The comic opens with a panel completely black except for a few lines of speech printed over in white.
"Wait. I want to know everything."


"For you, my dear, I'll start from the beginning ..."

Michael Dante DiMartino - Over the years, the number-one question fans asked Bryan and me was, "What happened to Zuko's mom?" It was a story we always wanted to tell, and once Gene was onboard to write the graphic novels, we knew this would be the time and place to tell it. After catching up with Team Avatar in The Promise, we all agreed the next story should focus on Zuko's search for Ursa.

Gene Luen Yang - We wanted Ursa to be from someplace remote, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Fire Nation capital city. Since the Fire Nation takes many of its cues from early twentieth-century Japan, why not base Ursa's hometown on a Hawaiian village? Many Japanese immigrants settled in Hawaii around the turn of the century. They created communities that combined the familiar with the foreign. Hira'a, the name of Ursa's hometown, is a contraction of the Japanese name Hirahara. Hirahara Zenmatsu was one of the first Japanese to set foot in Hawaii.

Gurihiru - The model for Hira'a was a small, old-fashioned vilage of Japanese immigrants. Contemporary photos are rare, so finding visual references was a challenge. We combined Japanese imagery with that of an old, tropical Hawaiian settlement.

The Fire Nation town of Hira'a, many years ago.
Ikem [Standing on an empty stage, holding a red theater mask in one hand and a script in the other.] Dark water spirit! You shall rule- No, no. Dark water spirit! You shall rue the day you condemned the mighty dragon emperor to dwell amongst the mortals!
Ursa [Jumps out wearing a blue theater mask.] Boo!
Ikem Ah!
Ursa [Taking off the mask.] Ha ha ha!
Ikem [Having fallen on the ground.] You scared me half to death, Ursa!
Ursa [Jokingly.] But I thought you were The Mighty Dragon Emperor, hero of Love Amongst the Dragons!

Mike - I never thought we'd see Love amongst the Dragons make a comeback. In "The Ember Island Players", Zuko tells his friends that his mom would drag him to see the play when he was younger. I love how Gene tied it into this story. Now we know why the play meant so much to Ursa!

Ikem That's only when I have my mask on.
Ursa I know. Without it, you're just Ikem, my poor, cowardly boyfriend.
Ikem Cowardly but handsome!
Ursa [Showing him the mask she used to scare him.] Well, handsome, guess who just got the role of the Dragon Empress?
Ikem Congratulations! You know what this means?! I'll finally get to fulfill my lifelong ambition of kissing you in front of the whole village! [Putting on the mask.] Come on, let's practice! [Ursa sighs and puts her mask on. The two press their masks up against each other.] 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!
Ursa Only with your glory hidden in false form could you finally recognize my devotion! [Ending the short scene, Ursa pushes her mask up.] Ugh. Masked kissing is the worst. [Ikem does not respond. Ursa continues, concerned.] What?
Ikem Will you marry me?
Ursa [Looks down at script.] That's in the script?
Ikem No. [Ikem takes off his mask.] You remember when we were six, how you kicked me in the stomach and pushed my face in the dirt?

Gurihiru - The dragon masks Ikem and Ursa wear were inspired by southeast Asian masks.

Ursa [Annoyed that he's brought this up again.] How many times do I have to apologize for that? Sheesh ...
Ikem [He pulls Ursa closer. She blushes.] I began loving you that day. And I haven't ever stopped. So I'll ask you again ... no masks this time. [He pulls her closer, looking into her eyes.] Ursa, daughter of Jinzuk and Rina, will you marry me?
Ursa [Staring back into his eyes.] Yes.

Mike - Coming into The Search, Bryan and I had some ideas about what happened to Ursa, but nothing was really nailed down until my discussions with Gene, who added a ton to the story, including Ursa's backstory with Ikem.

Ursa and Ikem embrace in a kiss. The scene changes to a view of a large green-roofed gray building with many steps leading up to it.
The city of Yu Dao, now.
Cut to the interior of the building. A professor wearing green robes is giving a lecture in the middle of a large horseshoe shaped meeting table. Many adults are present, but the audience includes Kori Morishita and Sneers, and on the opposite side sits Sokka, Aang, Katara, and Zuko.

Mike - Through the story of Yu Dao, the seeds are being planted in Aang and Zuko's minds for Republic City. Even the horseshoe shape of the meeting table is a precursor to the one seen in the United Council chambers in Legend of Korra.

Professor Blah blah blah blah
Cut to Sokka and Aang.
Sokka Tell me again, how exactly is boring lecture guy supposed to help us figure out what to do with Yu Dao?
Aang He's an expert on ancient Earth Kingdom theories of government. The Earth King thinks we should draw on the wisdom of the past to build a society of the future.
Professor Blah blah blah blah
Sokka [Resting his head on his arms.] Even if the past bores me out of my skull?
Aang Yeah, I agree. We need a new way of seeing the four nations, not-
Katara [Glaring.] Can you two keep it down, please? Some of us are trying to listen!
Aang Sorry, Katara!
Sokka Surprise, surprise. My boring sister likes boring lecture guy.
Aang Hey! That's my girlfriend you're talking about!
Katara waterbends the water out of her cup and turns it into snow, hitting Sokka in the face. Aang attempts to stifle his laughter with his hands. Sokka swipes at the snow on his face as Aang continues to struggle with not laughing. The professor continues blah blah blah blah-ing in the background. Zuko stares straight forward, apparently not noticing what is going on next to him. He suddenly comes to attention when he catches the single word family from the professor's speech.
Zuko [Raising his hand.] Professor, can you repeat that last part?
Professor [Sigh.] A teenager is a teenager, apparently, even if he's a head of a state. I was explaining, Fire Lord Zuko, an ancient Earth Kingdom philosophy: Family is in essence a small nation, and the nation a large family. Do you understand? In treating his own family with dignity, a ruler learns to govern his nation with dignity.

