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The Dark Times

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At least King Sombra had good health care.

"Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again."
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In the beginning, when the world was first formed out of dust and ice, before mankind came to dominance, the world was ruled by dark forces, evils beyond imagination, ancient tyrants. Or at least that's what some horror and fantasy stories want you to believe, that before man arrived (and even sometimes after) there were creatures that ruled this world that are now gone.

Most often, this is important to the Back Story of a series, giving writers room to introduce remnants of those old evils sealed in a can. Sometimes The Dark Times become The Time of Myths and then lead to Götterdämmerung. Alternatively, the creatures that populated The Dark Times are merely waiting Beneath the Earth until they regain their strength.


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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Devilman's backstory involves demons returning after having been dormant since around the ice age.
  • The world of Naruto was besieged by the near-almighty Ten-Tailed Beast centuries ago, until it was sealed and imprisoned by The Sage of Six Paths.
  • In One Piece, the past has been completely censored by the World Government. The ability to read the hieroglyphs that the ancients wrote is enough to make the World Government use the most powerful attack known to mankind to completely wipe an island off the map.
    • Although considering how ruthlessly amoral the World Government is on so many levels, it's anybody's guess if these times were any worse than present times.
    • An alternate fan theory is that the World Government IS the terrible enemy spoken of in the ancient texts and which potentially world-destroying weapons were created to fight.
  • The world of WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us? was originally a barren wasteland inhabited by strange creatures. This all changed with the arrival of the Visitors, who used their powers to change the world into something far more recognizable. The trope gets subverted when it’s revealed that planet’s original inhabitants did not view their world as a wasteland; rather it was a paradise that the Visitors had stolen from them. These creatures, later known as the 17 Beasts, would eventually re-emerge and attempt to return the world to way it once was. This desire has unfortunately led to the current conflict between the beasts and the surviving Visitor created races.

    Comic Books 

    Fanfics 
  • In the Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light this is where it is implied the Slender Man hails from and what it is attempting to bring back.
  • Strengths Of The Heart And Mind: Long ago, when the Dark Bonneters (dark versions of the hat spirits in Super Mario Odyssey) ruled the Corona Empire, they ruled by fear, keeping morale low on purpose to make their subjects easy pickings for their possession. Countless victims were possessed and subjected to horrific tortures so their spirits would fade and the Dark Bonneters would have full control over their bodies. These times ended when the Red Berets stormed the capital and killed King Krános, sparking a war which killed most of the Dark Bonneters and forced the rest to set up laws against possessing humans and various other species.
  • Thousand Shinji: In the backstory, ancient alien races (the Ancient Ones, the Angels...) and powerful deities fought over the galaxy long before the birth of the mankind. The Angels met by the main characters are the last survivors of their wars.
  • In Children of an Elder God, cosmic horrors ruled the Earth in the far past. The story happens because they're returning... and they don't particularly care about the ape-like creatures infesting their ancestral homeworld.
  • In The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds, the 20 years between Queen Majesty's death and Megan's first arrival.
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    Film 
  • The Cabin in the Woods is set in a universe that was once ruled by the "Old Gods", a race of godlike monsters who have since retreated into a slumber, content with the sacrifices humanity offers to entertain them. Little detail is given about this mysterious past, other than being specifically referred to as the "dark times", and that as bad the horrors the main characters encountered in the movie, those days were infinitely worse.
  • Star Wars frequently referred to the war between the Jedi and Sith, which led to the dominance of the Jedi, and the threat of the prequel trilogy is solely the return of the Sith.
    • The gap between Episode III and Episode IV are referred to as "The Dark Times", in-universe. Specifically by Obi-Wan in A New Hope when giving Luke the short version of the Jedi Purge and his father's death.
    Ben Kenobi: For over a thousand generations, the jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.
  • In Thor: The Dark World, the Dark World of the title is the home of the Dark Elves, a race from before the current universe who wish to return all that exists to this state of non-existence.

