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Transcript:Smoke and Shadow Part 1

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The scene opens with a wide shot of a night-shrouded town in the Fire Nation. Cut to Ukano, leader of the New Ozai Society, fast asleep in his bed. Without warning, the silence of the room is broken by a voice, its source unseen.
Kemurikage Ukano ... Ukano ... You're a failure, Ukano ...
Ukano [Having been woken by the voice, he sits up, looking around.] Who ...?!
Kemurikage A disgrace.
Cuts to an angled-down shot of Ukano from the front; he stares at the source of the voice. A figure clothed in a torn, black fabric gown, and wreathed in thick, gray smoke, stands over him, looking down at him. Ukano is obviously terrified of the apparition.
Ukano It c-can't be!

Gene Luen Yang - Mai's father first appeared in the episode "Return to Omashu." Omashu had fallen to the Fire Nation, and he was appointed governor. One of the first things he does onscreen is beg Azula's forgiveness. For Smoke and Shadow, we decided to fill out his character a bit. We gave him a name -- Ukano -- and expanded on his cowardliness.

As the figure speaks, the angle shifts to Ukano's point of view, revealing three ghostly figures standing before him in the smoke. Their faces, hidden behind wooden masks, gaze with one eye at the man before them.
Kemurikage You failed as the governor of New Ozai -- But we offer you a chance at redemption!
Ukano You're the Kemurikage!
Kemurikage [Lowering itself down to Ukano, curling an appendage of fabric like a fist before it; Ukano reels away from it in terror.] Safety is born of strength. As long as that weakling occupies the throne, neither your nation nor your family are safe.
Ukano B-but you aren't supposed to be real!
Kemurikage [As the cloaked figures turn their backs on Ukano, leaving.] Act now. Dispose the weakling. Redeem yourself. Or suffer. [Starts to leave.]
Ukano You're a fable! An old wives' tale! [Coughs.] A lie parents tell their children to get them to behave!
Kemurikage No, Ukano. We are the truth.
Ukano is left on his bed, alone and thoroughly unsettled by his unexpected visitors.

The next day, Ukano addresses his followers of the New Ozai Society in an underground room. The frame zooms on his face as he speaks.

Ukano My fellow patriots of the New Ozai Society -- We've been patient, haven't we?
The frame zooms out, showing Ukano standing on a raised platform before his men. A large portrait of Ozai adorns the wall behind him, and a teenage boy stands behind him, looking somewhat uncomfortable.

Gene - The New Ozai Society first appeared in "Rebound," a short story we did for Free Comic Book Day 2013. The whole story was focused on Mai, one of my favorite characters from the original series. She and Zuko broke up (again) in The Promise. "Rebound" showed that there still might be something there. In many ways, "Rebound" laid the groundwork for Smoke and Shadow.

New Ozai Society members Yes, Master Ukano!
Ukano You and I have longed for the glory days of Ozai's rule, when the Fire Nation was the strongest and safest of all the nations! No outside threat stood a chance against us! [Turning away from his men.] Little did we know that we would be undone from within by Zuko, our own crown prince!
New Ozai Society members Boo!
Ukano Believers like us had to go underground. We worked long and hard, preparing for the day when we could finally remove that impostor! [As the shot zooms on his face, his expression lightens into an arrogant confidence.] We've been patient, my dear society ... and our patience is about to be rewarded! [Turning back toward his men.] My spies report that the "Fire Lord" will return to our shores tomorrow. He'll have with him a small group of companions, including his mother, the traitorous Ursa!
New Ozai Society members Boo!
Ukano During his journey from Harbor City to the Royal Palace, Zuko will be vulnerable for long stretches. So tomorrow is the day -- tomorrow is our day! Tomorrow, we remove Zuko from not only from the throne, but from the face of the earth! Tomorrow we restore the Fire Nation to glory! Tomorrow we attack!
New Ozai Society members Yeah! Power to the Fire Nation! Free Fire Lord Ozai!
As Ukano's men raucously celebrate his announcement, the frame cuts to the boy behind him, who still wears an uncomfortable expression. The scene cuts to several moments later; Ukano stands in his study, bent over a map, as the boy enters the study out of his view.
Kei Lo Master Ukano, may I speak freely?
Ukano [Turning from his map.] What's on your mind, Kei Lo?

Gene - Kei Lo also made his debut in "Rebound." He confessed his sincere feelings for Mai right before he betrayed her. Here, we're establishing him as a decent fellow, someone worthy of being a real love interest for Mai.

Kei Lo No disrespect, but are you sure about this? For months, you've said we need at least half a year to prepare. And besides, won't there be more security on a day like tomorrow when the entire city expects the Fire Lord's arrival?
Ukano Kei Lo, I recently had ... a premonition of sorts. We can no longer wait on this! [Sweating, he suddenly grabs Kei Lo and shakes him.] Our nation is in grave danger and it's up to me -- up to us -- to make our people safe again! You understand? Safety can only be born of strength.
A close-up of Kei Lo's face shows his discomfort; he stares back into the unhinged eyes of Ukano with a deep, newly reinforced apprehension.

The scene changes. Aang and Kiyi ride on the back of a flying dolphin-fish out in the ocean, surrounded by a number of other dolphin-fish.

Aang Ha ha!
Kiyi Wheee!

Gene - Originally, I had a different hybrid animal for this scene. After Mike read my script, he suggested dolphin-fish, which he'd just used in "Korra Alone," the second episode of The Legend of Korra Book Four. They turned out to be a perfect fit here.

Sailing a short distance behind them is a Fire Nation ship; Katara and Sokka stand on its deck, watching Aang and Kiyi in the water.
Sokka Sure looks like Aang and Kiyi are having fun.
Katara [Waving at them.] Why don't you ask to join them, Sokka?
Sokka No, thanks. Too slimy for my taste.
Katara [Scolds him.] Flying dolphin-fishes aren't slimy!
Sokka Yeah, well, I still prefer my rides to be mechanical.
Appa roars at Sokka.
Sokka Except you, of course, Appa!
To Sokka's unpleasant surprise, Appa licks him, knocking him over. The frame cuts to inside the door at the base of the conning tower. As it opens, Sokka can be seen lying on the ground, covered in Appa's saliva, with Katara standing over him, continuing to berate him. Zuko is the first to step onto the deck, speaking to Ursa, who follows behind him, as he walks.

Gene - Ah, Appa's slobber. Always good for a laugh.

Zuko The captain says we're only a day away from the Main Island! [As Ursa and Noren, behind Ursa, follow him onto the deck.] So much has changed, mother. I can't wait to show you around.
Ursa [Strokes Zuko's face affectionately, to his surprise.] You still get that sparkle in you eye when you're excited, Zuko, just like when you were little.
Zuko [Gently removing his mother's hand.] Mom, please. I'm the Fire Lord now.
Ursa Of course. Sorry.
Zuko It'll be so good to have you home again. I'm gonna go see what Aang and the others are up to.
As Zuko walks toward Katara and Sokka, his head turned back toward his mother and Noren, Katara waterbends Appa's saliva off Sokka. Noren turns toward Ursa, taking her hand.
Noren Ursa? You okay?
Ursa Why wouldn't I be?
Noren Whenever you're scared, your hands get cold. We used to hold hands before performances, remember? On opening nights, it felt like holding a block of ice.

