Iroh and Earth Kingdom children Admit mistakes when they occur and seek to restore honor.

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As the scene opens, Azula is sleeping under a tree, covered by a blanket. The frame zooms on her face as a hand suddenly touches it.

Gurihiru - Starting with part 2, we began working fully digitally. We used to use pencils and inks, but by working digitally, our efficiency has grown. However, since we don't see the whole picture as we're working, we try to be more careful about catching small mistakes.

Ursa Azula ...
Upon hearing the voice, Azula jumps awake and, throwing off the blanket, whirls to face the person who woke her, finding herself staring again into the face of Ursa.
Azula [Gasps.] H-how did you get the jump on me?!
Ursa [Softly.] Give up this futile quest, my daughter. Go home. The throne is Zuko's destiny. Yours lies elsewhere.
Azula [Bracing herself against the tree she was sleeping underneath.] I should probably be grateful! After all, you've saved me the trouble of finding you!
Ursa All your life, you've hidden behind a mask of intimidation and fear.
Azula [Ignoring her mother's words, preparing to strike her with lightning.] Prepare to meet your doom!
Ursa [Ignoring her daughter's threat.] Take off your mask. Only then will you see the beauty of your true destiny.
Azula [The lightning, not yet fully formed, crackles threateningly at her fingers, her eyes wild.] N-n-no ... Why must you fill my mind with such lies?! The throne is my destiny! [The lightning suddenly fizzles out, dying on her fingers, her expression melting into uncertainty.] ... Isn't it? I--I mean, I have--

Michael Dante DiMartino - I was concerned that depicting Azula's fragile mental state in comic form would be difficult, but the combination of Gene's writing and Gurihiru's art makes it very clear when Azula is becoming unhinged. Adding Azula to the mix provided a lot of great character interactions, as well as a ticking human time bomb, so to speak.

The scene switches from inside Azula's mind to reality, where a crazed Azula has Katara by the arm, while Sokka, walking by with a sleeping pad, looks shocked.
Azula --I have proof!
Katara [Unpleasantly surprised.] Whoa!
Sokka [Throwing his boomerang at Azula.] Get your hands off her, Azula!
Azula [Blocking the boomerang with the armor plate on her forearm, simultaneously releasing Katara.] Oof!
Sokka [Concerned.] Katara--?
Katara [Guarding against any more possible random attacks from Azula, not looking at Sokka.] I'm okay. She woke up all of a sudden and caught me by surprise.
Azula [Leaned over, staggered and muttering.] Mother ... where ...? [Reaching unintentionally at first with her hand down to her boot.] The letter! It's gone! [Rounds menacingly on the siblings, brandishing swords of blue flame from her clenched fists.] Where ... is ... Zuko?!
The scene switches to Zuko, who, with Aang seated next to him, are sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking a deep valley.
Aang I can't believe it.
Zuko It makes sense of so much of my life! That's why Ozai was able to banish me without a second thought! I'm not his son.
Aang [Wondering.] Then why didn't he just get rid of you permanently?
Zuko [Turning back to the letter.] He was about to! The night before my mother left, my grandfather commanded my father to take my life as punishment for asking for Iroh's birthright. Ozai didn't even argue. He was just going to do it.
Aang [Persisting.] But he didn't! You're still here!
Zuko [Musing.] My mother must have stopped him somehow ...
Aang [Something seems off.] I don't know about all this, Zuko. It can't be true! Or, at least, it shouldn't be!
Zuko Why? All night, I've had this odd sense of ... hope.
Aang "Hope"?! What are you talking about?! If you're not Ozai's son, what's that mean for your reign? Who is the rightful Fire Lord?

Mike - This first panel shows a rare role reversal, where Zuko is the calm one and Aang is frustrated and angry. I can totally understand why Zuko would feel hopeful about finding out Ikem may be his real father. If true, it would mean he could start over, and maybe be finally free of his past emotional scars.

As if in response to the question, an enraged Azula bursts from the underbrush behind them. Aang and Zuko wheel, caught off guard.
Azula There you are! [Tongues of fire erupt from her hands.] She told you to steal that letter out of my boot, didn't she?! Give it back! I'm not letting her win! [Punching at them, she assaults them with firebending.]
Abruptly, the scene changes, becoming a flashback to the past. A young Zuko and Ursa are walking together through the royal gardens, Zuko talking happily to his mother, while an even younger Azula is shadowing the two, eyeing a bush on her right. She turns to the bush and sets it aflame using her bending. Zuko sees and yells.

Gurihiru - We had fun drawing young Zuko and Azula.

