been thinking for years, by the age of 13, about how great it would be to stage an escape, she hadn't really been planning on it today, and so it was with more than slight alarm that she realized that was where Naga was heading. Not so much riding as hanging on at this point, she was coming almost completely out of the saddle at the peak of each stride and then jouncing uncomfortably back down again at the bottom. In this condition, she couldn't really see the dumbfounded White Lotus guards in their towers at either side of the gate, but she knew they must be there.
"Sorry!" she shouted, doing her best to wave without letting go of anything. "We're not going far! I hope!"
Shouts of consternation came from above, and then, to Korra's distinct dismay, the gate started closing. At the rate Naga was going, they wouldn't clear it in time, and plowing at speed into an iron-banded wooden stockade gate was really not on Korra's to-do list today.
"Naga, stop!" she cried, tugging uselessly on the reins -
- and all at once a profound sense of peace settled over her as she realized what they had to do. She stopped fighting, stopped worrying, and just... let the moment happen. Settling into the rhythm of the dog's strides, she leaned low over Naga's back, feeling the muscles of the dog's massive shoulders bunch and release under her hands, and smiled.
"OK, girl," she murmured. "You want to run? Let's run!"
With the abatement of all resistance from the wheelhouse, Naga seemed to sink lower to the ground, her strides lengthening further, as she put everything she had into a headlong charge for the gate.
"Come on, Naga," Korra exhorted her, all but flattening herself against the dog's back. "Come on, girl! Let's see what you've got."
For just an instant, as they barrelled inexorably for the still-closing gate, Korra feared that she'd left it too late and they'd be caught in the closing doors. She'd almost made up her mind to do something involving waterbending and the snow on the ground to try and jam the hinges, though at this speed that had precious little chance of working, before she saw that it wouldn't be necessary. Grinning fiercely, she settled down again, her body moving in perfect time with her mount's now, and they shot out into the open countryside beyond the compound like a bolt from a crossbow.
"Yeah!" Korra cried, pumping a fist in triumph. "Woooooo!"
With the immediate goal achieved, Naga showed no sign of slowing down, galloping at full pelt across the open snowfield in front of the compound. At the back of her head, Korra wondered how far they were going to go, but at this point she no longer really cared. She was too caught up in the rush of sensations: the tremendous power of this incredible animal, the wondrous cold sting of the slipstream on her face, the utterly profound revelation that here, here was freedom of a kind she'd never tasted before. Transported with joy, she raised both fists above her head, sitting fully upright in the saddle, then opened them to let her fingers catch the wind.
And Naga stopped.
"WHAAAAAAAA," Korra declared, somersaulting over the dog's head. Her reflexes were so well-trained, and the untouched snow out here was sufficiently soft, that she was in no danger of injury, but she was momentarily stunned as she landed flat on her back in a drift, disappearing in a cloud of powder. Barking happily, Naga ran past her, then made a great paddling turn in the soft snow and raced back to stand over her, wagging and panting, the picture of ursocanine delight.
Korra sat partway up, brushing snow out of her face, and tried to give Naga a censorious look, but she was still flushed with excitement from the ride and couldn't keep the grin off her face, which rather ruined the attempt.
"You did that on purpose!" she accused the dog.
Naga barked again, as if to admit it, then batted at the snow with one huge forepaw, sending a new wave of it cascading over Korra's face.
"Ack! Phhht," Korra cried, spitting snow and waving blindly with one hand while trying to cover her face with the other. Naga's response to this was to repeat the gesture with the opposite paw, dousing her from the other side. "Gah! Bad dog! SUCH a bad dog!"
Naga growled and struck a playful bow, hindquarters up and wagging, shoulders hunched, head low. Sounding as though she were about to savage and devour her human friend, she waved her great head from side to side so as to slap Korra's face with her hanging ears.
"Augh! Murder!" laughed Korra, fending her ineffectually off. "Somebody help, she's gone rogue! Oh, spirits, is this how it ends? Polar bear dog and waterbender, enemies again - OOF!"
The last was occasioned as Naga, tiring of the game, took another step forward and then basically collapsed, pinning Korra's legs under her chest and resting her enormous head on the young Water Tribeswoman's body. Only Korra's head, shoulders, and arms were still visible; all the rest was covered by the vast bulk of her companion. She reached up with one hand and made a half-hearted, completely unsuccessful attempt to push the contented dog's head off her chest, then let her arms flop helplessly out to the sides.
"Ugh, I am killed," Korra declared weakly.
From somewhere off to one side came a soft mechanical click, and then a familiar voice declared with audible amusement, "I can see that." Korra turned her head to see her mother a short distance away astride an arctic camel, a small box camera in her hand.
"I guess I picked a good day to come and visit," said Senna, taking another picture.
"Test Drive" - a Legacy of Korra Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
(originally released as part of Symphony No. 5: Avatar Storytime)
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