Gene - My wife and I have four kids. As they get older and we give them more freedom, I experience more and more worry as their father. My fears aren't as extreme as Ursa's are here, probably because I've never had my face get rearranged by a giant spirit. But I definitely drew on my own feelings to write the Ursa scenes in this book.

Ursa It's just been a long time since I've been in ... that place. [Turning away from Noren, she sees Aang and her daughter on the flying dolphin-fish; she gasps and screams.] Kiyi!
Aang and Kiyi look up at the boat, somewhat startled, as Ursa. gripped by panic, runs to the near railing. Katara tries to reassure her, unsuccessfully.
Katara Don't worry, Ursa. She's perfectly safe with Aang. He --
Ursa [Still screaming.] Kiyi! Come back!
Aang [Airbending himself and Kiyi off the dolphin-fish, he lands on the deck; his expression distraught.] I promise, Kiyi wasn't ever in danger!
Ursa [Ignoring him.] Kiyi! [Falling to her knees, she grips her daughter tightly in desperation.] I can't lose you! I can't!
Kiyi [Trying to escape her mother's grip.] Let go! Let go! [Shocked by Kiyi's refusal, Ursa releases her daughter, who runs to hide behind Noren.] Daddy, I wanna go downstairs!
Noren [Taking Kiyi into his arms, while staring wide-eyed at Ursa.] All right, honey. Whatever you want.
As Noren leaves, Zuko kneels next to his mother, who remains kneeling on the deck.
Zuko Give her time.
Ursa I know. Not every little girl has to deal with her mother changing faces.
Aang [As Ursa rises to her feet; still deeply apologetic.] Ursa, I'm so sorry I worried you! But believe me, flying dolphin-fishes are among the gentlest creatures in the world!
Ursa [Holds hand up.] No, Avatar. I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm embarrassed that I overreacted like that. [Gets up and goes to the side of the boat.] Now, if you'll excuse me ...
The scene changes. A wide shot shows the front façade of Mura's flower shop, then cuts to the interior as Ty Lee enters through the front door, finding Michi tending to a setting of yellow flowers and Tom-Tom holding a bundle of leaves, which he is eating. As the door opens, it rings a small bell, which draws Michi's attention to the door.

Gene - Auntie Mura's flower shop was designed by cartoonist Ryan Hill. I think he did a great job, especially with the shop's logo.

Gurihiru - To make the flower shop fit in with the world of Avatar, we made it Eastern in style with many bonsai plants. Mai's mother is performing ikebana-style flower arrangement.

Michi [Excited.] Ty Lee! It's been so long!
Ty Lee [Excited.] Michi! Tom-Tom! I didn't know you guys would be here! Does that mean Master Ukano is here too?
Michi [Suddenly downcast.] No. No, he's not. The end of the war was hard on him -- on all of us, really -- but he crossed the line. I finally realized that he cares more about politics than about his own children's safety. So we're here now, on our own.
Ty Lee Oh. I'm sorry.
Michi Don't be. Living with Mura has been wonderful!
Mura [Behind Michi; cheerfully.] Oh, the pleasure is all mine! Nice having some company for a change! [Turning to Tom-Tom.] Flowers aren't for eating, Tom-Tom.
Tom-Tom Then how come they're so yummy?
Mai [Walking into the room, putting on an apron.] Thought I heard your voice.
Ty Lee Mai! [Exuberantly hugging her.] I've missed you so so so much!
Mai [Slightly repulsed.] I know it's been a while, but I'm still not a fan of hugging, Ty Lee. [Ty Lee grabs her arm and excitedly leads her toward the door; Mai turns her head, addressing Mura and Michi.] We'll be at the tea shop around the corner.

Gene - Here, Gurihiru perfectly captured the personalities of both Ty Lee and Mai.

Gurihiru - Mai appears here for the first time since The Promise. She is one of our favorite characters, so we were happy that we could finally draw her again.

Ty Lee Y'know, girl talk!
Michi Come back before closing time, Mai! We'll need your help!
Mura No, no! You stay out as long as you want, dearie! Your mother and I can handle it! [To Michi.] Let your daughter have some fun, Michi! She's been so down lately.
Michi [Smirking.] Down? She's not down. She's just Mai.
From his place on the counter-top, Tom-Tom burps. The scene changes to Ty Lee and Mai in the mostly empty tea shop.
Mai You expecting someone, Ty Lee? You keep looking around.
Ty Lee [Somewhat anxiously.] No, I ... It's stupid. You know Zuko left town, right?
Mai To search for his mom. I'd heard.
Ty Lee [Serious.] Well, he took Azula with him.
Mai He let that lunatic out of prison?! So he really is turning into his father.
Ty Lee I don't think it was like that. Even so, I've had a hard time maintaining a peaceful aura ever since. A part of me expects her to ... I don't know ... pop out of nowhere at any moment --
Ty Lee trails off, and Mai finishes her thought as they both glance toward the closed door behind them.
Mai To punish us for betraying her.
Ty Lee Yeah. Something like that. You know what? Let's talk about something else. [Turning back to Mai, her expression becoming casual.] Are you seeing anyone new?
Mai Eh. I did meet this guy named Kei Lo. [The frame cuts to a flashback in tones of greenish-gray, in which Kei Lo holds a bouquet of flowers, presenting it to Mai.] A couple of months ago, he came into the shop, bought some flowers, then turned around and gave them to me.
Ty Lee [As the frame cuts back to her and Mai; excitedly.] Aw, how romantic! Is he cute?
Mai I guess ... for a patsy. Turns out he was working for my dad. My dad's been running this secret society of nutjobs bent on overthrowing Zuko. They call themselves the New Ozai Society.
Ty Lee [Cups hands over her mouth, astonished.] Oh, no!
Mai [Flashback of Mai punching Kei Lo across the face, with Tom-Tom strapped to her back.] He sent Kei Lo to recruit me. I didn't go for it, of course. [Vision of Ukano watching sadly as his wife leaves with her bags.] When I told my mom about Dad's little hobby, she left him. He was endangering all of us, you know? Especially Tom-Tom. [Scene returns to the present, as Mai calmly sips her tea.] That's why we're living with Auntie Mura now.
Ty Lee I'm so sorry, Mai! But I promise you, not all guys are jerks.
Mai There's more. For the past couple weeks, Kei Lo's been visiting me in secret.
Ty Lee [Confused.] Wait, what?! So you guys are dating?
Mai No, patsies aren't my type. But I think maybe I can use Kei Lo to stop my dad.
Ty Lee [An eyebrow raised; perceptively.] Stop your dad from hurting Zuko.
Mai Hey, just doing my duty as a loyal citizen of the Fire Nation. [Leans in to whisper a secret.] Anyway, earlier today, Kei Lo came to tell me that the New Ozai Society's got big plans for tomorrow.
Ty Lee [Eyes wide.] Zuko's supposed to come back tomorrow!
Mai I know. That's why I asked you here. I want you to get a read on him, to see if he's telling the truth. [Turns around with Ty Lee to look at Kei Lo, who has entered the restaurant, his head covered by a black cloak.] Here he comes. [Kei Lo lowers his hood; Mai's greeting is cheerful.] Over here, babe!
Seeing Mai, Kei Lo smiles. As Mai rises and walks over to him, Ty Lee sits with eyes wide, visibly taken aback by Mai's sudden change in behavior.
Ty Lee [A shaky whisper.] "Babe'"?