Gurihiru - The model for the professor was the Chinese philosopher Confucius, which was a request from Gene.

Gene - The unnamed Earth Kingdom scholar here is the Avatarverse version of Confucius. The philosophy he advocates, linking family to nation, is a loose paraphrase of a Confucian principle.

Zuko looks distraught at the professor's words. Aang looks at his friend in concern.
Aang Are you all right, Zuko?
Zuko Have you been listening to him?
Aang I've been trying, but all I'm getting is "blah blah blah."
Zuko I put my father in a prison and my sister in an institution. My mother's been banished for years. What does that mean for my nation?
Aang Zuko, that's not what-
Sokka This guy's a blowhard! Only people like Katara are taking him seriously.
Katara glares at Sokka and waterbends snow into his face again.

Cut to Hira'a, many years ago. Ursa runs back to her house to spread the news of her engagement to Ikem. She accidentally treads on the tail of a pig chicken.

Ursa Sorry for waking you, pig-chicken! But it's such a beautiful night! Why waste it on sleep? [Ursa runs into the house.] Mom! You'll never guess what Ikem- [She stops at the sight of her mother, Rina, sitting sadly on the floor.] What's wrong? Where's Dad?
Rina [Rina is shown to have tears in her eyes.] Your father's out back in the greenhouse ... with a visitor. [Rina wipes away a tear.] I love you, Ursa. You know that, don't you?
Cut to Ursa entering the greenhouse. Her father, Jinzuk, stands with his "guests".
Jinzuk Daughter, show our guests the proper respect.
To Ursa's surprise, Fire Lord Azulon is revealed to be the visitor her mother spoke of. Ursa kneels at his feet.
Ursa Fire Lord Azulon!
Azulon Ursa, is it? Rise, and let us have a look at you. [Ursa stands.] Magistrate Jinzuk, your wife has raised a daughter even more beautiful then her flowers! We've had such trouble finding Avatar Roku's descendants. It's as if he wanted to keep you hidden from us! But now, clearly, the effort was worthwhile. The fire sages tell me that the pairing of the Avatar's granddaughter with my own son will yield a bloodline of great power, one that would help ensure my family's rule for centuries after I am gone. [Prince Ozai walks up beside his father.] Ursa, may I introduce you to Fire Prince Ozai, my second son. He has a proposal for you.
Cut to the Fire Nation prison that houses the former Fire Lord, Ozai. Zuko, Suki, and Ty Lee look into Ozai's prison cell through bars on the door, where Azula, currently restrained in a straight jacket, sits on a chair looking at her father, the two of them separated by prison bars.
Suki [To Zuko.] The Yu Dao summit seems to have done you some good. You're more upbeat than-
Zuko -My usual, dour self?
Suki I didn't say that. I'm- we're glad to have you back, Zuko.
Zuko Aang wants Yu Dao to be the prototype for a new kind of city, one that unites the four nations.
Ty Lee That sounds exciting!
Zuko It sounds idealistic- [Looking to his incarcerated family members.] but maybe the world could use a little idealism. [To Suki.] Have they said anything to each other?
Suki Not a word. Not even "Hi!" or "How are ya?" or-
Zuko Open the door.
Zuko enters the room holding a tray of tea.
Suki You're bringing them tea?! Zuko, they're your prisoners, not your guests!
Zuko They're still my family. [He enters further and approaches his sister.] Azula-
Azula grabs the tray in her teeth and knocks Zuko to the floor. Ozai smirks.
Azula How did you expect me to drink tea while wearing a straight jacket, Zuzu?! Did you want to watch me lap at it like some kind of animal?!
Zuko No, I-
Suki Zuko!
Ty Lee runs in and chi blocks Azula.
Zuko She's already restrained! You don't need to chi block her!
Azula [From the ground.] Ah. My old friend Ty Lee. [Azula's eyes go wild. Her pupils dilate and dark circles become visible. A bead of sweat runs down her forehead.] Tell me how she got to you and Mai! How'd she make you lose your fear of me?!
Ty Lee You're not making any sense, Azula!
Zuko Ty Lee! Suki! Let me handle this!
Zuko helps Azula back into her chair as the two Kyoshi Warriors exit the room.
Zuko You and Father are meeting for the first time in over a year, and I know these aren't the best of circumstances. I thought the tea might lend a little ... dignity.
Azula You want dignity? Let Father and me talk to one another like two human beings. In private.
Zuko ... Fine.
Ozai smiles at his son's response. Zuko exits the cell and covers the bars on the cell door, ensuring that the two will be able to converse in complete privacy.
Zuko We'll give them half an hour.
Suki Are you sure about this?
Zuko One is chi blocked and the other has completely lost his firebending. They can't do anything but talk. Like it or not, Azula is my best chance of finding my mother.
Ty Lee She's wrong, you know. I never lost my fear of her.
Cut to Hira'a, many years ago. Ursa leaves her home town in a royal carriage, two guards walking alongside it, with Fire Prince Ozai and Fire Lord Azulon. She is despondent, but attempts not to let it show.