Zuko [Pointing at Azula.] Mommy! Azula's burning one of the flowers!
Ursa [Alarmed.] Azula! [Walking to where Azula stands and speaking to her as she attempts to pat the flames out.] You will treat the royal gardens with respect!
Azula [Not looking at her mother.] What?! It deserved it. It wasn't as pretty as the others.
As Ursa walks back toward Zuko, Azula sneaks up behind him and pinches his posterior with flaming fingers.
Azula [Whispering.] Tattletale!
Zuko [Yelping with pain.] Yeowch!
Ursa sees Azula's retaliation and berates her.
Ursa [Upset.] That's enough, young lady! Go to your room and think about your actions!
As Azula leaves, Ursa kneels down beside Zuko.
Ursa [Concerned.] Are you all right, Zuko?
Zuko [Distraught and downcast.] I don't understand why she has to be so mean.
Unnoticed by Ursa and Zuko, Ozai is watching them from behind, standing on the walkway which borders the garden. His eyes narrow, and he walks away from them without a word. Sometime later, he is climbing a flight of stone stairs. Reaching the top, he is met by a man with a tattoo spreading over his eyes, and carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows on his back.
Vachir Prince Ozai!
Ozai You must be Vachir of the Yuyan Archers. I've heard you can pin a fly to a tree a hundred yards away without killing it.
Vachir [Smiling slightly.] Any archer who wears the Yuyan tattoo can do that, Your Highness. I can pin that fly to that tree a hundred yards away without killing it ... and I can do it blindfolded.
Ozai [Silently considering the task at hand.] Hm. I have a mission for you, Vachir. In a small village called Hira'a on the far edge of the Fire Nation there lives a man called Ikem. Find him. Rid the world of him.
Vachir [Bowing respectfully.] At once, my prince. And you have my word that no one will ever connect my actions to you.
Ozai No. Don't bother with secrecy. You tell that dirt-stained commoner his demise was personally ordered by Prince Ozai of the Fire Nation.
The scene jumps back to the present, where Azula is continuing her attack, Zuko exchanging fireblasts with her while Aang yells.
Aang Where's Katara and Sokka?! What'd you do to them?!
Azula [Insane.] She's not going to get away with this!
Zuko [To Aang.] Go check on them, Aang! I can handle Azula!
Azula [Screaming as she attacks.] Give it back! GIVE IT BACK!
Azula's next volley of flames lands at Zuko's feet; he jumps over them. Upon landing, he falls backward onto his hands and sends an expanding ring of fire back toward her. She jumps easily over it, twisting in midair, and lands directly on Zuko, catching him off guard and pinning him to the ground.
Zuko Oof!
Azula [Snatching the letter from Zuko's waistband and staring down at him with crazy eyes.] You tell her this is my destiny!
Zuko NO!
As Azula jumps into the air, Zuko reaches up and grabs her by the ankle, causing her to fall sharply to the ground.
Azula Ugh!
Zuko From the day you were born, you've put me through so much! [He grabs her by her collar, lifting her over his head.] Why, Azula?! Why'd our relationship have to be like this?!
The view zooms out, revealing that Zuko is holding Azula over the edge of the cliff, a few loose stones tumbling over the side.
Azula Was this her plan all along? Is she whispering in your ear right now to throw me over the cliff?!
Zuko [Struck by his sister's paranoia.] You're not making any sense!
Azula All my life, she's kept me from my true destiny! Don't deny it, Zuko! She told you I had the letter hidden in my boot! She told you to wait until I was asleep to--
Still hanging over the edge of the cliff, Azula abruptly pauses; her eyes, a moment before filled with uncontrolled rage, stare emptily into space, and her expression becomes vacant as well. Her mouth curls, almost imperceptibly, into a comprehending smile.

Gene - Pretty much every one of Gurihiru's depictions of Azula is amazing, but panel 4 here is my favorite. It's a small drawing, but they perfectly capture her expression. You can almost hear the clicking gears of nuttiness in Azula's head.

Azula Wait a minute. [Looking down at Zuko.] You've had the letter all night. Why didn't you burn it when you had the chance? Tell me, dear brother. Why?
The view switches to Zuko's face, which, in contrast to just seconds before, is now oddly sad as he looks at his sister. A few seconds later, Azula is sitting on the ground, the letter in her hand, as Zuko walks past, not looking at her.
Azula It's almost like you want me to have it!
Zuko [Putting out the fires on the ground from the fight, still not looking at Azula.] Look. We can spend the rest of the day--the rest of our lives--fighting each other, but it won't get us any closer to Mother. We need to work together. No more fighting until we finish what we came here for. Agreed?
Azula Oh, Zuzu ... are you actually on my side?
An odd look enters Zuko's eyes before he speaks again.
Zuko Let's go join the rest of the group.
The scene changes to Aang, Katara, and Sokka, who are extinguishing Azula's fires with earthbending and waterbending, respectively, Sokka holding the bucket from which Katara is drawing. As they finish, Zuko and Azula approach them from behind.
Zuko Aang! Are we ready to leave?
Aang [Upset.] Your sister set fire to half the landscape!
Katara [Upset as well.] Even with Aang's help, it took us until now to put everything out!
Sokka [Same as Katara and Aang.] Nature hates you! [Azula avoids his glare.]

Gene - Sokka's line in panel 4 is something a friend said to me when we were in college. I bought a single onion and asked the cashier for a plastic bag.

Aang [Calmer.] So, uh ... you guys aren't fighting anymore?
Zuko [Simply.] We've arrived at an understanding.
Sokka [Still a little mad.] That's what you said when this whole thing started! Since then she's tried to kill us, like, twelve times!
Zuko [Ignoring Sokka's two cents as he seats himself in Appa's saddle, talking to the group as a whole.] Come on. Time to go to Hira'a.
Azula [Doing the same.] Are you louts coming or not?
The scene switches to a view from below the cliff face, showing Appa taking flight once more into a clear blue sky. Flashback to the past. The royal family is seated at dinner, with two servants on opposite sides of the room.
Azula During training today, Master Kunyo said I was holding my arms too far apart for one of my forms. I told him that's how you get the biggest fire blast! He didn't care. He wanted me to do the form the way he does it. The dumb way. So when he had his back turned, I set his pants on fire! [She enthusiastically pantomimes firebending as she finishes.]
Ozai [Pleased.] Hm. Your teacher sounds like a fool. I'll have him sent to the colonies.
Azula [Ecstatic.] Serves him right! What a dummy!
Zuko [Speaking up, seeing the unfairness of the decision.] He's not a dummy! He just thinks that proper firebending form has to start--
Ozai [Slamming his fist on the table angrily, making Zuko jump and cut off mid-sentence. Ursa looks shocked, while Azula gives Zuko a look of justification.] Zuko! How dare you lecture your sister on firebending?! Despite being a year younger, how many more forms has she mastered than you?
Zuko [Cowering.] Fourteen.
Ozai [Eyes narrowed.] When you were born, we weren't sure if you were a bender at all. You didn't have that spark in your eyes. I planned to cast you from the palace. How embarrassing for a prince of the Fire Nation to have a nonbender as his firstborn! [The view cuts to the two siblings; Azula looks cocky, while Zuko looks horrified.] Lucky for you, your mother and the Fire Sages pleaded with me to give you a chance. Azula, on the other hand, never needed that kind of luck. She was born lucky. You were lucky to be born.

Mike - In "The Siege of the North, Part 2," Zuko tells Aang how his father always favored Azula over him, citing this particular line: "She was born lucky. You were lucky to be born." Tying in specific moments and characters from the series to the graphic novels really makes these new stories feel like an organic continuation of the Avatar universe.