Gene - I'm always looking for cute, saccharine names that couples can call each other. "Sweetie," Aang and Katara's go-to, is used in both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. "Babe" I got from two friends of mine. I love them but cringe a little inside every time I hear them use it. I chose it for Mai specifically because it is so not Mai.

Mai [As Kei Lo kisses her on the cheek, she smiles, gesturing toward Ty Lee.] Kei Lo, meet my friend Ty Lee.
Ty Lee [Rising to her feet cautiously, still unsettled.] Hi ...
Kei Lo greets her with a casual wave and a smile.

The scene switches to the deck of Zuko's ship, also at night; a fully equipped Appa lies behind Katara, Aang, and Sokka, who are prepared to leave. Zuko walks up to them.

Zuko You guys are leaving already?
Aang Yep.
Katara Going back to the Capital City is going to bring up all sorts of stuff for your mom, for Kiyi, for all of you.
Sokka [Close-up on the three.] We'd just be in the way. Especially dolphin-fish rider over here.
Aang You need to figure it out as a family.
Katara [Puts her arm around Zuko.] You guys haven't really had any bonding time yet, Zuko. This will be your chance.
Zuko I guess that makes sense. [Hugs Aang.] Thank you, guys. For everything.
Sokka [Pats Zuko on the back.] Happy to be there for you, buddy!
The frame cuts to several moments later, as Appa flies away with Aang, Sokka, and Katara now on his back, waving goodbye.
Aang [Calling down to Zuko.] We'll see each other again before you know it! Yu Dao's inaugural celebration is in a week!

Gene - We debated whether to keep Katara and Sokka in this story longer. In the end, we decided to keep the focus on the Fire Nation family dynamic.

Zuko watches them leave with a smile on his face. When he turns, however, he notices that his mother is on deck, facing the ocean and crying silently.
Zuko Mom ...? You okay?
Ursa [Surprised.] Zuko ...! [She wipes her eyes.] I ... I'm fine.
The scene jumps back to Mai, Kei Lo, and Ty Lee in the tea shop. Mai affectionately holds Kei Lo's arm as he speaks, while Ty Lee looks disgusted by her behavior.
Kei Lo [Eyes wide; fearful.] ... So that's it. That's the New Ozai Society's big plan. With Zuko gone and Azula missing, the stage will be cleared for Ozai to return to power.
Mai You're so brave to bring this information to us, Kei Lo! I'm so impressed!
Kei Lo I don't even want to think about what the other Society members would do to me if they found out I was meeting with a Kyoshi Warrior.
Ty Lee [Confused.] I don't get it. Why take the risk?
Kei Lo [Taking Mai's hands.] Let's just say, you don't meet someone like Mai every day.
Ty Lee [Rolls her eyes.] No, I guess you don't.
Kei Lo [Standing and pulling his hood back over his head.] I should get going. Thank you, Mai, for believing me.
Mai Oh, with those eyes, how could I not?
Without noticing the renewed expression of disgust on Ty Lee's face, Kei Lo leaves the tea shop. Mai calls after him through the window, but he does not hear.
Mai Bye, babe!
Ty Lee [Bordering on rage.] He's out of earshot. You can stop being so fake now!
Swinging her head back to Ty Lee, Mai's expression instantly returns to her usual somber expression.
Mai Well?
Ty Lee What is going on with you?! How could you lead him on like that?!
Mai What's the big deal? That's exactly what he did to me when we first met! Besides, what I'm doing is for a good cause.
Ty Lee [Leaning across the table.] There are ways of protecting your ex-boyfriend that don't involve selling your soul.
Mai Whatever. So what do you think? Is he lying or not?
Ty Lee [Leaning back and crossing her arms.] That boy's got a good aura. I think he's being truthful. Which is more than I can say about you right now.
Elicited by Ty Lee's words, a flicker of regret appears on Mai's face. The scene switches back to Zuko's ship, where, on deck, Ursa and Zuko talk as they look out over the stern.
Ursa Did Aang, Katara, and Sokka just leave?
Zuko Yes. If I'd known you were still up, I would've asked you to come say goodbye.
Ursa You're lucky to have such good friends.
Zuko I am. [Turning to look at her, his smile fading.] What's going on, Mom?
Ursa Just needed a little fresh air, that's all.
Zuko Kiyi will come around soon. You're the same person on the inside, regardless of what you look like on the outside. She'll figure it out.
Ursa [Smiles.] I know she will. [The smile fades.] I was actually thinking about my other daughter ...
Zuko ... Azula.
Ursa Do you think she's all right? Safe, warm, happy?
Zuko [Shot cuts to a far shot of the stern, in the ship's wake.] Mom, we did everything we could. I searched the Forgetful Valley for weeks. I don't think we'll find her unless she wants to be found. [Close-up of the side of Zuko's face; he looks off into the distance absently.] I'm sure she's safe, if nothing else. She knows how to survive. Happy, though? I don't even know what that would mean for her.

Gene - Zuko's referencing the final scenes of The Search. Ever since I was invited into the Avatar: The Last Airbender sandbox, I've been getting mail from Avatar fans. A good percentage of it is about Azula. Some folks want her to stay an antagonist. Others want her to switch sides.

A moment passes in silence, the frame jumping again to a far shot of the ship, the dark ocean, and the star-filled sky above the two figures on the deck. As the frame jumps back to them, Ursa speaks.
Ursa Zuko, we shouldn't be so dour on the eve of our homecoming! It'll be wonderful to see you in your element!
Zuko Thanks. I -- [As Ursa takes his hand, he freezes in surprise.] Mom, you're freezing! Come on. Let's get you below deck.
Zuko takes her arm to lead her below, but before he can do so, a messenger hawk flaps its wings over their heads with a loud squawk before landing on the ship's railing. Zuko takes the message from the bird's paw and reads it.
Zuko A message from the Kyoshi Warriors ...
Ursa Is something wrong?
Zuko is turned slightly away from Ursa, which prevents her from seeing the anger on her son's face. He finishes reading the note in silence and turns back toward Ursa, a calm smile on his face.
Zuko Nothing I can't handle.
A moment later, Ursa descends the stairs leading into the ship's interior as Zuko, standing by the door, reassures her.
Zuko Don't worry. I'm going to do everything in my power to keep you all safe. Especially Kiyi. I promise.
The frame jumps to the next day. Ursa, Zuko, and Noren, holding Kiyi, stand on the deck of the ship. Ursa looks through a spyglass at the forested mountains and high cliff faces rising from the sea in the distance.
Ursa Zuko, you sure we're on the right course? That doesn't look like Harbor City.
Zuko Change of plans. I've arranged for some friends to meet us here.
Abruptly, and with a rumble and a rush of air, a submarine rises from below the surface of the water next to the boat, much to Kiyi's surprise.
Kiyi Wow! What is that?!
Zuko A submarine -- A ship that goes underwater. It's based on one my friend Sokka designed.

Gene - I loved the waterbending-powered submarines that Sokka designed for the invasion of the Fire Nation in "The Day of Black Sun." Technology as awesome as that wouldn't just go away, of course. Here, we're showing that folks actually improved upon Sokka's original designs.