Mike - As with the series, we often use flashback elements to illuminate what is going on with the characters in the present. The ideas of karma, and how past actions influence the present, are big themes throughout both The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra.

Azulon Dear girl, after growing up in this backwater village, you will especially appreciate the capital city's comforts. I'm sure Fire Prince Ozai will be more than happy to-
An unknown voice calls to Ursa outside the carriage.
Voice Ursa! Ursa!
Azulon What's going on?!
Royal guard #1 A commoner's in the middle of the road, blocking our way!
The calling voice is revealed to be Ikem, standing in the path of the carriage, brandishing dual dao swords, pointing one directly at it. The sword wavers in his shaking hand and beads of sweat roll down his face.
Ikem F-f-fire Lord Azulon! You have my- my true love in your carriage! With all due respect, I c-can't let you take her from me!
Royal guard #1 Wait, are those swords ... theater props?!
Both guards laugh at Ikem's expense.
Ikem [Lowering his voice, embarrassed.] They're the only weapons I have.
Azulon [To a second royal guard.] Take care of him.
The two guards rush at Ikem, spears at the ready. Ikem dodges one guard, leaps into the air, and whacks the other in the face with his fake sword. The other guard sends a blast of fire toward Ikem, who shields himself using the prop sword. Ikem throws the sword, now caught on fire, in the direction of the firebending guard, who dodges it with an "Ack!". Cut to the interior of the carriage.
Ursa Call them off, Ozai! He's an old childhood friend of mine! He's- he's confused! I'll get him to leave, but you have to promise not to hurt him. Please, for me, my ... My love.
Ozai [To the guards.] That's enough!
Ursa [Stepping out of the carriage.] Ikem, go home.
Ikem Ursa, we belong together. Whatever they're offering you, it isn't worth the pain of never again belonging.
Ursa The decision's been made. Nothing can change that.
Ikem Tell me marrying that- that Prince is what you truly want. Tell me, and I'll go home.
Ursa looks to the carriage, seeing the hard faces of the Fire Lord and Prince. She closes her eyes, tilts her head down, and clasps her hands together in front of her, hiding her expression from Ikem.
Ursa Fire Prince Ozai honored my family by asking for my hand in marriage. I joyfully accepted. [She tilts her head up, revealing a large tear running down her face.] Now for your sake and mine, go home.
As the carriage rolls away with the soon-to-be Fire Princess, Ikem wipes tears from his eyes.

Cut to Zuko, Ty Lee, and Suki escorting Azula, in a straightjacket and wheelchair, down the streets of the Fire Nation Capital City.

Zuko Suki, Ty Lee, I appreciate your help tonight. Go get some rest. I'll take it from here.
Suki Zuko, I'd feel a lot better if we accompanied you the rest of the way.
Zuko No, I can escort Azula on my own. I insist.
Ty Lee Be careful! The chi blocking's gonna wear off soon!
Zuko Don't worry. She's not going anywhere. [Suki and Ty Lee exit.] So what did you and Father talk about?
Azula Oh, the usual. He asked about the weather. I told him how much I'm enjoying the scrumptious food they have at the nuthouse.
Zuko I've asked the palace staff to prepare your old room. I'd like you to stay there instead of the institution. You'll be guarded every minute of every day, of course, but it'll be more comfortable for you.
Azula Have you ever been chi blocked, Zuzu?
Zuko No.
Azula Funny thing. All your joints go soft, like they're made of melted wax. Then, for just a few moments as your strength returns, you find yourself more flexible than you ever thought possible!

Gurihiru - Azula has two modes - calm and crazy. We took particular care when illustrating the two. When she thinks about Ursa, she goes crazy: her pupils constrict, shadows appear under her eyes, and, when she is at her worst, even her hairstyle becomes chaotic.

Azula twists enough to get her arm out of the straight jacket. Lightning crackles from her fingertips and she sends a bolt in Zuko's direction. Azula jumps out of her wheelchair, having successfully gotten both her arms out of her straight jacket, despite it still hugging her torso, and she hops away, her ankles still bound together by chains. Zuko launches a fireball after her.
Zuko Stop!
Azula flips into a handstand. Zuko's fire blast snaps the chains holding her ankles together and burns off the rest of the straight jacket. Azula throws one blast of blue fire toward Zuko and jumps into the palace wall, breaking through with a large fireball.

Cut to Ikem, Ursa having left recently. He walks with his head down along a path surrounded by stone. He passes a large boulder with four circular indents on its face at the mouth of a vast forest. Cut to Ikem sitting on a large tree limb, his head in his heads, soundlessly weeping in the moonlight.

Mike - Sometimes the best writing is the kind without dialogue. This wordless sequence of the heartbroken Ikem is both beautiful and powerful. In just a few panels, Gene and Gurihiru did a great job of showing the passage of time, as Ikem makes a life for himself out in the wilderness.