Ozai stands and strides away; Ursa follows him, berating his lack of restraint. Zuko's eyes are shut, his head bowed in sadness, while Azula beholds him triumphantly. A guard stands at the door.
Ursa [As horrified as Zuko.] Ozai! What a terrible thing to say!
Guard Your Highness! Forgive me, but a Yuyan Archer requests an audience with you!
The next shot shows Ozai once again mounting the steps of the Yuyan Archers' bastion. He is standing over the archer he personally commissioned, who is kneeling before Ozai, his clothes torn and ragged.

Mike - Seeing Vachir's origins is a nice nod to the original series. Presumably, after Ozai forces Vachir to resign from the Yuyan Archers, he crosses paths with Colonel Mongke and joins the Rough Rhinos.

Vachir Fire Prince Ozai! The man named Ikem no longer lives in Hira'a. The locals said he'd run off to a forest at the bottom of a nearby valley. I searched that valley for many months, but never found him. [Ozai's expression becomes angry while Vachir begins pleading for mercy.] That forest ... Your Highness, I've never been anywhere like it! The trees, the animals, the insects ... they're all out to get you! A commoner could not have survived for long! [Bowing again.] I believe Your Highness's desire has already been fulfilled.
Ozai [Not convinced.] But this is all mere conjecture! You bring me no assurance of his demise!
Vachir [Hesitates for a moment.] I'm sorry, Your Highness.
Ozai realizes that Vachir has failed.
Ozai [Suddenly seeming condescending, he bends over and raises Vachir to his feet.] On your feet, Vachir. Groveling is unbecoming of you. [With the same calm expression.] You will report to the Pohuai Stronghold and give your resignation to Colonel Shinu.
Vachir Wh - what ...?
Ozai [Turns away and leaves Vachir behind as he walks home.] The Yuyan Archers are an elite fighting force, the best of the best. You no longer belong.
Vachir [His pleas falling on deaf ears.] Please, Your Highness, have mercy! That forest--! It's impossible for him to survive, I swear! Impossible!

Gene - I always found the character of Vachir intriguing. He's a member of the Rough Rhinos, yet he has the face tattoo of a Yuyan Archer. How did he go from being one of the elite warriors of the Fire Nation army to a mercenary? There had to be a good story there. I'm glad we got to explore it in The Search.

