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Emperor Evulz has a worldwide empire of tyranny, and only the Chosen One™ has the magic to have a chance of stopping him. So he kills the Chosen One™, but the thing with prophecies is that they must turn out true no matter what. So the Chosen One™ is immediately reincarnated as a different person, a newborn, who will grow up and develop the same powers. This happens every time they are killed, and it is a mechanism understood by the emperor and his scientists.

So logical solution would be to trap the Chosen One™, and keep them locked up forever, so they don't reincarnate and can just rot away while Evulz' reign continues.

But Evulz doesn't do that. Instead he continues a world-wide witch hunt for the Chosen One™, stages a public execution of any suspicious child he finds, and afterwards goes searching again; initially for newborn, and then for babies, toddlers and kids who are as old as the time since the last time he executed a Chosen One™.

Why though?

My reasoning is that he uses it as a tool to deal with uppity underlings. "Oh, you say you want more freedom for your people? Very well, but while I consider that, have you ever noticed that your six-year-old daughter seems to behave a bit occult? I believe I saw her put a hex on that stuffed animal. I would send the secret police after her; but if you would forget about this proposal, I could overlook it..." The emperor is also effectively changing the public opinion so that the Chosen One™ is seen as an evil, in order to make the killing justified. And anyone who disagrees might be harbouring the Chosen One™ themselves!

So, questions:

  • Would that work? Are there any weaknesses to this strategy that I missed?
  • Are there any other advantages of routinely killing your reincarnating enemy, and the subsequent hunt for their reborn identity?
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    $\begingroup$ A political scapegoat is always useful. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 9 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ Not a full answer (go ahead and steal it, someone!), but this could go wrong if the Chosen One died unexpectedly before the Emperor found him, and the Emperor never found out. "You're looking for an eighteen-year-old? So this ten-year-old kid can't be the One?" $\endgroup$ – Jedediah Apr 9 at 13:28

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It encourages rigorous documentation for all people

First, assumptions:

  • Worldwide empires are not manageable without fast communication. Therefore, this would must have at least late 19th century technology (especially telegraph), or the magical equivalents.
  • The soul reincarnates into a child that is in the process of being born at that time the execution occurs.

If everyone knows that a child that was born at a time that was not when the last Chosen One was executed is a child with a better chance of reaching adulthood alive, then parents will desperately want to have documentation to prove when their child was born. The Emperor's bureaucrats will be delighted to oblige them by providing a continuous paper trail for every child with the full cooperation of their parents. This sort of documentation will be useful for future purposes such as conscription into the Emperor's service, taxation and secret police monitoring.

However, there are contradictions if Evulz is trying to simultaneously threaten his underlings, conduct public executions and condition everyone to believe that the Chosen One is pure evil that looks like a child:

  • If Evulz is successful in convincing everyone that the Chosen One is an evil that must be destroyed, then he cannot threaten an underling with the death of their child. If he tells the underling that their daughter is the Chosen One then a true believer will say "I shall kill her now, my liege. Damn her for fooling me for this long!"
  • If the Emperor wants to use this as a threat against a child to keep a parent/underling in line and the underling was at the last public execution, it will only work for parents unlucky enough to have a child of exactly the right age. This will be a fraction of a percent of the population (depending on how many years it is between each execution). In order to be able to threaten any parent, the date that the last Chosen One was killed must be unknown, therefore no public executions.
  • As soon as expectant mothers hear that the current Chosen One has been caught and will be imminently executed they will be desperate to have their birth occur either earlier or later by C-section, inducement, meditation etc or will bribe officials to change the date/time of birth on records. This will result in deaths of potential future taxpayers by straining obstetric resources. More importantly, it will probably result in inaccurate records that will make it harder for the secret police to find the next Chosen One.

The Emperor is much better off quietly having the Chosen One and his immediate family killed in an "accident" when the child is about 10 years old. Then tell the super-trusted secret police team to look at all of the records for babies born of mothers who were in labour at the moment of death and spend the next decade identifying the reincarnated threat. For a population of 7 billion, there will be approximately 50,000 possibilities worldwide, maybe as few as 5000 if the moment of birth is tightly defined. A decent group in a worldwide secret police organisation can carry out thorough checks on the behaviour of each child in so small a pool over a 10 year period.