Gurihiru - Since there weren't many references for the submarines, we had a hard time understanding the design.

Noren The funny guy with the boomerang?
Zuko That's him.
With a creak, the submarine's hatch opens, and out comes Iroh, who waves happily at Zuko.
Iroh Nephew!
Zuko Uncle!
A moment later, Iroh embraces Zuko on the ship's deck, having walked over on a wooden gangplank; two guards stand on the surface of the submarine, while Suki, in the dress of the Kyoshi Warriors, emerges from the hatch.
Zuko Thank you for watching over things while I've been away. Once again, I don't know how to repay you.
Iroh Seeing that your trip was successful is repayment enough.
Ursa Iroh!
Iroh [Turning to face her with a serious expression, bowing.] Lady Ursa, I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to see you again! Let me express how sorry I am for all the pain you suffered at the hands of my family.
Ursa [Hugging him, to his surprise.] Iroh, what are you apologizing for? Your presence in the family always gave me hope.
As Iroh shakes hands with Kiyi, Zuko offers Suki a hand as she crosses from the submarine to the ship.
Zuko Suki, thank you for taking care of this.
Suki No problem, Zuko! The messenger hawk got back to us just a few hours ago, so we really had to hustle. But we're prepared to follow your plan down to the last detail! I'll escort you and your family to the palace along a hidden route while a decoy travels up the main road.
Zuko So you were able to find a decoy then? Who?
Suki Well ... Iroh sort of volunteered.
As they turn to face him, Iroh raises and waves his hand excitedly with a grin on his face.
Zuko [Skeptical.] No offense, Uncle, but you and I don't really look alike.
Iroh [Unwavering in his enthusiasm.] Oh, the crowds won't see my face, just my hand. [Points to his hand and, to Zuko's surprise, raises it to wave, adopting a somber expression.] What do you think? Is my hand-waving filled with enough angst? I've been practicing all morning.

Gene - In the script, I described this scene as "Iroh wears a grave expression as he waves his hand solemnly." Gurihiru nailed it.

Suki We should get going!
Zuko and his party board the submarine by using a plank. Kiyi leaves her father's arms and runs to Zuko's side.
Kiyi She's pretty! Don't you think, Zuko?
Zuko Sure. [Now on the deck of the submarine, he kneels and puts a hand on Kiyi's shoulder.] Kiyi, the plank is pretty narrow. Why don't you take your mother's hand?
Kiyi I'm old enough to walk on my own!
Zuko I know, but maybe she's scared. She's never been on a submarine before.
Kiyi That's her problem!
Zuko Will you do it as a favor to me?
Kiyi [Not looking at Zuko.] Fine.
Kiyi takes her mother's hand, walking with her along the surface of the submarine. After everyone boards, the vessel leaves the side of the ship and vanishes under the water.

A short time later, the ship now carrying Iroh arrives at Capital City. The frame shows the ship sailing under the gate at the entrance to the docks, then cuts to the ship moments later as it slows to a stop. On the dock, a crowd has gathered, cheering and applauding the return of their royals.

Gene - The Fire Nation harbor, the Royal Plaza, the switchbacks leading up to and into the dormant volcano that holds the Capital City -- all of it was created for the original show. And all of it serves as the perfect setting for the next few scenes. Mike and Bryan and their team put so much thought and care into their world building. Do that right, and you can support volume after volume of stories.

Crowd Yay! Welcome back, Fire Lord Zuko! Welcome back, Lady Ursa!
With a chunk, the bow rotates downward; from its interior emerges a carriage, drawn by komodo rhinos and escorted by soldiers on ostrich-horses.
Crowd Yaaah! Woo hoo!
Iroh sticks his hand out the window and waves at the crowd. The frame jumps to a number of people in the crowd, holding signs and smiling enthusiastically. Camouflaged by the multitude and unseen by the guards, two men in identical robes nod to each other, their expressions much darker than those around them. Cut to Iroh and his bodyguard within the carriage; Iroh wears the same expression he displayed for Zuko.

Gene - As in earlier stories, I needed my mom's help for the Chinese characters in this panel.

Bodyguard Why so sullen, Iroh?
Iroh [Not shifting his expression.] I find that method acting works best for me. How can I wave with angst if I don't feel the angst?
The scene changes. On a rocky shoreline some distance away from the capital, with the same forested cliffs and mountains seen from the ship, stand three Kyoshi Warriors. Two of them are on the shore itself, one of whom rides on the back of a komodo rhino, while the third stands on a mound of stone protruding from the water a short distance offshore, with a small wooden boat nearby. The frame zooms on the unmounted Kyoshi Warrior on the shore as she points out over the water.
Kyoshi Warrior There!
The frame switches, showing the submarine rising out of the water and the third Kyoshi Warrior rowing out to the craft. Cut to the royals, now on land, walking toward their new carriage as Ursa casts a glance behind them, then to Noren entering the carriage as Zuko holds the door and Kiyi stares out the window. After Zuko and his family all enter and shut the door, the warrior mounted on the lead komodo rhino addresses her compatriots.
Kyoshi Warrior Let's get moving.
As the caravan disappears through a gap in the rocky cliffs, the scene changes. The frame shows the weaving road which leads up the mountainside to Capital City, switchback after switchback lined regularly by sentry buildings. The frame cuts to Mai, a Kyoshi Warrior, and Ty Lee as they wait within one of the buildings, the latter dressed in her warrior armor.
Ty Lee [Tugging at her collar.] I love being a Kyoshi Warrior, I really do, but this getup -- Ugh! I feel like I'm suffocating in here.
Mai [Looking outside.] A watchtower every hundred yards or so ... A narrow road that forces you to travel single file ... [Her eyebrows furrowed.] Fire Lord Sozin knew what he was doing when he designed these switchbacks.
Ty Lee What are you talking about, Mai?
Mai [The view jumps behind her; peering out on the road.] This is probably the most heavily fortified road in all the Fire Nation. Why would my dad choose to attack here, in broad daylight? He's a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them. [Clenching her fist.] Kei Lo's a liar.
Ty Lee Um ... I'm pretty sure he wasn't the one acting completely fake at the teashop!
Mai [Angrily rounding on Ty Lee.] Oh, get over it, Ty Lee! If I'd known you'd get so attached to him I would've --
Kyoshi Warrior [Cutting across Mai, urgently.] Sisters! The Fire Lord's caravan approaches!
The frame cuts to the caravan itself as it rounds a switchback, flanked ahead and behind by armed soldiers on ostrich horses. Ty Lee suddenly points to the top of the cliff opposite them, where a small group of men in gray robes have begun to slide down the cliff face toward the caravan.

Gene - We asked Gurihiru to design uniforms for the New Ozai Society that were secretive and functional and cool. They knocked it out of the park.