The scene jumps to later in the evening with a shot of a full moon rising over the palace's highest parapet. In the royal chambers of the palace, Ozai bursts in on Ursa and her servants. The servants are shocked, but Ursa does not respond, continuing to calmly brush her hair.
Ozai Leave me with my wife! My words are for her alone. [He does not wait for the servants to leave before he attacks Ursa, striking the brush from her hand with his right hand and balling his left hand into a fist. The servants, glancing back at the two of them, look worried.] On our wedding day, I told you to forget your old life! Who you are is now entirely defined by your marriage to me. Any contact with your past--especially past infatuations --is treason.
Ursa I knew it! I knew you were intercepting my letters! How dare you?!
Ozai Even worse, evidence of your treason lives under this very roof!
Ursa Ozai, don't be a fool--!
Ozai But I am a merciful man. I will allow the child to live, despite the lowliness of his true heritage. Ikem, however--Ikem richly deserved his punishment.
Ursa [Horrified.] What did you do?!
Ozai [His eyes glowing.] I wiped that treacherous dog from existence.
A tear falls from Ursa's eyes, filled with hurt. The scene reverts to the present, where the gang prepares to investigate Hira'a as Momo eats berries off the grass in the foreground.
Zuko [Flipping up his hood.] We need to hide our identities. We'll get mobbed if people figure out we're the Avatar and the Fire Lord.
Aang [Dressed in a new outfit and wearing the bandana from his travels in the Fire Nation before the end of the war.] Don't worry. After hiding from you for all those months, we're masters of disguise!
Katara Aang, that headband of yours is cute, but as a disguise it worked a lot better when you had hair.
Sokka [Having fashioned himself a mustache and beard from Appa's hair.] See? A fake beard made of sky bison fur! Classic!
Azula [Revolted.] Get away from me! You smell like a wet possum-pigeon!
As Sokka sneezes his faux facial hair into a cloud of fur with a loud "Achoo" the others notice, from the edge of town, that a large crowd is gathered in the central square.
Katara [Baffled.] I thought Hira'a was supposed to be a small town. Why is it so crowded?
They walk closer, blending into the crowd. The people are all facing in the same direction, gazing toward a raised stage, where two actors are playing their roles.
Aang Looks like they're performing some sort of play!
Zuko I recognize that scene! It's the final battle in Love Amongst Dragons.
The actors, one in red and yellow and the other in blue and white, prepare for their mock battle.
Dragon Emperor actor [Fists raised.] Wretched Water Spirit! Now that I've escaped your curse and regained my true nature, you shall pay for your trickery!
Dark Water Spirit actor [Mimicking waterbending with his hands.] Have you learned nothing from your time amongst the mortals? By threatening me, you invite your own doom!
The two actors, using long confetti streamers instead of actual bending, engage each other. As the actor in blue shoots his confetti toward the actor in red, the latter jumps over the former and launches his confetti at him, striking a "killing blow" to the actor in blue.
Dark Water Spirit actor [Collapsing to the ground, defeated.] Nooo! Curse you, foul dragon!
Old man The young man playing the Dragon Emperor this year was extraordinary, don't you think?
Old woman Oh yes! Much better than last year's fellow!
Zuko Remember when Mother used to take us to watch the Ember Island Players perform this play? Afterwards on the beach, you and I would reenact this very scene. I don't get why I had to be the Dark Water Spirit, though.
Azula [Amicably.] Clearly, I made a better Dragon Emperor.
Old Man [To Azula.] Shhh! The best part is coming up!
Azula [Suddenly on the verge of snapping.] How dare you shush me! Do you know who I --
Zuko Azula! Please!
The Water Spirit defeated, the actor playing the Dragon Emperor embraces his Empress, an actress in robes of light blue.
Dragon Emperor actor Though I was trapped in the body of a mortal, you willingly gave me your heart! I cannot help but give you mine in return!
Dragon Empress actress Only with your glory hidden in false form could you finally realize my devotion!
The characters kiss, bringing everyone in the crowd, except Azula and Zuko, to their feet, applauding and celebrating; even Katara and Aang kiss.
Townsfolk Yay! Woo-hoo! Encore!
With the play having ended, the townspeople begin to disperse.
Old woman It gets to me every time!
Old man I agree! The fight choreography was top notch!
Aang [To the group.] Everybody's leaving! What do we do now?
Zuko Let me ask around. [He walks over and speaks to the old couple.] Excuse me. We're looking for information on a woman named Ursa. I believe she lived here many years ago.
Old man Ursa ... Ursa ... wasn't she the magistrate's daughter?
Old woman Oh yes--! Rumor has it she--
She is suddenly cut off by the appearance of a man wearing the mask of the Water Spirit. As he is right behind Katara and Sokka when he speaks, he scares them half to death.
Noren Excuse me.
Katara and Sokka AH!
Noren [Realizing his mistake and taking off the mask.] I'm sorry! I didn't mean to startle you. [Shaking Zuko's hand.] My name is Noren. I'm the director of the Hira'a Acting Troupe. Ursa was once a member.
Zuko Really?
Old woman [Suddenly remembering.] That's right! She always wanted to play the Dragon Empress, but never got the chance! Didn't she-
Noren [Aware of what the old woman is saying.] We should find a quiet place to talk, away from the crowds. You're all welcome to come to my home. We'll share some tea and I'll tell you everything I know. [He motions for them to follow him.]
As Zuko bows his head respectfully, the rest of Team Avatar looks surprised, while Azula's brow furrows at Noren's words.
Zuko It would be an honor. Thank you.
The scene cuts to Noren's house as the sun sets outside. Katara and Aang sit at a low table on the side of the room opposite the door, while Azula and Zuko sit on the floor near the door; a young girl peeks courageously around the door frame at Zuko, who is smiling back.
Katara You and Noren have a beautiful home, Noriko!
Aang How long have you two been married?
Noriko Almost five years now.
Katara [Sharing a knowing look with Aang.] It must be nice.
Noriko [Seeing the look.] It is. But you two are a little young to be thinking about marriage, aren't you?
The conversation spirals into palpable awkwardness as Katara and Aang struggle to find an answer.
Katara Oh--we're--!
Aang Well--uh ... !
Noriko [Diffusing the tension.] You know what? I take that back. Love leads where love leads, regardless of age. Noren and I found each other pretty late in life. Young lovers like you are lucky.
Behind them, the young girl has walked up to Azula and Zuko.
Kiyi Wanna meet my doll?
The two responses happen simultaneously.
Azula No.
Zuko Of course.
Kiyi [Holding the doll and showing it to Zuko.] This is Kiyi!
Zuko [Smiling.] I thought your name was Kiyi!
Kiyi It's such a good name, I used it twice!
Zuko Well, little Kiyi has ... a very ... interesting haircut.
Kiyi [A bit dejected.] I wanted to make her prettier, but it didn't turn out very good.
Zuko My sister did stuff like that when she was little.
Azula That's right. Only I didn't give my dolls haircuts, I gave them headcuts! Would you like me to show you?
Kiyi [Clutching her doll tightly, horrified.] No!
Zuko [Equally offended.] Azula! Stop it!
At that moment, Noren walks through the door, followed by a happy Sokka; both of them carry food trays.
Noren Kiyi, are you being hospitable to our guests?
Kiyi I'm trying.
Noren [Sitting next to his wife and giving her a kiss.] Mind if I join the conversation, dear?
Noriko Just sharing some advice on life and love.
Noren Ah! Well, you are Hira'a's foremost expert on those subjects!
Noriko [Smiling.] According to you.
Noren [Passing around the food.] I must admit, I was a little suspicious when you all started asking about Ursa. But Sokka tells me that you're drama historians!
Noriko How wonderful! It's about time the Hira'a Acting Troupe got a little recognition!
Katara [Whispering to Sokka.] "Drama historians"? Really?
Sokka [Whispering back.] Great cover story, right? I just opened my mouth, and there it was!
Noren [Sipping from his cup, his eyes closed.] Ursa, the woman you asked about, was probably the group's most famous member -- but not for her acting. Years ago, she was ... well ... taken to the Capital City on some sort of official business. We're not supposed to talk about her anymore, but people can't help speculating.
Noriko Supposedly, she married into the royal family. This all happened before I came to town, but even I've heard the rumors.
Zuko What about ... Ikem?
Noren [Eyes widening.] Ikem ... my, you've really done your research! Ikem was an actor, too. Ursa's boyfriend, I believe. He disappeared shortly after Ursa left.
Noriko Folks say that he ran off to Forgetful Valley.
Aang Forgetful Valley?
Noriko A forest at the bottom of a canyon, just outside of town. The heartbroken go there to forget their lives. You know, I vaguely remember hearing that Ursa came back to town years later, looking for Ikem. They say she went after him to Forgetful Valley.
Noren That can't be true! No one's seen or heard from Ursa since she was taken to the Capital City!
Noriko [Sighs.] Well, if it is true, it's awfully romantic!
Noren Romantic or tragic? Forgetful Valley is a dark, dangerous place. No one who enters ever returns.
Azula seems to be studying the pair as they talk. The scene changes to the front of the house, as the team are leaving. All except Azula are bowing to their guests.
Zuko Noren and Noriko, you've been more than generous. Thank you for the information.
Katara And for sharing your home with us!
Kiyi runs to Zuko and grabs his sleeve.
Kiyi You'll come again? Please please please?
Zuko I really hope so, Kiyi.
Scene cuts to the group later, far out of earshot of Noren and Noriko in the town. Appa and Momo sit in the near background.
Azula [Looking back over her shoulder, glaring.] Ugh. More than once tonight I was tempted to burn that whole place down! But I resisted for you, Zuzu. I hope you appreciate it.
Katara [Upset.] How could you even think that about such a lovely family?!
Azula [Disregarding the remark.] Oh, please. Their charade disgusted me! Nobody's that happy.
Katara Aang and I are that happy!
Azula [Matter of fact.] Because you two are idiots.
Aang Hey, Zuko? I'm sorry I blew up at you this morning. It's hard for me to wrap my head around all this ... I can't imagine what it's like for you. Even so, I don't think we should try to find Ikem. This is gonna sound harsh, but it's best if he stays lost to history. We'll burn the letter when we get the chance and--
Zuko I don't have the letter anymore. Azula took it back.
Aang [Incredulous.] And you let her?!
Zuko We need to focus on the task at hand, and that's looking for my mother. We'll figure everything else out later, including where--and who--I'm supposed to be.
Aang What do you mean, "who you're supposed to be"? Zuko, listen to me! When people come to your throne room and bow, they're not bowing to you. They're bowing to what you represent: A new era of love and peace! So it doesn't matter who your father is, you have to stay Fire Lord! You're not Fire Lord for you--you're Fire Lord for all of us!
View cuts to a wide shot of the group, with Azula and Katara glaring angrily at each other and Sokka standing next to Aang and Zuko.
Sokka How much longer do you expect to keep this crew together, Zuko? I give it another two minutes tops before something's either on fire or encased in ice.
Zuko One more place to visit and then we're done. [He turns away from Sokka and stares off into the distance.] We're going to Forgetful Valley.
Flashback. Azula sits on Zuko's bed, talking happily as Zuko draws his bedsheets up around him. Ursa stands in the doorway on the far side of the room.
Azula I'm only telling you for your own good. Maybe you can find a nice Earth Kingdom family to adopt you!
Zuko [Caught between disbelief and horror.] Stop it, you're lying! Dad would never do that to me!
Ursa Your father would never do what to you? What is going on here?
Azula looks up into her mother's face, the exuberant happiness gone, replaced by an expression of innocence.
Azula I don't know.
Ursa [Knowing something is wrong.] It's time for a talk.
Scene changes to the hallway, where Ursa is kneeling in front of Azula, looking into her eyes.
Ursa Spill it, Azula.
Azula [Reluctantly.] Well ... I accidentally overheard Grandfather talking to Daddy in the throne room.
Ursa "Accidentally"?
Azula Daddy asked for Uncle Iroh's birthright and Grandfather got really, really mad. He couldn't believe Daddy would do something like that so soon after cousin Lu Ten's death! Now for his punishment, Daddy has to get rid of Zuko! Grandfather wants him to feel the pain of losing his firstborn!
The view changes to Ursa's face, filled with horror at what has transpired.
Azula Oh, Mommy! I'm so scared for Zuko! You don't think Daddy would really do something like that, do you?
Ursa [Curtly.] Go to bed, young lady. Now.
As Ursa strides down the hallway, a satisfied smile breaks over Azula's face. Cut to Ozai standing in front of a window in his chambers, flooded with moonlight, as Ursa approaches him.