Cut to Ikem during morning, holding a sharp rock above his head, preparing to cut a large piece if wood. Time passes and soon Ikem has built a hut for himself at the edge of a lake within the forest. More time passes and Ikem, having neglected to shave, has grown a mustache and starts a fire for himself. Cut to nighttime, where he sits in front of a campfire, now sporting a full beard along with his long mustache. He glances up at the sound of an animal drinking, and sees a giant blue wolf spirit lapping water from the other side of the lake.

Cut to Zuko, coming into the palace through the large hole that Azula burned into the wall.

Zuko [To a slightly singed guard.] Where'd she go?!
The guard nervously points in the direction the princess had headed. Zuko runs through the palace hallways and stops in a small room with a large poster of the fire element insignia on it, with candles and a shrine with Chinese characters written on it. Zuko reaches out and touches the poster.
Zuko Still warm.
He firebends at the symbol and the poster shifts to the right, revealing a secret passageway of descending stairs. Zuko enters the stairwell and ends up in a room lit by a single braiser in the center. Toward the back of the chamber, Azula rifles through a large chest.
Azula They're here, just like Father said! He overcame her control long enough to give me the truth!
Zuko What is this place?
Azula One of Father's many secret chambers. You really should have come exploring with me when we were little, Zuzu. But your fear always held you back. [Azula holds up a small stack of letters between her index and middle fingers.]
Zuko Give me what you're holding.
Azula What, these? They're many years' worth of letters that she wrote ... [Azula's eyes go crazy again, her pupils dilate and the dark circles under her eyes deepen.] ... and they're the key to finding her! Come have a look!
Azula burns up all of the letters she was holding in blue flame.
Zuko No!
Azula Ha ha! Oh Zuzu, you should see the look on your face! Priceless!
Zuko Azula, what's wrong with you?!
Azula Why don't you ask her that?! I'm sure she'd be happy to tell you! [Azula presses her hands to the sides of her head as if to block out a voice that no one else can hear.] Look, believe it or not, dear brother, I want to find her as much as you do. So I'll tell you what was in those letters, on one condition ...
Cut to the wedding of Ursa and Ozai. The two newlyweds sit together at the head of the room for the after-wedding feast, a large staircase leading down to where the guests are eating their meals. Ursa seems to be the only one not enjoying herself.

Gurihiru - The fashions of ancient Korean nobility inspired Ursa's wedding dress.

Ozai You have lovely parents.
Ursa They've always been good to me.
Ozai Be sure to tell them that when you say goodbye. Your last words should be filled with gratitude and kindness, so their memory of you will always be sweet.
Ursa "Last words"?
Ozai As a princess of the Fire Nation, you must sever all ties to your past and devote yourself entirely to your new duties. After this day, do not mention Hira'a, your family, or your old life ever again. [Ursa's eyes widen in both surprise and despondence. Ozai kisses her cheek.] You belong to the royal family now. And to me.

Mike - We added this detail of Ozai forbidding Ursa from speaking of her old life again as a way to explain why Ursa's hometown and relation to Avatar Roku was not common knowledge. (In "The Avatar and the Fire Lord," Iroh tells Zuko that Avatar Roku was his great-grandfather on his mother's side.) It also parallels the present story in a cool way: When Ursa married Ozai, she had to forget her past. Later, she makes a similar choice.