Ty Lee Up there! That must be them -- the New Ozai Society! [Mai and Ty Lee jump from the watchtower, giving chase as the other warrior watches.] What'd I tell you? Good aura, that boy.
Mai I don't believe in auras.
Cut to the road, where the leader of the guards has brought the caravan to a stop and turned his mount toward them, addressing them directly. This position, however, has put him facing away from the attackers, who have slid down the cliffside onto the road directly behind him.
Head guardsman Attention, men! According to our intel, the insurgents will reveal themselves at any moment! Be ready, soldiers, but not too ready! Remember, we don't want them to know that we know!
As the guardsmen's leader is speaking, his men notice the insurgents of whom he speaks behind him on the road, now moving toward them.
Soldier [Nervous and panicked.] Uh, sir ... ?!
Head guardsman Follow my lead! Act guarded but nonchalant, attentive but casual, alert but -- YEOW!
A member of the Society has hit him with firebending mid-sentence, causing him to fall from his mount and crash to the ground. Three of the attacker's comrades immediately accost another soldier still in the saddle, dodging around his firebending attacks. While the soldier is distracted, one of the attackers produces a rope; two men take the ends of the rope, stretching it between them as the third man attacks the soldier from behind, spooking his ostrich horse and prompting it to run forward, right into the now-taut rope.

The ostrich horse trips and falls, upending its rider, who yells as he tumbles to the ground. Rolling onto his back, he looks up in terror to see a powerfully built man standing over him, his arms decorated in fire-shaped tattoos, preparing to strike him with firebending at point-blank range.

Tattooed Society member How can you defend that impostor?!
Guard No! Don't!
Before the tattooed man can strike, Ty Lee appears behind him and lands two blows on the back of his neck; he freezes with his arms still raised over the soldier, who scrambles away from his immobile attacker. Ty Lee turns her attention to another attacker, who is dueling with the other Kyoshi Warrior.
Tattooed Society member [Falling over.] C-can't move!

Gene - I love how, even though New Ozai is a supposedly homogenous secret society, Gurihiru made every individual member look, well, individual.

Meanwhile, another rebel duels with a guard; the rebel ducks out of the way of a fire blast from the soldier and brandishes her nunchaku, only to find them unexpectedly ripped from her grasp by one of Mai's knives. Cut to Mai, who calls to Iroh; he is still in the carriage.
Mai Iroh! You okay in there?
Iroh [Bursting from the carriage and striking a battle-ready pose.] Oh, yes! The Dragon of the West is ready for -- action?
He surveys his surroundings in surprise: the insurgents are all on the ground, either tied, frozen, or unconscious, with the Kyoshi Warriors and royal guards standing over them.
Iroh [As the guard saved by Ty Lee walks up to him.] Good work, everyone! And so quick!
Mai [Rubbing her chin in thought, her expression somewhat puzzled.] Too quick. My dad's gathered an army, yet he sends these six buffoons to take out Zuko? Doesn't add up.
She walks up to the tattooed man and, kneeling next to him, grabs his braided hair and uses it to lift his head off the ground. He grimaces in pain.
Mai What's your game, nutjob?
Tattooed Society Member Ngh! You won't get anything out of me! Power to the Fire Nation! Free Fire Lord Ozai!
Mai's interrogation is interrupted by Ty Lee, who looks out over the forest below, where a bright light has appeared, floating high above the treetops. Her exclamation prompts the rest of group to look up as well.
Ty Lee [Pointing.] Suki's distress flare!
The frame cuts to Iroh, Ty Lee, the guards, and Mai's faces; their expressions serious, save for Ty Lee's, who averts her gaze from the flare in shame.
Mai So much for Kei Lo's "good aura."
The scene jumps a few moments into the past, switching to the royal caravan and its escort slowly rolling through the forest. Out of nowhere, a large tree falls across the path directly in front of the caravan, hitting the ground with a loud crash. Suki and the other Kyoshi Warrior, both panicked, halt their mounts as Zuko steps halfway out of the door of the carriage.
Zuko What's going on?
Suki Nothing to worry about. An old tree fell, but nobody's hurt.
Looking to his right, Zuko is unsettled to see two sticks of explosives wrapped to a tree close to the path. Both their fuses are lit and near to burning down completely.
Zuko I don't think that tree fell because it's old! Get down!
Zuko hastily retreats into the carriage, shutting the door behind him, and the explosives, along with a number of other, undiscovered bombs, detonate in a deafening whirlwind of sound. The sound of trees crashing to the ground adds to the cacophony. The Kyoshi Warriors shield their faces from flying debris with their hands. When the noise dies down, Zuko leaves the carriage. He and the warriors find that the trees have fallen in a ring around their position.
New Ozai Society members [Out of sight, screened by the wall of fallen trees, their voices coming from all sides.] Free Fire Lord Ozai! Power to the Fire Nation [Mounting the wall, looking down on the trapped caravan.] Free Fire Lord Ozai! Power to the Fire Nation!
Suki [Drawing her weapons as the other warriors do the same, and Zuko assumes a fighting stance.] Ready yourselves, sisters! We're in for a fight!
Zuko [Through the windows of the carriage, to his family.] Stay put.
Ursa Don't be scared, Kiyi. Your brother's the most powerful man in the nation.
Kiyi [Defiantly.] Who said anything about being scared?
Hearing this, Ursa touches her daughter's arm, but Kiyi recoils in shock.
Kiyi Ack! Your hands are so cold! Don't touch me!

Gene - This happens to me. Whenever I get scared, my hands get cold.

As Kiyi jumps away from Ursa, clinging to Noren, Ursa regards her hand in silence.

The chant outside has changed, as Ukano, in the identity-concealing uniform of the New Ozai Society, addresses his captives. Kei Lo, eyes somewhat uncertain, stands behind Ukano.

New Ozai Society members Impostor! Impostor! Impostor! Impostor! Impostor!
Ukano Zuko! The time has come for you to return the throne to the one true Fire Lord! We demand that you step down at once! Do so peacefully and no harm shall come to your family!
Zuko [Smirking.] Let me get this straight. You expect me to give up my destiny -- my rightful place in the nation -- just because a bunch of thugs too cowardly to show their faces asked me to?
Ukano [An eyebrow raised in uncertainty.] Well ... yes.
Zuko [Launching a blast of fire at the masked men.] Ridiculous.
From the carriage, Kiyi watches the explosive display of firebending with wide eyes, mouth agape in a smile.
Kiyi [Amazed.] Whoa.
Two members of the Society find themselves in the way of the unexpected attack; while one firebends the flames away, the other shields his face with his arm.
New Ozai Society member Yikes!
Ukano [Pointing at Zuko.] Attack! Attack without mercy!
New Ozai Society members [Rushing down on their captives.] Power to the Fire Nation!
Suki [As Zuko backs up toward her.] Impressive display of bravado, Fire Lord, but we still need backup!
Zuko No argument here!
Suki drops a flare into a mortar cannon next to her and launches it into the sky. She watches it rise into the air for a brief moment before joining the fight.

Three fighters run at Zuko with a yell, and Zuko swings a flaming kick in their direction. Two of them duck out of the way, but one of them is thrown aside by it. Meanwhile, Suki, diving through the air to avoid numerous firebending attacks launched by a fighter, lands next to him and immobilizes him with chi-blocking. Simultaneously in the background, her sister-in-arms engages another fighter, dodging a blast of fire with fans extended. Zuko dispatches the two remaining fighters with another, successful firebending kick, sending them tumbling backward with grunts of pain. Having finished their first bouts, Zuko and Suki prepare for the next round of fighters.