Gurihiru - This is the corridor that was shown in the TV show. Here we can see the origins of Azula's cruelty in her childhood. We think we were able to use light and shadow effectively in this scene.

Ursa Ozai! You can't do this!
Ozai [Resignedly.] I have no choice. Refusing the Fire Lord's command is treason. But I am a merciful man. I'm waiting until he's asleep. He won't feel a thing.
Ursa [Forcefully, her face determined and angry.] You listen carefully. I'm going to make you a deal.
Ozai You have nothing I want.
Ursa You want the throne.
Ozai glances briefly back toward his wife before directing his eyes back to the window.
Ozai Go on.

Gurihiru - The dark deal between Ursa and Ozai is conducted with very little movement, so we concentrated on adding impact with the panel design.

Mike - This flashback is one of my favorites in The Search, where moments from "Zuko Alone" bookend a new scene in which we discover what was really said behind closed doors. Gene and I talked a lot about how complicit Ursa was in Azulon's death. We decided that what Ozai told Zuko in "The Eclipse" was essentially the truth -- that Ursa did do "treasonous things" that night. But it was Ozai who delivered the poison.

Ursa I know how to make a poison that is colorless and odorless, completely untraceable. It causes a person to pass quietly, as if he'd simply fallen asleep. I'll give you a vial of it in exchange for Zuko's life. Once the poison is in your hands, you do whatever you wish.
Ozai Just where did you learn to concoct such a substance?
Ursa My mother was a master herbalist.
Ozai Very clever, dear wife. Very clever. [Out of sight of Ursa, he smiles.] I accept your plan--on one condition.
Ursa's eyes widen in shock as she listens to his demands.
Ozai Once we've made our exchange, you must leave the Capital City at once and never show your face again. With you around, it's only a matter of time before a colorless, odorless poison is used against the new Fire Lord.
Ursa [Advancing on Ozai.] Fine. But I take my children with me.
Upon hearing this, Ozai finally turns from the window to face his wife, two sets of eyes, angry and measured and firm, boring into each other in the moonlight.
Ozai No. The children are my collateral. As long as you keep your word, no harm will come to either of them. Should you try to stay or take your children with you, however, I will hunt you all down. Just like I did your precious boyfriend.

Mike - Gurihiru's use of panel layout to heighten the emotion of a scene always amazes me, especially here. This layout is visually arresting, and the diagonal panels remind me of shards of glass -- perfect for this emotionally charged moment.

The scene changes. Ursa sits at the desk in her room, working on the potion. She snips tiny shavings from the petals of a white flower to her right, letting the shavings fall into a bowl filled with a grayish liquid. After she crushes the petals thoroughly into the serum, she pours the concoction carefully into a smaller bowl, perched over a candle for heat, already containing a bubbling liquid of pure white. Finally, she pours the finished product into a small glass vial. In the next frame, Ozai stands eyeing the vial, full of translucent white fluid, as Ursa walks away from him, eyes closed and head slightly bowed.

Gurihiru - Here, Ursa makes the poison from the same kind of flowers Azulon admired in Ursa's greenhouse in part 1.