Cut to present time, where we see Appa as he flies down to the Fire Nation Royal Palace, with Aang, Katara, and Sokka all in the saddle. Cut to the interior of the palace. Iroh enters through a curtain with the Fire Nation insignia on it.
Katara Iroh! We didn't expect to find you here!
Iroh [Calling behind the curtain.] Zuko, your friends have arrived!
Aang [To Zuko.] Thank you for inviting us to your home, Your Fieriness! We've been out of touch for much too long!
Zuko It's only been a week. Where's Toph?
Sokka She had to stay at the academy. Now that folks have seen the lily livers- I mean, her students in action, everyone and their mother wants to be a metalbender. Even the Yu Dao police chief went to visit her!
Katara We came as soon as we received your message. What's this about?
Zuko I recently obtained some new information about Ursa, my mother. It turns out she's from a small town called Hira'a on the outskirts of the Fire Nation. I'm going to look for her. Uncle Iroh's agreed to watch over things here while I'm gone.
Iroh May you find who- and what- you are searching for, my nephew.
Aang That's great, Zuko! But it sounds like you've got everything covered ...
Katara ... So why do you need us?
Zuko The information about my mother came at a cost. You see- [Azula appears from behind the curtain.]
Aang Zuko, behind you!
Katara bends water out of her pouch and sends sharp ice toward Azula's head.
Katara How did you escape, Azula?!
Zuko Katara, wait!
Azula calmly tilts her head to the right and dodges the ice completely. Aang airbends a small air ball in his hands and Sokka wields his boomerang.
Aang Stay back! We don't want to hurt you!
Sokka Speak for yourself, Aang!
Azula Ha ha! Ignorant peasant! You really think you can take me on with a boomerang?
Sokka Let's find out!
Suki and Ty Lee enter through the curtain.
Suki Sokka, stop! Let Zuko explain!
Sokka Suki! [Sokka runs to hug his girlfriend.]
Zuko Azula was the one who got the information from Ozai. Because she helped me out, we made a deal. She's going to come with me to look for our mother. And she's going to travel unbound. With dignity. I want you all to come with us.
Aang No offense, but that sounds like the worst plan ever!
Sokka Oooh! Oooh! New nickname for Zuko! How about bad decision lord?
Iroh Ever since my nephew ascended to the throne, he has yearned for peace. Finding Ursa may bring that peace- [Iroh looks toward Azula.] -and not just for himself.
Aang smiles softly in understanding.
Aang We're your friends, Zuko. If you need us, we'll go.
Scene shifts to the courtyard of the Fire Nation Royal Palace where Azula is standing next to Appa.
Aang Good morning, Azula! Beautiful day for a trip, isn't it?
Azula [Throws her bag in front of Appa.] Hmph. Be careful when you put my luggage on that shaggy beast of yours!
Ty Lee Why do you have to be so mean all the time?
Suki Appa has feelings, too!
Aang [To Appa.] I know, buddy. It'll only be for a little while. [Momo growls at Azula.]
Katara [To Zuko.] I still don't like it, Zuko.
Zuko We'll need to take turns keeping an eye on her. Every moment of every day, at least one of us has to be totally focused on Azula.
Katara Well, if worst comes to worst, there are four of us against one of her.
Sokka I'll take first watch!
Zuko I appreciate the offer, Sokka, but maybe you should leave this to the benders.
Sokka No, I got it covered. Mr. Boomerang and I didn't appreciate her "ignorant peasant" comment yesterday. We're going to show her what we're made of! [To Azula.] Time to go, Azula! And no funny business or elsewack-a-pow! [Azula zaps the end of the boomerang with lightning, shocking him.] Yeow!
Katara [Katara, Zuko, and Aang attack her with their bending.] Sokka- !
Sokka I'm okay!
Katara [To Azula.] Don't you ever touch him!
Azula [Katara breaks the ice off her hands.] Tell your brother not to wave his toy in my face!
Zuko We made a deal, Azula! If we're going to do this together, you have to stay calm!
Azula Keep your merry band of misfits in check and we'll all get along fine.
Sokka I changed my mind. One of you take first watch. [Katara gives Sokka an 'I-told-you-so' look.]
Appa flies away with Team Avatar. Suki, Ty Lee, and Iroh watch and wave.
Iroh [Iroh holds a cup of tea.] To think that I ever aspired to become lord of this dreary palace ...
Suki Anything we can do to make you feel more at home, Iroh?
Iroh You see, the problem with the Fire Nation is exactly this. [Iroh takes the spear of a nearby Fire Nation guard and swiftly swaps it with his own cup of tea. The guard looks incredulously at the cup in his hands.] For the past hundred years we have had too many weapons, and too little tea. That's it! I have discovered my first business as interim Fire Lord! I will declare a national Tea Appreciation Day! Drink up, my friend! [The guard takes a tentative sip.]
Cut to Team Avatar, airborne on Appa. Aang and Katara sit on Appa's head, Aang holding the reins. Zuko, Azula, and Sokka sit in the saddle.
Sokka Ahhh! The open sky above us, a daring mission before us, and friends all around! Just like old times, isn't it?
Aang Even better than old times! Before, I always wanted to kiss Katara and now I actually get to do it!
Katara Aw, sweetie! [Aang and Katara kiss.]
Sokka [Put out.] I for one could do without that part.
Katara Too bad Toph couldn't be here.
Aang Well, instead of Toph, now we have ...
Azula [Everyone looks to Azula. She visibly shifts into her "crazy mode."] So, tell me, kids. I've been dying to know. Which of you miscreants did she approach first?
Katara What are you talking about?
Azula None of you had even met me yet! How did she convince you to help her ruin my life?!
Zuko [Zuko puts his arm in front if Azula.] That's enough, Azula! [His fist hisses with steam threateningly.]
Azula Put that away, Zuzu. It's just small talk.
Sokka [Sighs.] I miss Toph.
Aang You said it.
Time passes, and the team still flies on Appa. It is nearly sunset.
Zuko I think that's Hira'a up ahead. If we can't get there before sunset, though, we should set up camp. I don't want to enter town in the middle of the night like a gang of bandits.
Sokka Good point. Hey Aang--AH! [Aang's face is revealed to be contorted into an angry grimace.] What, it's not enough that we have one passenger who stares at us with crazy eyes?!

Gurihiru - We had a hard time with Aang's expression when his mind synchronized with the spirits. The script specified an angry face, and we wondered just how much we could change it.

Katara What's wrong with your face?
Aang I don't know ... But I can't help it! There's something out there ... Some spirit. I can feel its presence, especially in my face.
Sokka Now that you mention it, I feel it too. That's why I'm doing this! [Sokka uses his fingers to widen his eyes and glares.]
Katara Sokka, this is serious!
Sokka As serious as this? [Sokka makes the most serious face he can muster.]
Katara Knock it off!
Aang looks over the side of Appa and is shocked to see a large, blue wolf spirit with red eyes and a white belly running along the ground below them. Blue markings on his stomach resemble that of a glaring face. It is the same spirit that Ikem saw lapping at the lake.

Gurihiru - Since this spirit is a wolf, we gave it a different color than real wolves to make it special.

Mike - As I recall, the wolf spirit was inspired by a similar spirit seen near Koh's lair in "The Siege of the North, Part 1." By the time Gene was writing The Search, we were already deep into writing book 2 of Korra, during which time we had developed more rules and ideas for how the spirit world worked. Those ideas directly influenced the human/spirit interactions in this story.

