The Emperor's Mirror

Summary: A proud ruler sees only what he desires, rather than what is.

The madman sat in a fallen palace, screaming at the mirror before him. His gaunt frame was clad only in rags. His unkempt face hosted a growth of tangled beard. The mirror did not let him die, although it did not do the same for the empire. He sat enthralled by the mirror, entranced by past glories.

Once, he was an emperor. He gave his reign over to excess and debauchery, ruthlessly quelling all that stood against him. Sycophantic couriers told him only what he desired to hear. He executed the poets and musicians who criticized his own attempts at art. To save himself, the court wizard granted the emperor the mirror. He never left it.

While the emperor observed the mirror, the worst observed the empire. Pirates and barbarians grew bolder. Generals grew daring, turning their armies on each other. Wealthy provinces seceded while the frontiers were given over to warlords and raiders. Famine, disease, and rebellion swept across the land. When the rebels took the palace, they left only the emperor.

The mirror's magic prevented them from slaying him permanently. Likewise, they found it a suitably cruel mercy, to leave the deluded madman alone as the world moved on. However, he continued shouting orders to long-dead subjects, convinced the world revolves around him. He still sits there today.