Ursa opens the door to Azula's room, casting a long shadow across her bed. She approaches Azula and finds her fast asleep, one of her bangs falling across her face. Softly, Ursa lifts it, placing it behind her ear. She kisses Azula on the cheek before walking away, casting a wistful glance toward her daughter. Cut to Zuko, sleeping. Ursa kisses him on the cheek as well, but as she turns to go, Zuko wakes up, rubbing his eyes groggily.
Zuko Mom ...?
Ursa turns back to Zuko, putting a hand on both his shoulders and looking at him.
Ursa Zuko. Please, my love, listen to me. [She embraces him.] Everything I've done, I've done to protect you.
At the door, she puts up the hood of her cloak.
Ursa Remember this, Zuko. No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are.
The scene changes, one final time, to the boat carrying Ursa out of the capital. Flash to the present, where the group is leaving Appa behind at the entrance to Forgetful Valley, Aang waving to Appa as he walks away. The gang walks through a narrow passage; the shot changes to the group passing a monolith with four circles engraved into its surface. The group are looking around at the thick jungle surrounding them, while Sokka alone is surveying the monolith, war axe in hand. Cut to Sokka standing next to Aang.

Gurihiru - Aang and his friends might not have spotted it, but the pattern that looks like a face in the stone is a sort of map that shows the location of the lake in the woods.

Aang So this must be it: Forgetful Valley!
Sokka [Turning to Aang.] How do you know? Are you detecting something with your special Avatar powers?
Aang [Turning and pointing at a sign on a tree, literally right next to Sokka.] No. It says so on the sign.
Sokka Oh.
Katara So where do we go from here?
Zuko I'm not sure. There's not even a path.
Azula Come on, Zuzu. [Eyes suddenly crazy.] For a true firebender, there's always a path! [Proceeds to firebend at the forest.]
Katara [Shocked.] What are you doing?!
As Zuko and Aang put out the fires along the newly carved path through the trees, Azula, Katara, and Sokka exchange words.
Azula I suppose one of you imbeciles has a better idea on how to proceed?
Katara Any idea is better than burning down the whole forest!
Sokka What'd I tell you last time you did something like this? Oh, yeah. Nature hates you.
Aang [Suddenly, his face in his hands.] Quiet, guys! I am detecting something with my special Avatar powers! It's kinda making me wanna go ... [He takes his hands down, showing his left eye wide open, his right eye squinting, and his mouth contorted into an odd frown, with the left corner of his mouth open.] ... like this.
Katara Sweetie, not with the faces again!
Sokka [Looking around him and sensing a trend.] No, no. I think Aang is onto something! If you look carefully, there are actually faces all over the place!
He walks over to a tree, whose leaves bear a pattern of spots bearing a striking resemblance to a face with wide eyes and a wide, frowning mouth. He mimics the face on the leaves with his own.
Sokka Check out this leaf!
Katara Sokka, stop! Aang can't help it, but you're just being a jerk!
Sokka [Not listening; he's found another example.] And that squirrel-toad! [Their backs bear the pattern of a smiling face, which he also mimics.] And the bark of this tree! [An angry face, eyebrows furrowed, mouth open, and teeth clenched, stands out on the tree; again, Sokka does his best imitation.] And that giant flutter-bat over there! Aang, the patterns on its wings sort of look like the face you're making! [The eye-spot on its left wing is open, the right wing's eye-spot almost shut.]
Aang [His face still frozen.] Hey, you're right! [Impulsively running after the flutter-bat.] Don't fly away, Mr. Flutter-bat! I think we're meant to be friends!
Zuko [Trying to stop Aang.] Aang, don't run off by yourself! You don't know what's out there!
The view follows Aang as he pursues the flutter-bat; high in the trees, he vaults over a branch as the creature cuts in front of him.
Aang Wait up! [He loses the flutter-bat for a moment, and he stops for a moment, holding on to a tree by a vine, trying to find it.] Mr. Flutter-bat? Where'd you go? [He spots it hanging from a tree branch on his left.] There you are!
As the creature takes off again, Aang bends an air scooter beneath himself, shuttling himself through the air after the flutter-bat. He lands on a tree branch, staring down into a clearing directly in front of him. At its base, covering its floor, is a pool of water, perfectly circular and filled with water of a pure cerulean.
Aang Whoa. [He jumps down to the ground, talking to the flutter-bat.] Is this what you were leading me to? It's beautiful.
Katara [From the jungle.] Aang?!
Aang I'm over here! [As the group emerges into the clearing.] Check this out!
Katara I've never seen water so clear and still.
Zuko Like a perfect pane of glass.
Aang [Closing his eyes.] This feels familiar ... so tranquil ... It reminds me of Tui and La's pool in the Northern Water Tribe. Be respectful, everybody. This is a very spiritual place.
As Aang talks to the group, Azula stares casually into the pool, where Ursa suddenly appears.
Ursa You're going the wrong way, Azula. Turn back and find your true destiny.
Azula [Snapping at the sight of her mother.] You again! Don't you ever shut up?!
Zuko Azula! NO!
Azula immediately strikes the pool with lightning, causing a massive upheaval in its surface. Aang angrily rounds on Azula.
Aang What'd I just say about being respectful?!
Azula [Insane and irrational.] She told you to lead me here, didn't she?! [Attacking Aang with firebending as he jumps out of the way.] So she could keep tormenting me with her lies!
Zuko steps in front of Aang, shielding him from Azula's second fireblast.
Zuko That's enough!
Katara [Furious lofting a massive ball of water over Azula's head.] You're right, Zuko, it is enough! We've tried to put up with her, but she's too dangerous!
Out of nowhere, several flowers fly through the air like throwing stars, missing the group by inches, Katara by less. She drops the water in shock, her sleeve slit, as they all dodge the flying flowers, Azula raising an arm to block them.
Katara What--?!
Sokka [Running away.] Look out!
When the dust settles, Katara and Aang look at the flowers, embedded in the trunk of a nearby tree.
Aang These are the prettiest throwing stars I've ever seen!
Katara It's like the forest itself is attacking us!
Sokka [Going with his guns.] Because nature hates her!
Zuko [Interrupting.] Heads up! More incoming!
Aang earthbends a barrier in front of himself, shielding some of the flowers; Sokka smashes one of them with his club; and Zuko firebends at a slew of them, disintegrating them.
Katara I think I understand what's happening! Sokka, did you see how that flower shattered against your club?
Sokka [Regarding his club.] Yeah?
Katara [Breaking one apart with her hands.] It shattered like ice. Somebody's bending the water in these flowers!
Sokka [As he watches a bundle of vines snake its way toward Aang, who has his back turned.] They're not just bending the flowers--they're bending the vines, too! [He throws his boomerang, which cuts through the vines even as a bundle of vines sneaks up on him. Azula steps between him and the vines, destroying them with fire.] Uh ... thanks?
Azula The more peasants I have fighting for me, the better chance I have of surviving this nightmare forest!
Zuko [Yelling as he is pinned down by vines.] A little help here?!
Aang Hold still! [Slicing through the vines holding Zuko down with airbending, he is immediately taken down by new vines.] Yikes! [Struggling to rise.] Hang on, guys! If we keep calm, we'll figure something out!
The vines, pointed like spears, are boxing them in, advancing on them.
Sokka How do you keep calm when nature's about to skewer you?!
Katara, who is closest to the advancing vines, closes her eyes. Slowly, she exhales before she begins waterbending the vines around herself. She yells to the darkness.
Katara Whoever you are, you're not the only one who can waterbend! Show yourself!
As she finishes, Katara stares in shock as two people in ragged blue clothes emerge from the forest, one an elderly woman, the other a tall man with a wooden mask covering his face. Flashback once again to the past.