Aang Whoa! Did you guys see that giant wolf spirit?! I think that's the presence I'm feeling!
Zuko There's nothing down there.
Sokka Did the wolf spirit look like this? [Sokka stretches his mouth with his fingers and glares with wide eyes. Katara hits him in the face with a snowball.] What was that for?!
Katara I told you to knock it off!
Zuko Azula, get down from there!
Azula [Azula stands on the edge of the saddle.] I can't tell you what a pleasure it's been riding with you all, listening to you bicker. Too bad not all siblings get along as well as Zuzu and me! Now that Hira'a is just a hop, skip, and jump away, it's time to bid farewell. [Azula's wild eyes show that she is having another psychotic episode.] I'll be sure to give her your regards!
Azula jumps off of Appa and begins to fall with a determined look on her face.
Zuko No, Azula! We're too high up!
Aang [Aang jumps off Appa with his glider. He swoops down and catches Azula.] I got her!
Azula Nice glider, Avatar. Is it fireproof?
Aang [Azula catches part of the wing of Aang's glider on fire.] What are you doing?! This was a gift! [Azula breaks away from Aang with a spark of lightning.] Oof!
Aang crash lands behind Azula, who touches down safely, Iron Man style. She takes off running as Aang rubs his neck and attempts to stand. Close by, Appa lands and the three others jump off.
Zuko You guys go make sure Aang's okay! I'll go after Azula!
Azula runs across a stream nearby, before seeing another illusion of Ursa.
Ursa You're only hurting yourself, my daughter.
Azula Don't pretend to care about me! You thought that you could break me, didn't you, by having Zuko lock me up in that institution?! But I'm stronger than you realize! I used all that time alone to figure out the truth! You've been conspiring to take me down from the day I was born! Even when I was an infant, you saw in me something you never had: Power! That's why you think I'm a monster! My power makes you fear me!
Ursa No, you are confused.
Azula I still haven't figured out the details. How did you contact Zuko, Ty Lee, and Mai even after you disappeared? How did you show that snow peasant Katara how to defeat me? Luckily, though, Father was able to fend off your conniving long enough to lead me to this! Now I have the evidence I need to take to the throne from Zuko! But I can't become Fire Lord with you constantly conspiring to undo me! That's why I'm going to find you, Mother – and end you!
Ursa I love you, Azula. I do.
Azula [Clutching her head with her hands, trying to shut Ursa out.] Aargh! This--this must be your most treacherous act, Mother! You've turned my own mind against me!

Gene - In the original series, Azula was all kinds of awesome. I found her tragic character arc incredibly compelling. She began as a master manipulator bent on power. But when she finally achieved her goals, her mind broke. We gave her a split personality in order to preserve both the manipulative and lunatic halves of her personality.

She shoots the river with lightning, causing it to explode upward and destroying the vision. When the water subsides, Zuko is standing on the opposite side, facing her.
Zuko Who are you talking to?
Azula [Panting.] Why do you care?!
Zuko Keep to our deal, Azula, and we'll find her. Together.
Azula [Brandishing her sparking fingers at him.] You need me, Zuzu. I have information you don't. But now that we're so close to Hira'a, I don't really need you anymore.
Zuko [Pleading, yet wielding fire of his own.] Please ... I don't want to do this.
Katara, Sokka, and Aang appear behind Zuko.
Katara Out of the way, Zuko! [She waterbends the stream, using it to freeze Azula's arms to her torso. Azula grunts and falls to the ground.]
Zuko You all right, Aang?
Aang [His head down.] My glider's a little singed, but I'm okay.
Katara [Crossing the stream to berate Azula.] I don't appreciate you trying to set my boyfriend on fire!
Zuko Then why are you making that face?
Aang [Aang's face is having another rage attack.] I feel the presence again.
Sokka Zuko, you gotta reconsider this arrangement with your sister.
Azula [Screaming at Katara.] Of all the co-conspirators she could've chosen, why an uncultured--
Azula suddenly cuts off mid-rant, gasping in terror. Katara turns and sees the blue wolf spirit, growling, the eye-like markings on its chest directly above the head of Sokka, who is oblivious to the monster standing over him.
Sokka Hey ... that fear in your eyes ... So you've finally learned to respect the power of Mr. Boomerang!
The scene enters a flashback. Ursa is seated at a desk next to her bed, writing a letter by candlelight. She finishes the letter, tucks it into her nightdress, and, glancing quickly at the door behind her, stands and moves to a portrait of herself and Ozai. Removing it from the wall, a display of acting masks from her past is revealed (one of which greatly resembles the future mask of the Blue Spirit). She looks at them for a moment, before a knock sounds at the door; she hastily restores the painting to its former place.

Gene - When I was watching book 1 of the original series, I wondered where Zuko got his Blue Spirit mask. Masks are important in the dramatic traditions of various Asian cultures. Here, we make that connection explicit. We also imply that after Ursa left, young Zuko searched her stuff for clues about where she might have gone. He stumbled across her secret masks and used the blue one to become the Blue Spirit.

Mike - The origins of thee Blue Spirit are revealed! In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Bryan based the Blue Spirit mask on the mask of Dragon King Nuo from Chinese drama, though we never detailed exactly why Zuko chose this particular mask. I like how Gene tied it into Ursa's backstory with the acting troupe.

