AN: I don't know how these challenge things work, if there's an expiration date or anything, or if I'm supposed to track down the person who issued the challenge and inform them that I've accepted it, but I heard about this ancient OC + canon character challenge by, well, reading this story Loopy777 wrote for it, and I figured I'd go for it. I don't quite remember what the rules were, something about being able to get the feel of the OC through a one-sided conversation. Ah, well.

Loyalty: A Tale of the Dai Li

S-Michael

"I am Dai Li. Technically, I'm actually a part of what's called the Hexapuma Force, but all that is is 'Dai Li for children and teenagers.' Mainly, we were supposed to spy on Ba Sing Se's teachers and make sure they're not teaching anything that goes against the official propaganda.

"But I am Dai Li, don't be mistaken. My father is Dai Li, as was his father and his father, going back to the days of Avatar Kyoshi. We were amongst the first, and it is our family tradition. I am fully trained in the arts and tactics of the Dai Li. Even before you came to Ba Sing Se, I was beginning to be sent on far more adult missions. Don't look at me like that; you can't be much older than I am, if at all.

"You've somehow convinced yourself that people follow you out of fear. I have no idea how you acquired that delusion, but it's not something someone with your skill at manipulation and strategy ought to have. Think about it, my liege—and yes, you are still my liege, even stripped of all titles and incarcerated in this place—could you have subverted us with fear? We are the Dai Li, the bogeymen of Ba Sing Se; we are fear. You may be one of the greatest firebenders to have ever lived, and your friends may have been equally skilled even for not being 'benders, but it was still just the three of you, in a foreign city, and we were the most powerful secret police force ever assembled. We could have taken you, and we know we could have taken you, and if you'll think back to those days of sanity, you'll remember that you knew we could have taken you.

"But you also knew that we weren't going to take you. Try to remember why. We could have thrown you into a dungeon somewhere to rot for the rest of your life, but we didn't. Instead, we gave you Ba Sing Se on a silver platter. And what of the solar eclipse? When you were at your weakest, who did you trust to protect you? It was us. The Dai Li. Try to remember what that felt like, I implore you.

"We didn't follow you out of fear. We didn't betray every oath out of fear. Fear can't make men do that, or at least not the kind of fear that leaves them functional at any distance outside the range at which you can pull their puppet strings in real time. No. Love does that. We followed you because we love you. I followed you because I love you.

"What's with that face? That can't possibly surprise you, can it? We love you for your ambition, your raw power, your ruthlessness.

"I can't speak for everyone on this point, of course, but I, personally, knew who you were the first time I looked in your eyes. What I saw in your eyes was power and ambition enough to strike at the pillars of the world and make the celestial bureaucracy tremble in fear. The will to do the undoable, kill the unkillable, to break unbreakable rules of the universe, and do the forbidden. I saw this and a shiver of delight passed through me. I knew in that moment that I wanted to follow you as you did these thing. You wanted to burn down the world, and you made us want to help you. We'd have followed you into heaven itself to off the Creator of All Things. Yes, I knew who you were the first moment I saw you—you were Master.

"Was I not right? Were you, a fourteen-year-old girl, not the only person alive to have defeated the Avatar?

"Remember. Remember what you were before your friends betrayed you. Before your brother betrayed you. Remember, and find your way back to it, because I remember. I remember what it was to bask in the heat of your burning soul, and having done so…I…don't want to do without. I…need you. We need you.

"Please. I'm begging you. Come back to us. Come back to me. I…don't think I can live without you." The speaker wiped his face, and gained control of himself. "But I digress.

"My point is, we're still out here. We're still loyal to you. Banishing us in a fit of insanity isn't enough to make us go away. We're still here…but are you still our master? You need to find your way back to her. You need to decide whether or not you can trust us, trust me. You need to remember who you were. Realize that you relied on love every bit as much as you relied on fear, whatever your father told you.

"I'll be back. Every day, for as long as they continue to let me in here, and when they finally wise up, I'll start breaking in here. And as soon as you've decided to trust us, we'll break you out of here, and then…it will be on to whatever marvelous, devious plans you've got for us in that wonderful, beautiful, twisted head of yours.

"Look in your heart. Listen to your instincts. What do they tell you to do?

"I'm not going to pretend that all the Dai Li who have ever followed you are with us, but we are enough. And whether you believe me or not, and however many of us will still be there in the months to come if you don't let us rescue you, I want you to know that you are my once and future master. I have faith in you, my liege. Do you have faith in yourself?"

The speaker left, and nodded to a guard. The guard opened the door of the visitors' lounge, and escorted Princess Azula back to her cell. The guard noticed that she seemed rather…distracted. Thoughtful.

Two and a half weeks later, the princess was gone.