Zuko There's no end to them!
Out of nowhere, at high speed, a cable with round weights catches Suki around her waist, trapping her arms close to her body and immobilizing her. She falls to the ground as a horrified Zuko watches.
Zuko Suki!
The view shifts, moving behind a combatant holding a large cannon-like device; aiming it at Zuko, he launches another cable at him, and Zuko falls to the ground with a groan. From his elevated position atop the trees, Ukano speaks to Zuko, while Kei Lo, standing behind Zuko, watches and listens.
Ukano Ha ha. Not bad for a ... What was that you called us again? Oh yes. "A bunch of thugs." [He points at the undefended carriage, and two of his men nod in understanding.] Remember what I said? No harm would come to your family if you stepped down peacefully. [The two men turn toward the carriage and advance on it, igniting small, focused flames above their hands with firebending.] What just happened here was not peaceful. Not in the least.
Zuko Leave them alone! They've got nothing to do with this!
Kei Lo closes his eyes and raises a hand to the mask on his face.
Kei Lo [To himself.] This is wrong ... [He opens his eyes and lowers the mask, revealing a sweating face caught between fear and resolve.] Master, I won't let you hurt those people!
Drawing a small blade, he kneels next to Zuko and quickly cuts through the cord wrapped around him.
Kei Lo Hurry, go save your family!

Gene - We give Kei Lo his true heroic moment here. Without it, he's not really a romantic possibility for Mai.

Zuko [Bewildered by the suddenness of Kei Lo's appearance and actions.] What --?
It takes only a moment for Zuko to realize that Kei Lo has freed him. Jumping to his feet, he immediately engages one of the advancing men, firebending straight at his face and forcing him away from the carriage. Kei Lo, tearing off his headband, brandishes his blade at the other man, who also retreats slightly.
Ukano Kei Lo! I wondered how long it would take you to finally reveal your treachery! I knew long ago that your heart had abandoned the righteous path. And that's why you proved so useful to me!
A larger number of Ukano's men jump into the circle of trees and surround Zuko and Kei Lo. As they close in on them, the former turns his head toward the latter.
Zuko Who are you? Why are you doing this?
Kei Lo My name is Kei Lo. You and I ... we, uh ... Let's just say we have a mutual friend.
Zuko Who?
Kei Lo [Looking up.] Her.
Zuko looks up as well, and his mouth falls open in shock. An airship floats above them; descending rapidly toward them from the vessel, holding onto a rope with her free hand, is Mai, accompanied by Ty Lee and another Kyoshi Warrior. On the other side of the vessel, Iroh and a third Kyoshi Warrior descend via a rope ladder. Landing on the ground, Mai flings four knives at the masked men, forcing them away from Zuko and Kei Lo. The other two Kyoshi Warriors and Iroh prepare to fight as well.
Iroh Now, finally -- the Dragon of the West is ready for action!
The frame jumps back to Zuko, who looks at Mai in shock.
Zuko Mai?
Mai [Looking over her shoulder at Zuko.] Duck.
Zuko What?
Mai [Brandishing more knives, raising her voice.] Duck!
Zuko [Turning around to see another weighted rope flying at him, he dodges out of its way.] Oh!
As Zuko stays crouched on the ground, Mai flings her knives at the soldier wielding the cannon. The blades fly straight down the barrel of his weapon with a echoing thunk, jamming it. While the combatant turns his smoking weapon barrel up to inspect it, Mai uses the brief break in the action to berate Kei Lo.
Mai You! I knew you couldn't be trusted!
Kei Lo Mai, the Society knew I was going to betray them! They fed me bad information, I swear!
Zuko I vouch for him.
Mai [Rounding on Zuko, furious.] What?! You don't know a thing about him!
Zuko I know his name is Kei Lo and he just helped me save my family!
In the background, the cannon explodes, and the soldier jumps back from the flying pieces in surprise.
Ukano New Ozai Society, the carriage is unguarded! Attack! Attack without mercy!
Mai [Staring at Ukano, whose face is still concealed.] I'd know that voice anywhere.
As Ukano's men close in on the carriage, Mai leaps to the top of the fallen trees, intending to confront her father. Meanwhile, one of the men, unopposed, pulls a long spear from a quiver on his back and hurls it at the carriage. Zuko watches, unable to intervene, as it crashes through one of the windows, shattering the glass.
Zuko [Horrified.] No!
Iroh [Stepping between the carriage and the spear-wielder; to Zuko, with deadly seriousness.] Go, nephew! I've got you covered!
Iroh firebends at the man's spear, lighting the end of it on fire. The man's eyes widen in terror.
Man with spears Eep!
Zuko [Throwing open the door to the carriage.] Mother?! Kiyi?! Noren?!
The frame shifts, looking inside the carriage, where Ursa and Noren sit, unharmed, against the far wall, shielding Kiyi with their bodies.
Noren W-we're okay, Zuko!
Kiyi [Enthusiastically poking her head out from between her parents.] Just tell us when you're done, 'kay? I'm getting kinda tired of sitting in here.
Zuko [Relieved.] I was afraid you all --

Gene - As I was working and reworking the outline for Smoke and Shadow, fear emerged as the dominant theme for the book. It made sense. At the time, I was struggling with a lot of fear in my writing life. I had taken on multiple projects, a couple of which just seemed too big for me. In a lot of ways, writing Smoke and Shadow was therapy for me.

New Ozai Society member #1 Impostor!
Hearing the voice, Zuko pulls his head from the carriage to find, to his distress, that he is surrounded by firebending members of the Society.
New Ozai Society member #2 This is it, impostor!
New Ozai Society member #3 Nowhere to run!
On the fallen trees, Mai walks toward her father.
Mai Have you lost your mind?! This is treason!
Ukano You've never been able to see past your own needs, my daughter!
One of Ukano's men attacks Mai from behind. Although she easily dodges the attack, Ukano seems shocked by it.
Ukano Stop! Stop!
New Ozai Society member #4 [Fending off Mai's attacks.] But you said to attack without mercy!
Ukano I meant Zuko, not her!
New Ozai Society member #5 [Coming up behind his compatriot, still defending against Mai.] You gotta ease up on her, buddy. Boss's orders.
New Ozai Society member #4 [Somewhat frantic.] Tell her that!
Behind the two men, Kei Lo climbs on top of the trees and runs at the man closest to him. The elbow Kei Lo plants in his back staggers the man but fails to knock him from his feet, and the man rounds on Kei Lo as Ukano yells again.
Ukano Attack him, you imbeciles! No mercy for Kei Lo!
New Ozai Society member #5 So who gets mercy? I'm so confused.
Mai and Kei Lo move almost simultaneously; while Mai kicks her opponent off the logs entirely, Kei Lo punches his in the face, causing him to fall backward and remain lying motionless on the trees.
Kei Lo [Taking the free moment to plead his case.] Look, Mai, I know you don't trust me right now --
Mai News flash. I never trusted you, "babe." My dad played you for a patsy, and so did I.
Kei Lo [Dropping his head in dejection.] Maybe I deserve that, but I'm trying to show you now: I really do like you.
While Mai and Kei Lo talk, the man briefly incapacitated by Kei Lo begins to stir. Before either can react, the man is on his feet, charging at Kei Lo. The ensuing collision throws Kei Lo sideways, and he falls from the trees with a groan. As the attacker stumbles in front of Mai, she knocks him out with a blow to the head and calls down to Kei Lo.
Mai Kei Lo?!
Kei Lo [Pointing at his leg.] I'm okay! My leg might not be, but I'm okay!
Ukano [Walking up behind Mai, having pulled down the fabric covering his face; Mai whirls around, startled.] Mai, it's just you and me now. Please, listen.
Down on the ground, Zuko is still surrounded by firebenders, one of whom taunts him.
New Ozai Society member #3 Fitting, isn't it? The impostor "Fire Lord" meets his end in a roaring fire!
For a brief moment, the frame zooms on Zuko's eyes, which are narrowed in deadly seriousness.
New Ozai Society member #3 Let him have it, New Ozai Society!
As the man cries out to the rest of his compatriots, they firebend at Zuko in unison. The Fire Lord disappears in a massive explosion of yellow flame. The frame shifts to show the man who spoke moments before watching the fire confidently, laughing a little to himself.