Ursa, concealed by her traveling cloak, walks up to a house in Hira'a under cover of darkness. She knocks on the door and it opens to reveal a young girl with a candle, who looks up at her.

Village girl Can I help you, stranger? Who...?!
Ursa Forgive me for disturbing you at this late hour. I'm looking for my-- [Catching herself mid-sentence.] I'm looking for Magistrate Jinzuk and his wife Rina.
Village girl Oh. [Her eyes leave Ursa's, their gaze falling toward the ground.] They both passed away years ago. I'm sorry.
In the next frame, Ursa sits on the stage in the night, her arms around her legs and her head down. Hearing a voice in front of her, she raises her head.
Noren If you're looking for a role in this year's production, I have bad news for you. Tryouts ended weeks ago.
Ursa [Standing.] Oh, no ... I didn't know where else--I'm just ... visiting old memories.
Noren Oh, I'm sorry! [Raises his hand to his head awkwardly.] I didn't realize--
As Ursa wipes a tear from her eye, Noren suddenly cuts off, his eyes widening as he looks up at the woman on the stage, as if realizing something. Recovering, he bows and introduces himself.
Noren My name is Noren. I'm the director of the Hira'a acting troupe.
Ursa So Grandma Guchi ...?
Noren I took over when she retired.
Ursa It's nice to meet you, Noren.
Noren [Holding out a hand to her.] You know, old memories don't always have to be unpleasant.
Ursa What do you mean?
Noren It's almost sunrise. Sitting by yourself in front of an empty stage seems like a terrible way to start the day. Perhaps I could buy you some breakfast?
Ursa [Smiling.] That's very kind of you. Thank you.
Flash forward to the present. Team Avatar is sitting around a campfire near the pool's edge with the two people who emerged from the forest and all are eating, Sokka especially so, from small bowls. The old woman is speaking.
Misu I apologize for attacking you earlier. My brother and I just aren't used to seeing other humans around here. When we heard the commotion, we thought a forest animal was disturbing the pool. It must remain undisturbed.
Aang [His mouth full.] That's what I told them! This is a very spiritual place.
Misu That's right, Avatar. There are actually three other pools just like this in Forgetful Valley. They all must remain undisturbed.
Sokka Misu, this stew is delicious! It reminds me of ...
Misu ... The seaweed stew of the Northern Water Tribe?
Sokka That's it!
Misu [Laughs.] Rafa and I make do with what we can find here.
Katara So how did two people from the Northern Water Tribe end up in a Fire Nation forest?
The next few frames are shown as memories, bubbles of white and varying shades of blue against a black background, as Misu narrates her story.
Misu Growing up, my brother and I were complete opposites. I was quiet and studious. He was loud and brash. I followed the rules. He lived to break them.
A bubble of Rafa and Misu as teenagers. Rafa, smiling, holds in his hands a helmet shaped like a wolf's head; Misu, her arms full of scrolls, is scolding him angrily.
Misu He'd often bring home things he'd stolen from our tribe's most powerful people: a waterbender's pouch, a warrior's club, the chief's battle helmet. Each time, I yelled at him to return the items, and he always did. He just wanted to prove to everyone that he could do it. The people that he stole from were always too embarrassed that he never got into any real trouble.
The next bubble shows Misu standing on the side of an icy cliff, her hands over her mouth as she stands over Rafa's unconscious body, his face covered by his hair.
Misu Well, one day his luck ran out. I found him alone on the ice, his face horribly disfigured. It change his life--our lives--forever.
The third bubble shows Rafa, his face wrapped in bandages, and Misu leaving the tent of a healer.
Misu I took him to our tribe's most experienced healers, but none of them could do a thing for him.
The fourth bubble shows Misu sitting in a library, surrounded by books and scrolls.
Misu So I helped him the best way I knew how. I went to the library and began to study.
The fifth and final bubble shows Misu reading a scroll, her eyes wide with wonder.
Misu In an ancient Fire Nation scroll, I learned about a powerful spirit who would visit a certain Fire Nation forest from time to time. This spirit had the power to give people new faces--the power to heal Rafa. [The bubbles end and Misu's face reappears in the present.] I made it my life's mission to bring my brother here. I knew it would be dangerous for two Water Tribe folk to sneak into the Fire Nation, so I spent years figuring out how to use waterbending to fight. I had to learn secretly, on my own, since--
Katara --In the Northern Water Tribe, women waterbenders were only allowed to heal. Things are different now. [In the background, Momo watches a fly buzz over Misu's head.]

Gene - Rafa and Misu illustrate the extremes that family bonds can ask of us. As I was writing them, I thought about Sokka and Katara's relationship, only with more years and more tragedy.