    Literature 
  • The Cal Leandros series includes as part of its distant past a time when the world was ruled by various monsters like the Auphe.
  • Most H. P. Lovecraft stories, where Eldritch Abominations are just waiting until the right stars align to return. There is nothing humans can do about it beyond slightly delaying the inevitable.
    • The world has actually undergone several Dark Times that most of humanity has no idea ever occurred. Due to the Time Abyss of Earth's age, many civilizations have risen and fallen throughout the eons after facing their own Dark Time, and will again in the future, even after mankind's extinction. Among others there are the Elder Things, the Great Race of Yith and the unnamed intelligent beetle species that will be the next dominant species after mankind.
  • Midkemia of The Riftwar Cycle was ruled for an untold amount of time by the Valheru, beings who arose long before the coming of the younger races and even the gods. They were enormously powerful and, at the time, not so much consciously evil as totally amoral. They lived out their time by sporadically killing one another, enslaving entire races, and periodically riding out to slaughter and sack entire worlds. Their conflict with the newly created gods and their expulsion after their defeat is a vital Backstory point.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has the Long Night, occurring 8000+ years before the main storyline begins. Details vary between culture, but all agree that it was a time of literal darkness and a winter that didn’t end. In Westeros, this coincided with the emergence of the Others and their legions of wights. It’s said to have lasted for a generation before a great hero (also different in every culture) with a flaming sword led humanity to victory against the darkness, bringing back the day.
  • A Star Trek crossover event, Invasion! introduced the Furies, a coalition of species that once ruled Federation-and-neighboring space. All the local cultures remember at least one Fury species as their "demons". The Furies were overthrown by the Unclean, who require three things from other species: power cores, DNA, and BRAINS! Unfortunately, each novel's author had a slightly different take on the Furies.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium: Middle-Earth has cycled through various dark times when Morgoth and/or Sauron were the dominant forces in the world (perhaps the most notable being in The Silmarillion when Melkor/Morgoth ruled the all of the world except for Valinor completely unchallenged — it was only the coming of the elves that inspired the Valar to act against him). The plot of The Lord of the Rings basically consists of Sauron trying to start up new dark times.

    Live Action TV 
  • Many of the races on Babylon 5 had legends concerning the last war with the Shadows 1,000 years ago: most of the Narn telepaths followed G'Quan to war and never returned; the Minbari almost lost the war until the timely arrival of Valen and a replacement base of operations; the Markab spoke of the "great darkness" defeated long ago several episodes before they were conveniently wiped out by a plague.
  • This idea actually evolved through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel — in early Buffy, the Old Ones were implied to be merely waiting for a chance to come back and continue their reign, but by the time we came to late Angel and actually met one (Illyria), they were shown to have mostly killed one another and now are sealed away in specially-designed sarcophagi.
  • Doctor Who has the "Dark Times," in the beginning of the universe, a time of "blood and magic" with the Carrionites, the Racnoss, and the Great Vampires. The Weeping Angels are also implied to have originated during this era.
    • There are "the Dark Times" of Gallifreyan history when Gallifrey was ruled by the Pythia before she was overthrown by the triumvirate of Rassilon, Omega, and the Other.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • A fairly common trope in European mythologies:
    • The Norse have the frost-giants ruling over a frigid, misty world in the time before Odin and his brothers slew Ymir.
    • In Greek Mythology, we have a more ambiguous and double-edged example depending on the source; there are the first generation of Gaia's offspring- the Titans and the altogether stranger Giants, Hekatonkhires, and Cyclopes but some claim that time was a Golden Age (this is where the term originated, in fact) and it is hard to say whether things were worse for mankind than when the Olympians took over. If one chooses to interpret the intermediate period as the point where humanity stopped living in caves and started getting organized in communities, then at first they had simpler lives where they had to deal with an often unfriendly and ever-changing environment while they later exchanged that for having much more complicated lives safer from nature's whims but just as vulnerable to the order imposed both by the men who became their rulers and by the new management of gods.
    • Irish Mythology has the island originally inhabited by the monstrous Fomorians, before they're ousted during an extremely complicated series of invasions.
  • In The Bible, it's implied that during the time when the Earth was formless in the first chapter of Genesis, Satan's Rebellion was in progress. While Adam and Eve were initially spared from experiencing this conflict, it all went to pot when they were tempted to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, kicking off a period when humans became increasingly more wicked and started producing giant offspring with angels. Things got so bad that God had to destroy the old world in The Great Flood minus everyone and everything in the Ark.

    Tabletop Games 

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE had its own Dark Time, and it was called just that, but it wasn't ancient. That is, it wasn't for most people, save for the tribes on the Mata Nui island, whose memories had been wiped. The era started with the Great Cataclysm 1000 years ago and ended directly before the main plot began — but it only lasted for 999 years on the island of Mata Nui, because the Big Bad agreed to give the islanders one spare year to build their villages that he later wanted to besiege. The rest of the Universe wasn't as lucky.