In the meantime, the populace can praise the Emperor for his continued triumph over the forces of evil while mourning the victims of the Chosen One's outrageous attacks ("the bridge collapsed as a result of a magic attack by the Chosen One, not dodgy maintenance by the Bureau of Works") without ever getting details that might disturb them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I accepted this answer for going to the greatest depth in the matter of the question. Thanks to everyone else as well! $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 9 at 22:31
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The hero will grow too powerful if left alive.

If the hero is locked away eventually her/his powers will grow enough to be uncontainable. The power takes time to manifest and mature so it gives Emperor Evulz time to find the new incarnation and get rid of it, failing to do so or keeping the hero alive will eventually lead to the prophecy being fulfilled.

If the power takes let's say 18 years to go to full 100% it gives enough time to locate, isolate and kill off new suspects without raising too many problems within the population.

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    $\begingroup$ This might not even be true, the emperor only needs to believe it is, or they don't know and don't want to risk it (or consider the risk of not finding the child in time to be lower than the risk of the hero gaining enough power to break free from captivity). $\endgroup$ – NotThatGuy Apr 9 at 15:31
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Why keep killing the Hero? Because Emperor Evulz isn't suffering from locked-heroes-with-large-airvents syndrom. A hero in a cell could convince his jailors to let him out, or if the jailors are cruel the hero might someday escape his bonds and go on a murderous rampage which includes you, or the jailors might get soft for this random guy in solitary, or an uprising near the prison sees the hero released. It is simply too much of a risk to let the hero stay in a prison, better hunt down a magic child that doesn't know what's going on with a few garden variety murderers.

Otherwise justifying your actions based on a purpose seems spot-on. Many kings of old proclaimed that they were chosen by God and that justified their position and actions. Proclaiming that you are necessary for finding the Chosen Evil™ and that the needs of the many outweigh the lives of the few that get murdered in the process seems a pretty good deal. Christians and other religions have been extremely good at murdering supposed sinners, devil worshipers etc so going for actual magic children? No problemo!

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    $\begingroup$ Also, constantly keeping the chosen one in prison is expensive. Way more expensive than an axe, anyway. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Apr 9 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ Putting the prisoner in coma might do the trick. No bargaining, no waking up out of softness of heart. As for power failures - you could prime the setup so that the prisoner dies if coma cannot be maintained, instead of waking up and gaining power. An IV drop might be a difficult find in the medieval setting, but some sleeping herbs should be possible to find since the dawn of time, and administer via the "or drink of dehydration" method. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Apr 9 at 15:46
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The Chosen One™ is a lie

The emperor keeps unity by making everybody believe they have a common enemy. If that enemy gets captured and subdued, people will see that as a solved problem and will start having funny ideas about how to run things better. But by force feeding people with stories about what rhe Chosen One™ did this time, and how only the imperial forces kept the disaster from escalating again, the emperor manages to keep the Status Quo.

This is a major plot point in George Orwell's 1984. The target of the two-minutes hate might as well never have existed, or died long before the book. Still his ubiquitous menace kept people loyal to the party.

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Emperor Evulz doesn't believe in prophecies.

Yes, every couple decades there is some guy who challenges his rulership. But that's to be expected when you are an evil pragmatic emperor. Some of them even got close, but so far none of them succeeded before meeting their inevitable doom. The uneducated filthy peasants tend to call these people "Chosen Ones", but what proof do they have that there is anything "Chosen" about the latest wannabe rebel leader? They are just clinging to some ridiculous superstition that they will one day be "saved".

...insolent fools...

But anyway, the believe that there is a "Chosen One" causes those underlings to get stupid ideas, like the insane delusion that Emperor Evulz rulership might one day end and that there might be something they could do to make that happen. So better make sure that anyone who people call "Chosen One" dies a quick but painful death before they start another uprising which needs to be put down.

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The Emperor is Bored
But actually wants an Immortal Inheritor to His Throne

The normal rebellions against his regime are easily put down. But the Chosen One? He learns and comes back to life. It’s a continuous back and forth game. The continuous tennis match he has with the Chosen One, though, is just a front.