Misu After many failed attempts, we finally made it to Forgetful Valley. We've lived here ever since, hoping to encounter the spirit. [Momo jumps through the air and catches the fly with both hands in midair.]
Sokka How come Rafa hasn't eaten anything?
Misu Ever since his injury, Rafa's been caught between life and death. He doesn't eat anymore. He doesn't do much of anything.
Aang So you've spent almost your whole life trying to heal your brother.
Misu Of course. I'm his sister.
Katara [To Sokka.] Of course.
A quick shot shows Azula and Zuko sitting next to each other, not looking at each other.
Azula Sorry to interrupt your sob story--
Zuko Azula! Don't be rude!
Azula --But we're on a mission of our own. We're looking for a woman named Ursa.
Misu I'm sorry, but we haven't seen her. The forest was pretty quiet until you all arrived.
Aang So this spirit you're looking for--what's it supposed to look like?
Misu It is a she. I don't know what she looks like, but when she approaches, the forest tells us. [The view zooms out, showing the patterns of faces on the plants and a butterfly.] Facelike patterns begin to manifest on the leaves of the trees, the wings of the insects, and the backs of the animals.
Sokka Hey, we saw that! So the spirit must be near!
Misu Then on a night like tonight, a giant wolf bearing the markings of a face travels from far away to drink from one of the forest's four pools.
Sokka That's the wolf spirit who puked moth-wasps at us!
Misu Whichever pool he drinks from, there the spirit appears. The spirit has passed through Forgetful Valley many times since we arrived, but we always seem to be at the wrong pool. [Sighing.] And I believe we missed her again. If this were the right pool, the wolf would have been here by now. [She puts a hand on Rafa's shoulder while Aang looks on, saddened.] I'm sorry, brother. We'll keep trying.
Suddenly, Aang stands up and walks to the pool, unable to accept what has happened to the two siblings.
Aang No! There's gotta be something I can do! After all, I'm the Avatar, the great--
Sokka [Finishing Aang's sentence.] --The great bridge between the spirits and the humans. We know, we know!
Aang [Sitting in lotus by the water's edge, facing away from the group. He closes his eyes.] I'm gonna cross over to the Spirit World and try to get that giant wolf spirit to come here.
Azula [Standing and starting to walk away.] Bah! This is a waste of time!
Zuko Where are you going? [She walks to the opposite side of the clearing, Zuko following.] Azula!
Azula [Angry and impatient.] Did we travel all this way to help a couple of dirty vagrants, or to find Mother?
Zuko Aang is the Avatar. Helping people is what he does. And we're his friends ... his team. So helping people is what we do, too.
Azula [Turning her back on Zuko as she addresses him.] No wonder you don't want to be Fire Lord, Zuzu! You'd rather gallivant around the world with your little friends, saving poor people!
Zuko I never said--
Azula suddenly gasps, her pupils dilating as she enters another fit of insanity-fueled rage.
Azula Hold on ... did she orchestrate all this?! [Screaming at the sky.] I'm getting closer, aren't I, Mother?! Is that why you sent those two vagrants?! To slow me down?!
As Azula sprints back toward the group, Zuko, caught off guard, yells at her.
Zuko Azula!
Azula It's not going to work! [She points her off hand at the old helpless siblings, preparing to electrocute them.] You hear me, Mother?! It's not going to work!
Zuko Please ... [Stepping in front of Azula as the lightning leaves her fingers.] I said stop!
A bright flash of light and a loud crack of thunder swallow the clearing as Zuko screams, Aang still sitting motionless by the water, his eyes and tattoos glowing; he has entered the Spirit World.
Zuko NO!
As Aang wakes up in the Spirit World, he is surrounded by trees, all of them bearing faces both frowning and smiling, appearing somewhat ghoulish in the semi-darkness.
Aang [Looking around.] Wow.
As he looks around, he sees the flutter-bat from a short while before hanging from the branch of a tree. Thrilled to find somebody he recognizes, he runs up to it.
Aang Mr. Flutter-bat! I knew we were meant to be friends!
Flutter-bat [Speaking as it spreads its wings.] Come with me. I will show you what you want to see.
Aang climbs onto the back of the flutter-bat, which is revealed to be giant while in the Spirit World. The flutter-bat flies high above the forest, allowing Aang to see the whole thing from an aerial view; there are four large pools whose positions resemble those of the strange shapes on the boulder at the entrance of the forest.
Aang So this is the entire forest! And there's the wolf spirit!
The flutter-bat swoops lower toward the blue wolf spirit seen earlier as it runs along the forest floor. Aang jumps off of the flutter-bat and begins to run alongside the wolf spirit.
Aang Hello, big giant wolf spirit! Remember me? Now that you see I can cross over to the Spirit World too, you must feel a little embarrassed about puking moth-wasps at me and my friends. Don't worry, I don't hold grudges!
The spirit approaches one of the pools and bends down as if it drink from it.
Aang Hey! Don't drink from here! There's a pool over there that tastes even better! Trust me!
The wolf turns to look at Aang for the first time. Aang returns its gaze with a pleading expression. The spirit turns sharply.
Aang Wait! Come back here!
Aang chases after the wolf spirit and latches onto its side, clinging to its fur.
Aang Where are we going?
Aang continues to hold on for dear life as the wolf spirit increases in speed.
Aang Yeeooow!
Aang squeezes his eyes shut. As the beast slows its pace, Aang's eyes slide open. The spirit sits in an obedient position, and Aang hops off of it.
Mother of Faces [Voice-over.] Who dares ride my wolf as if she were some common beast of burden?!
Aang My name is Aang ... huff huff... I'm the Avatar. Wh-who are you?
The previous speaker is revealed. Towering above Aang is the Mother of Faces, a spirit whose six eyeless faces wrap around her head, and whose body seems to be woven from tree branches and vines. Her base is hidden by the water spiraling up around her torso, and each of her two long, skinny arms end in similarly long, skinny, and sharp, claw-like fingers. Dozens of unique faces and masks float around her, many of them seemingly not human.
Mother of Faces I am the Mother of Faces!

Gurihiru - We really had a hard time designing Mother of Faces. There were many discussions about her among Mike, Bryan, and Gene. We think we came up with a very unique design. We're happy to know that the readers seem to like it.

Gene - Faces and masks -- fake faces -- are such an important theme in Zuko's life story. His scarred face is a physical manifestation of his internal struggle between good and evil. He spent much of book 1 of the show behind the mask of the Blue Spirit. And one of the few things we know about his mother from the original series is that she was a fan of the theater, the art form where actors take on fake faces and fake identities. Since The Search is all about Zuko and his family, we wanted to continue that theme.

End comic.

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"The Search Part One"

"The Search Part Two"

"The Search Part Three"

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