His eyes, however, soon widen in incomprehensible terror. The frame shifts back to the flames, which no longer burn incoherently but have coalesced into a spinning tornado. The fire blossoms into shades of not only yellows and reds, but also greens and purples, which prominently decorate the spinning wall of flame. Momentarily stunned, the insurgents stare at the display.

After a brief moment, the flames begin to dissipate, and the insurgents find themselves gazing at Zuko, who stands on the roof of the carriage, arms extended in a firebending move. Realizing Zuko was responsible for the flaming tornado, the insurgents turn as one and run from their target as he expels the last of the flames from around him in a blast of heat.

Gene - The multicolored cone of fire is a nod to the episode "The Firebending Masters," one of the last episodes in the animated series.

New Ozai Society members [Fleeing in terror.] AAAH! NO!
As the flames vanish, the men turn back to look at Zuko. The zoomed back frame shows Suki and another Kyoshi Warrior, wide-eyed, gazing at Zuko in wonder as he addresses his attackers in a loud, unyielding voice.
Zuko New Ozai Society, this is your last chance! Surrender now -- or face your Fire Lord's wrath!
Ukano still stands on the fallen trees with Mai. Even having seen what just happened, he attempts to justify his actions to her.
Ukano Everything I do -- the New Ozai Society, all of it -- I do it because I love the Fire Nation.
Mai [Obviously angry.] You're insane.
Ukano Zuko compromised our strength! He cares more about appeasing the Avatar than defending his people! [He steps toward her.] Look at what happened with the colonies! The Fire Nation citizens who live there no longer have any control over their lives! [As he reaches for her arm, she pulls it away from him in disgust.] Believe me, Mai, I want a quiet life. I miss you and your mother and your brother so much. But as long as that weakling sits on the throne, none of us will ever be safe.
In response to his claim, Mai gestures to the scorched ground around the carriage, where the Kyoshi Warriors have apprehended a number of Ukano's men, while several more men are attempting to escape. Noren stands on the ground, looking back at Ursa as she steps from the carriage. A jubilant Kiyi runs to hug Zuko.
Mai If he's such a weakling, why are all your nut-job followers either surrendering or fleeing for their lives?
Ukano [Head bowed.] But that just reinforces my point, Mai. Zuko has no problem strong-arming his own people, but it's the rest of the world he should be worried about. [Closing his eyes.] And you -- you were his only real Fire Nation friend, yet he pushed you away. [Raising his saddened gaze to Mai.] If you don't think there's any truth in what I'm saying, go ahead. Arrest me.
As Ukano raises his arms in submission, giving Mai the opportunity to put him in handcuffs, the frame zooms on her eyes, the raging conflict obvious within them.

The frame switches to Kei Lo, who slowly makes his way through the forest in solitude, heavily favoring his leg.

Kei Lo [Leaning against a tree to rest.] Ow. Ow ow. Ow.

Gene - The physical pain that Kei Lo suffers throughout this story is foreshadowing.

Mai [Walking up behind him.] You planning to hobble all the way to the Capital City?
Kei Lo [Turning his head, smiling.] It's, what, five miles away? Ten, tops? I can make it.
Mai [Walking over to him and putting his arm over her shoulders to support him.] No, you can't. Come on. We'll catch a ride on the Kyoshi Warriors' airship.
Kei Lo [Smiling.] Where's your dad?
Kei Lo's question is met by a moment of silence. As Mai answers, her eyes narrow.
Mai He got away.
Kei Lo [Earnestly.] Mai, I'm telling you, he had my number the whole time. He knew I was secretly meeting with you.
Mai [Smiling again.] I know. I believe you, Kei Lo.
The frame shows the two slowly trudging their way toward the airship, which waits for them a short distance away.

Soon afterward, Zuko's carriage, scorched and smeared with ash, arrives outside the royal palace. As Zuko's family walks the stone path toward the palace's large doors, Zuko and the Kyoshi Warriors bow respectfully to each other.

Zuko Thank you for your service, Kyoshi Warriors. My family and I are in your debt.
Suki It's an honor, Fire Lord.
While the other warriors walk away, Zuko addresses Suki.
Zuko Hey, Suki? Mai didn't come back with you, did she?
Suki Nope. She went home.
Zuko Oh. But ... Do you know where home is for her these days?
Suki [Smiling.] Of course. And if you're ever up for a visit, let me know.
The frame focuses on Zuko's face, showcasing his happy, hopeful expression. Moment's later, he stands just inside the doors of the palace with his family.
Zuko [Gesturing at the interior of the palace.] Here we are.
Kiyi [Eagerly trying to drag Noren with her.] Wow! I knew it'd be big, but I didn't think it'd be this big! Come on, Daddy! Let's go exploring!
Noren [As she escapes his grip, he tries to talk her down.] Kiyi, maybe we should rest first? We've had a pretty ... dramatic afternoon.
Kiyi Aw, what's the big deal? I knew Zuzu would keep us safe the whole time! Come on, come on!
The frame jumps to a close-up of the faces of Zuko and Ursa; both of them stand still, eyes wide and mouths thin, shocked at hearing Kiyi's new nickname for Zuko. Zuko is the first to speak.
Zuko "Zuzu"? Where'd she pick that up?
Ursa I'm not sure.
Zuko Gotta admit, it sounds much nicer coming from her than Azula.
The two fall silent. Zuko takes a few steps further into the palace, following Noren and Kiyi, but Ursa remains just behind the threshold of the door; she looks down at it for a long moment, as if afraid to cross over it. Steeling herself, she takes a number of small steps, inching across the thin boundary. Even though she has only walked a small distance, she pauses on the other side of the doorway. Zuko, noticing that his mother is not following him, stops and turns around to find her holding a hand to her chest.
Zuko [Concerned.] Mom ...?
Ursa Just tired from all the excitement.
Ursa resumes walking. Zuko, not entirely convinced by his mother's reassurance, stands still, his eyes trained on her, as she walks past him and down the hall.
Zuko I'll have someone show you to your old room.
Ursa One of the guest rooms will be fine.
Zuko does not make an effort to pursue his mother, instead allowing her to walk into the depths of the palace alone. As she disappears, he turns to walk out of the palace and, to his surprise, finds a smiling Iroh standing right behind him.
Zuko Uncle! Again, thank you for your help.
Iroh My pleasure! These old legs needed a stretch.
Zuko [Returning his gaze to the darkened hallway, again concerned.] You think she'll be okay?
Iroh [Nodding, eyes closed.] Time heals all wounds.
Zuko does not answer, and Iroh begins to suspect that something is wrong.
Iroh There's something else bothering you, Nephew. It's not just your family.
Zuko [Putting a hand on his face.] It's the New Ozai Society. I've had to deal with opposition of one kind or another since I became Fire Lord, but this one felt different. More serious. I have another favor to ask, Uncle Iroh. Would yo be willing to attend the Yu Dao Inauguration Ceremony in my stead? There's so much going on ... I think I need to stay.
Iroh [Smiling again.] I was about to suggest the same thing! You're growing in wisdom, Zuko.
Zuko Because I'm beginning to think like you?
Iroh Well ... yes.
Ursa continues to walk the halls, dimly lit by torches. She is alone with her thoughts in the semi-darkness.
Ursa I can do this. I can do this. [The frame focuses on her face; her eyes are closed, her head bowed slightly.] This is a different time. I'm a different person. [Raising her head, opening her eyes, her expression becoming stern and fixed.] And he's no longer here. Zuko is in charge now. Kiyi is safe. We're all safe.
Rounding a corner, Ursa finds herself facing a wall. The frame does not betray what is on the wall, but she is visibly shaken by the sight of it; after a few seconds, she becomes so disturbed by it that she cannot bear to look at it any longer. She drops her head to her chest with wide, terror-stricken eyes and draws her arms tightly around herself. The frame zooms out; Ursa stands before a tapestry bearing the image of a glaring Ozai, which utterly dwarfs her in comparison.