In reality, the Chosen One is the creation of the Emperor and his team of scientists/alchemists, the ultimate human being. The Emperor hopes that the Chosen One will carry the legacy of the empire, eternally.

To this means, he and his propaganda team draft up the 'Prophecy': The Chosen One will end the 'immortal' Emperor Evul with his special magic, and grace the Throne of the Empire until the End of Time. Along with their secret alchemy, they are able to continuously track the Chosen One, and shape him with scenarios until the Chosen One grows up into the perfect inheritor.

With the help of the prophecy, and the secret guidance of the Emperor, the Chosen One will garner support from the masses until he finally overthrows the Emperor of Evulz... but at what cost? His Soul? His Comrades? His Own 'Father'?

Or, realizing that he has become that which he most loathed, doomed to sit on The Throne for all Eternity?

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You need an enemy or your people will start thinking about revolting and who knows, maybe among those peasants will be the OG CO.

For what people knows Emperor Evulz is the good guy. Yeah, maybe they need to make some human sarcifices from time to time to the Sun God but at least the sacrifices are made from those pesky "others" we captured during our last war with them. That Emperor Evulz started becasue they wanted us to stop human sacrifices. And that would anger the Sun God.
Man, Emperor Evulz is so great. He think about everything and care for us.

So Evulz is killing two birds with one stone. One is to keeping his people in constant check and mildly unifinig them agains common enemy. The second on is that only him, and his scientics, knew where OG CO will spawn. So they can change the enemy once evey 10 years. And sometimes, like in every war, some women and children are killed. But hey, the Sun God.

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The Chosen One™ has a built in failsafe

I ran into a similar problem with one of my worlds so I included a failsafe. How I dealt with it was that if the Chosen One™ ceased being good (as in decided to conquer the world themselves) or stop being the Chosen One™ (as in decided to be a farmer) or were rendered incapable of performing the duties and responsibilities of the Chosen One™ (as in captured by the villain) then the Chosen One™ would either automatically die or revert to being a normal person and proceed with the reincarnation (in my world I choose death if they went evil or were intentionally left crippled by the villain, otherwise revert to normal person).

As such there is no point in the villain capturing the Chosen One™ or persuading them to join their side because of the failsafe.

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I'm looking at this from the point of view of Ol' Evulz, who thinks a little differently to most of us.

The one thing he is truly terrified of is The Chosen One; after this amount of time it's an obsession, a phobia, a complex. You might think "yeah, just lock him up", but Evulz sees this giant foam-mouthed tarantula scuttling towards him and he's thinking "KILL IT WITH FIRE!"

Evulz also suspects that the longer the kid lives the more powerful he gets. Okay, it's only a theory, but why the hell take a chance on something that big. Kill him before he is old enough to speak, walk or make trouble.

In his more rational moments, Evulz also realises that killing the little vermin is the only way, because otherwise he's leaving the perfect weapon for his enemies just hanging around, ready to be sprung from prison and used against him. No, even blinded and mutilated, a prophecy is a prophecy and who knows that magic the kid might have.

Fourthly, maybe the kid doesn't have an infinite number of lives. The stars turn, the prophecy runs into statute of limitations or the warranty expires and it all changes.

Finally, he enjoys the game. It's whack-a-mole on an empire-wide scale, a game for extreme stakes and he gets a thrill because he wins every time. What else is there that can excite an immortal so much as a deadly enemy who can nevertheless be easily be beaten?

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It boosts morale!

As you said - it's a public execution. A magically empowered enemy of the state has been found, and put down. Time for another week-long holiday to celebrate the victory of our Immortal God-Emperor over the forces of Chaos.

If the Emperor has killed the Chosen One™ enough times to study and understand the reincarnation mechanism, he's ruled at least part of the world for long enough that no one remembers otherwise.

Besides - unfortunate name aside - there's no practical reason for him to be a moustache-twirling evil villain: There's no one left to conquer, the only person who can dethrone him is, by power of the prophecy, the Chosen One™ (and that situation is already under control) so he has no need to fear being usurped by his deputies. Why bother maintaining a state of Tyranny, when you can become Beloved Leader instead?

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