Matt Forney
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The Empire Never Ended

Once upon a time, there was a wise and beloved king.

The king presided over a bustling and prosperous empire. His castle was always packed to the brim with courtiers seeking favors. Men twice his age looked to him for advice. Women swooned over him, some even offering to give him naked pictures of themselves. Even his enemies respected him for his wit and intelligence. And every time he made a proclamation, everyone fell silent to listen to what he had to say.

And one day, the king surveyed his empire and said that it was good.

This king was no inbred son of royalty. He had earned everything he had. He had begun at the absolute bottom, a peasant with little money, no allies and no reputation. Through dedication and force of will, the king had carved out a fiefdom for himself in the cold, unforgiving world. When his friends were goofing off and drinking, he was drawing up battle plans and making a name for himself. When his peers were doing the bare minimum to get by, he was reaching out and building alliances with like-minded men. When everyone was just mailing it in, the king gave 110 percent.

The king arose during a time of troubles. Liars and fools played at being philosophers, running the nation into the ground with their schemes. Shysters roamed the land, preying on the poor and stupid, fleecing them of what little they had. The king saw all this and knew instinctively that it was wrong. He never claimed to be perfect or infallible, but he was way smarter than the nincompoops that most people worshipped.

He saw his chance for glory and seized it.

And yet, while his empire swelled and grew with each passing day, the king became discontented. He regretted letting many of his courtiers into his castle, as they were cranks and idiots, the only thing binding them together being a mutual hatred of the king’s enemies. While many of his followers were earnest, too many were not taking his proclamations to heart, instead living vicariously through the king’s exploits.

Most of all, the king could not bear the truth: his followers were worshipping a mirage.

The king was a private person, and while he had never lied to his people, he never told the whole truth either. His most devoted fans thought him superhuman; his biggest enemies called him a liar and a narcissist. To his subjects, the king was not a person, but an idol, a golden calf on which they could inscribe all their fantasies and neuroses. It didn’t matter what he said or did; his subjects would cling to their mirage as furiously as cultists to a foreign god.

The king couldn’t take it anymore. So he quit.

One day, after presenting himself in the courtroom as usual, he announced that he was abdicating his throne. He had had enough of being the man in charge. Someone else could rule for once; he was going to take a much deserved vacation. Everyone was saddened and shocked by this news, but aside from a minority of layabouts, they gave a standing ovation. The king packed his bags and rode off into the sunset, never to return.

Or will he?

As much as he wanted to go back to being a peasant, with its lack of responsibility, the king knew better. He knew that while peasants were common, only a handful of men had the brains, the gumption, the will to be a king. They needed him, and he needed them. The same fire that led him to forge his empire could not be extinguished.

The forces of evil have not won. The king is still alive, and he will reclaim his throne. The only difference is that this time, his followers will admire him not for who they think he is, but who they know he is.

This post is dedicated to FFY, Alpha/Remy, Gmac, Mojo, CL, Professor Mentu and all the other fallen warriors. The empire never ended. Until the last king is dead, it never will.

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