Gene - Gurihiru's use of color on this spread is just brilliant. That flash of bluish purple? Perfect.

Gurihiru - We wanted to show how Ursa feared Ozai in this double-page spread. We thought it went well.

In the underground headquarters of the New Ozai Society, Ukano stands on the stage, facing the portrait of Ozai hanging on the back wall. A voice breaks the silence hanging over the chamber; Ukano slowly turns his head in its direction, his eyes falling on three Kemurikage gliding toward him on a cloud of smoke.
Kemurikage Ukano ... Ukano ... You failed to redeem yourself!
Ukano [Becoming desperate.] No!
Kemurikage [As they surround him.] Now you must suffer!

Gene - Every one of these books begins with a phone call between Mike, Bryan, a few of the editors, and me. During one of these phone calls, Mike and Bryan told me about an idea they'd had while they were working on the original series. They'd wanted to introduce an order of Fire Nation warrior women, sort of like the Fire Nation version of the Kyoshi Warriors. That idea ended up on the cutting-room floor, fortunately for Gurihiru and me. We were able to flesh them out by giving them a ghostly twist and a name: the Kemurikage. Kemuri is Japanese for "smoke," and kage is Japanese for "shadow."

Ukano No, please! [Covering his face in fear, trying to shield himself from the figures, whose faces draw threateningly close to his.] I just need more time! We weren't ready! Give me more time and I -- I promise I'll get it done! [Slowly lowering his hands.] Give me a month! If that weakling is still on the throne then ... then ...
Opening his eyes, Ukano finds that the cloaked figures have backed away from him. The figures' chief speaker finishes his sentence for him.
Kemurikage -- Then you shall lose all that is dear to you.
As Ukano watches them, the figures disappear into the darkness.

At the top of the next frame are the words "One month later." Mai and Kei Lo walk down a dirt street near the flower shop at night, talking.

Kei Lo Can't believe you wouldn't go out with me until my leg healed.
Mai Casts are so unattractive.
Kei Lo [Stops walking as they reach the flower shop, allowing Mai to take a few steps in front of him.] That wasn't it. It took you this long to trust me. I mean, really trust me.
Mai Maybe, but that's because you don't make sense to me. I still don't get why you would betray the New Ozai Society.
Kei Lo I've told you over and over! It's because of you.
Mai Exactly. That makes no sense.
Kei Lo [Looking off into the distance, remembering.] I lost my parents when I was young. Since then, I've been bounced from one place to another. I joined the Society because I wanted to belong to something. I couldn't care less about all that political stuff.
Mai And now?
Kei Lo Meeting you made me realize that I don't want to belong to something anymore. I want to belong to someone.
The two kiss, but the moment between them does not last long; coming from a second-floor window of the flower shop, a shriek of terror splits the calm, drawing the eyes of the two in the street to the window. Shocked, Mai recognizes the source of the shriek.
Mai Mom!
Kei Lo is the first to see the three cloaked figures on the roof above the window; as the figures move, their ever-present smoke streams out behind them. Kei Lo points at them.
Kei Lo Up there!
Mai [Flinging her knives at the figures.] You! Stop! What were you doing in our shop?!
The knives sail past their targets, and Mai jumps to the lower level of the roof. Moving quickly, with Kei Lo in tow, she cuts the intruders off on the other side of the roof. Jumping in front of them, she throws a kick at the figures, and they stop as she stares them down with a look of cold, controlled rage.
Mai I said stop! [Raising her arms to fight.] Who are you?! What do you want?!
The frame switches its focus to the figures; the one in the center is the one who speaks, its head inclined slightly downward toward Tom-Tom, who sleeps soundly in its arms.
Kemurikage We have what we want.
Horrified by the realization that her brother is being abducted, she throws a desperate punch at the figures, which finds nothing but air and smoke. The figures have vanished.

The scene changes to the front room of the flower shop, the morning after Tom-Tom's disappearance. Mura, Michi, Mai, and Kei Lo stand in the room, along with two policemen, who are trying to gather information.

Michi [Hands clasped together, desperate.] You have to get our boy back!
Mura He must be so scared!
Officer Sounds like you got the closest look at the kidnappers, Mai. Can you describe them?
Mai [Eyes cast toward the floor.] They looked like the Kemurikage.
Officer Say again?
Mai The Kemurikage. [Raises her eyes to meet the officer's.] My parents used to tell me about them when I was little, whenever I did something bad. They're from an old legend -- spirits who live in the mountains of our hometown. Supposedly, when children misbehave, the Kemurikage come and snatch them away in the middle of the night.
Michi [Attempting to discard the theory.] Oh, Mai! Your father and I told you those stories to help you build character! Our parents did the same for us! All the parents in our village told those stories! [Mai does not meet her gaze, so she turns to the officer.] The Kemurikage aren't supposed to be real!
Zuko But it seems that they are.
The entire group whirls around to see the Fire Lord standing in the doorway, a hand on the doorknob. Realizing who he is, all those in the room but Mai bow to him, clasping their hands together. Mai is too shocked to bow and simply stares at Zuko.
Mai Zuko!
Officer Fire Lord!
Mai [Advancing toward Zuko as the others cease bowing.] What are you doing here?
Zuko I heard what happened to Tom-Tom last night. I want to help.
Michi [Hands clasped together in appreciation.] We are grateful for your concern, Fire Lord!
For a moment, as the frame shows Mai, Zuko, and Michi, it also shows Kei Lo; he stands in the shadows away from them, his mouth slightly open, staring at Zuko. The frame zooms on Zuko's eyes as he finishes his answer to Mai.
Zuko If we're up against spirits, though, we'll need more than just me. We'll need the Avatar.

Gene - Of course we're going to bring Avatar Aang back for the next chapter. The series is called Avatar: The Last Airbender, after all.




"The Rift Part 3"

"Smoke and Shadow Part 1"

"Smoke and Shadow Part 2"

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