Ursa Be right there!
Ursa opens the door to find a young Zuko rubbing his eyes.
Zuko Mommy, I'm too scared to sleep!
The scene changes somewhat: Ursa is walking down a hall, a candle in one hand, Zuko in the other.
Zuko Everything was on fire! My toys, my bed, my whole room! And Azula just stood right in the middle, laughing at me!
Ursa It was only a nightmare, Zuko. [They pass Azula's room, the door of which is open.] Azula's been asleep in her room, see?
The scene changes once more: Ursa is tucking Zuko back into bed, whispering to him.
Ursa Close your eyes, my love. When the good dreams come, hang onto them with all your might.
Ursa leaves Zuko, walking down the hallway and out of sight. A short time later, she is in the palace kitchen, knocking quietly on a door, which opens, revealing an elderly woman.
Elua Princess Ursa!
Ursa [Handing her the letter.] You'll make sure this is delivered to Hira'a? In confidence?
Elua Of course. Just like all the others.
Ursa [Smiling.] You've been like family to me, Elua.I don't know what I'd do without you.
Elua It's my honor, princess.
After the door has shut, Elua listens intently for the sound of Ursa leaving. She moves toward the lantern near her bed and, making as though to deposit it in an open chest, opens the letter and reads it. Her eyes widen in shock. The scene switches to Ozai, who is practicing firebending with armored dummies somewhere in the palace. As he finishes toppling the last dummy and wipes himself with a towel, Elua enters behind him.
Ozai [Sensing her presence.] Elua? What are you doing here?
Elua Forgive my intrusion, Fire Prince Ozai. [Holding out the letter to him.] The latest letter from your wife, addressed to her hometown.
Ozai I asked you to file these away for me.
Elua [Persisting.] Yes ... but this one is different from the others! [ She lifts her head, sweat rolling down her face, her hands shaky.] Here, Ursa reveals a secret that ... that requires my prince's immediate attention.
Ozai takes the letter nonchalantly and begins reading it.
Elua [Bowing.] A thousand apologies if I am mistaken, Your Highness.
Ozai's expression changes, his anger easily seen in his widened eyes and diagonal eyebrows.
Ozai Impossible! [He crumples the letter in his fist.]
The scene switches back to the present, where the growling wolf-spirit snaps at Sokka as he runs, terrified, away from it.
Aang The wolf spirit must've left the Spirit World for a good reason! So please, everybody, be respectful!
Sokka [Respect seems futile.] Respectful?! Your spirit just tried to eat my head!
Zuko [Seeing its markings for the first time.] Those markings on its belly ... they sort of look like a face ...
Katara [Also making the connection.] Aang, look! That's the face you've been making!
Aang You're right ... I think I get it now! [As Katara waterbends a shield of ice around herself, Sokka, and Zuko, Aang jumps into the air, confronting the spirit himself.] Stop, big giant wolf spirit! Listen to me! I felt your presence earlier, see? Just like the design on your fur!
A switch of shots shows the wolf spirit growling at Aang as he comes to rest on a rock, Azula, still imprisoned in her chilly straitjacket.
Aang I knew you were near because I'm the Avatar, the great bridge between the spirits and the humans! My friends and I were traveling to the town of Hira'a when one of us-- [He gestures toward Azula.] --decided to go her own way. If we've disturbed you, please accept our apologies.
The wolf spirit stares at Aang for a moment before launching itself at him aggressively.
Aang Yikes!
Katara and Zuko jump to Aang's defense.
Katara [Alarmed.] Aang!
Zuko Your "respectful" tactic doesn't seem to be working!
Sokka, Katara, and Zuko all attack the wolf spirit with bending, except for Sokka, who throws his boomerang. All at the same time, Katara's ice spears shatter on the wolf's flank, Sokka's boomerang bounces harmlessly off its head, and Zuko's fire shoots directly into the spirit's open mouth, smoke pouring from the wolf's nostrils as it quenches the flames and burps loudly.
Zuko [Dumbfounded.] Did that wolf spirit ... just eat my fire?!
Sokka And burped! it ate your fire and burped at you!
Quick cut to Azula, still on the ground, watching them. Roaring, the wolf throws itself at Aang again as he tries to reason with it.
Aang Come on, wolf spirit! I'm great bridge guy! You don't wanna--
Just before the wolf spirit hits Aang, Appa joins the fight, knocking the spirit aside with a roar of his own.
Sokka All right! Giant spirit animal mega-brawl!

Gene - At WonderCon 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Dee Bradley Baker, the voice of Appa and Momo. He did an amazing reading of this section. He made the Giant Spirit Animal Megabrawl come alive. Look for clips of his performances on YouTube. You won't believe how many different voices and noises can come out of one man.

Aang [Worried.] Go easy on him, buddy! We just want peaceful passage to Hira'a!
The battle between Appa and the spirit ends quickly, with Appa sending the spirit flying with a blast of air from his tail. The wolf crashes heavily into an outcropping of rock and struggles to rise. While Katara and Aang look worried about the spirit, Sokka cheers like he's watching a boxing match.
Sokka Woo-hoo! Sky bison: one, fire-eating wolf: zero!
The wolf, with great difficulty, rises to its feet, making a gurgling noise deep in its throat.
Aang [Rushing to the spirit.] Appa, I asked you to go easy on him! Are you okay, big giant wolf spirit?!
The wolf spirit vomits a massive cloud of moth-wasps, their wings bearing the same pattern which so resembles a pair of angry eyes. They swarm toward the group, who look on in shock and awe.
Aang It just threw up a cloud of moth-wasps at us!
Sokka You are the grossest spirit ever!

Gurihiru - We're actually afraid of moths, so it was really scary for us to look at photos of moths for reference. (Even though this is a moth-wasp, not really a moth ...)

Azula [To Zuko, seeing the quickly closing cloud of insects.] Free me, Zuzu. I'll take care of those spirits for you.
Zuko [Moth-wasps buzzing around his head.] We don't need your help, Azula!
Azula [Matter-of-fact.] Oh, right. Because you and your friends have everything under control.
The view, from behind Azula, still on the ground, shows Sokka, Katara, and Aang trying vainly to fend off the horde of spirits.
Sokka OW OW OW! Did they eat my whole arm?! I can't see my arm! [The spirits have enveloped his arm.]
Aang [Frantic.] Try not to hurt them! They're spirit creatures!
Katara Aang, it's getting hard to breathe!
Aang I know! But if you hurt them, things might get worse!
Scene cuts back to Azula, talking to Zuko.
Azula I'll admit it, all right? I shouldn't have run off on my own like that. After all, we made a deal. And if you can't trust your family, who can you trust?
Zuko, wasps still angrily buzzing around his head, looks at Azula for a moment. Using his firebending, he melts the ice around her. Immediately, she springs into a crouched position, creating a ball of lightning with both hands and, feeding it with more of her own lightning, sending it off into the distance. Every spirit, the wolf included, stare at it, mesmerized, and they all follow it, disappearing into the forest beyond. Fingers smoking, Azula spins to see the entire group watching her.
Azula You're welcome.
The scene jumps to later. Sokka and Zuko are seated on opposite sides of a campfire; behind Sokka, Katara and Momo are sleeping next to Appa, also asleep, while Aang is sleeping in a seated position, as if meditating, on Appa's head. Behind Zuko, under a tree, Azula is curled up in the fetal position, twitching and muttering in her sleep.
Azula [Talking in her sleep.] ... my own mind ... you've turned my own mind ... against me ...
Sokka After everything that's happened, you're still gonna let her sleep with her hands unbound?
Zuko She saved us from the moth-wasps, didn't she? I'm giving her a chance.
Sokka [Unsure.] That's a whole lot of chances for someone who tried to fry you.
Zuko It'll be fine. Aang, Katara, and I agreed to watch her in shifts through the night. Why are you still up?
Sokka I drank a ton of water trying to get the taste of moth-wasp out of my mouth. Now my bladder's--
Zuko interrupts Sokka, his hand raised to stop Sokka.
Zuko I get the picture. Thanks.
Sokka [Looking over his shoulder at Katara, still smiling.] Little cold tonight, isn't it?
Zuko I thought you Water Tribe folks liked the cold.
Sokka [Taking the bundle on his right and pulling a blanket from it.] Yeah. Maybe we've been away from home for too long.
Sokka stands. He walks over to where Katara and Momo are sleeping and spreads the blanket over the two of them. Deep in sleep, Katara smiles. He walks back to the campfire and sits down opposite Zuko once more.

Gurihiru - This is our favorite scene in this chapter. Through our art, we were able to express how Sokka and Zuko feel about their little sisters.

Zuko After all those snowballs to your forehead, you still look out for her.
Sokka [Shrugging.] I throw witticisms at her. She throws snowballs at me. The relationship works.
Zuko [Not understanding.] Seems to me like you're getting the short end of that deal.
Sokka [Looking back at Katara.] Katara is my sister. When it comes to her, I don't mind getting the short end of the deal.

Gene - The original series developed Sokka and Katara's relationship into something special, something real. Anyone who has a sibling can relate to both their little tiffs and their deep love for one another.

Zuko looks over his own shoulder, seeing Azula shaking.
Zuko Do you have another one of those blankets?
Sokka [Smiling.] Sure. Here. [He gives Zuko the extra blanket.] I need to go--
Zuko, again, interrupts him.
Zuko Thanks for the blanket.
Waling to Azula's side, he covers her with the blanket, but, meaning to leave, he stops short, catching sight of a note protruding from Azula's boot. He reaches out, sweating slightly, and carefully takes the letter without waking Azula. He stands, opens the letter, and reads it.
Note My dearest Ikem,

It's taken me a long time to admit it, but you were right. I belong with you, and nothing is worth this pain. My one consolation is our son Zuko. When I look into his eyes, it's as if I'm looking into yours. My thoughts are with you always. Love, Ursa

Zuko's eyes widen as he reads two words again, fully understanding the implications of what he has just read.
Note Our son

Mike - This cliffhanger caused quite a stir when the first volume of The Search was released. It's a huge moment for Zuko, whose entire life and identity are now in question. This story is not only about Zuko's external search for his mother, but also his internal search for who he really is. And I love the way Gene and Gurihiru decided to depict this page, with the words of the letter becoming the backdrop. This is the kind of visual that might look odd in an animated version, but has such impact in a comic panel.








See also