    Video Games 
  • In Brütal Legend, the First Ones lived in darkness because they could not bear the sight of their own hideousness. When Ormagoden brought light and fire to the world, they trapped and killed him. The Titans rose from his blood and made them into servants, but when the Titans disappeared, they used remnants of the Titans (like nail clippings) in a ritual to remake them, and only got a pale imitation: humanity. The First Ones used humanity as slaves until the beginning of the game proper, when Eddie Riggs arrives in the World of Metal to help the leader of the human resistance get his movement going.
  • Dark Souls. In the Age of Ancients the world was unformed, shrouded by fog. A land of gray crags, arch trees, and everlasting dragons.
  • The time of the Ancients in Eternal Darkness.
  • The Legend of Zelda had a time before the founding of the Kingdom of Hyrule when monsters were rampant across the land and people were constantly killing each other in order to get the Triforce. Among those people were a tribe of powerful sorcerers who came closer than anyone else to getting the Triforce. Eventually, the Triforce was sealed away in the Sacred Realm (cf. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past), the monsters were trapped in a magic chest (cf. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap), and the evil sorcerers were cast into the Twilight Realm (cf. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess). The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the first game confirmed to take place during these times, with the only safe human settlement being in Skyloft; the land below is ruled over by Ghirahim. And Skyward Sword still manages to have a previous Dark Time when an even greater evil (namely, the series' Satanic Archetype) ruled and which Ghirahim is trying to unleash once again.
  • Sword of the Stars has two species who have a long, long list of grievances against an ancient, completely meglomanical empire of Abusive Precursors. By the time the game takes place, they've suffered a Karmic Death at the hand-flippers of the Liir, but it turns out that they left around a sentient bioweapon as a sort of personalized "fuck you" to the universe.
    • Then in the second game, turns out they were Not Quite Dead after all...
  • Touhou, as it builds upon Japanese Mythology, mention an era where terrible Youkai ruled the land of Gensokyo until they were pacified by the ancestors of the humans. In a subversion, the majority of those youkai still exists today, content to be left alone because the humans Outside refuse to believe in their existence anymore.
  • In Trials of Mana, mention is made of a dark time when the Benevodons roamed the land, causing widespread destruction.
  • World of Warcraft: The lore behind Azeroth is that there was once a time when the Old Gods ruled and had four chaotic elemental lords as their lieutenants to strike terror in the hearts of many. The Titans came and put a boot in their behinds, killed one of them, and put the rest and the elementals in solitary confinement.
    • It should be noted that the Titans are pretty much Physical Gods / Precursors in the Warcraft Universe. They created most of the life on Azeroth, and were PISSED when the Old Gods started screwing with their creations, namely the Curse of Flesh which made all of their metallic creatures "Squishy". In fact, this scared them so badly, they left Azeroth with a self-destruct mechanism on the off chance their influence spreads. Better to lose one world then all of them.

    Web Animation 
  • The backstory of RWBY is about how mankind was nearly killed by evil creatures called Grimm, whom they managed to drive back by harnessing an energy source called Dust and channeling their Auras for fight capacity. The inhabitants of that world are at least smart enough to prepare for the Grimm's inevitable return.

    Web Original 
  • Hinted at in the Creepypasta "Genetic Memory".
    What happened, deep in the hidden eras before history began, that could affect the entire human race so evenly as to give the entire species a deep, instinctual, and lasting fear of pale beings with dark, sunken eyes, razor sharp teeth, and elongated faces?
  • The SCP Foundation universe has the Church of the Second Hytoth, whose adherents believe that before the universe there was a dark time called the "Voru", filled with all kinds of nasty creatures inimical to life. The first universe to be created was destroyed by the Voru; we're in the replacement, i.e. Second Hytoth. The Voru are still around, and attempting to destroy this universe as well, but fortunately seven Physical Gods called the "Koru-Teusa" survived from First Hytoth and stuck around to protect this one. Unfortunately, six out of seven are dead or MIA, and the only survivor may well be on his last legs...

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The Lich is heavily implied in "Gold Stars" to be a Living Relic of a group of monsters that predated not only everything in the Universe, but the void before the Universe formed as well.
    "Before there was time, before there was anything...there was nothing. And before there was nothing... there were monsters!"
  • In The Legend of Korra mid-season two-parter "Beginnings", before the time of the first Avatar, the physical world was overrun by spirits, many of them hostile to humans, forcing them to live in cities on lion turtles. Although the lion turtles were able to give their citizens the power of element bending, it wasn't much help against the power of the spirits, especially when corrupted by Vaatu. These times came to an end when the first Avatar, Wan, decided to let the vast majority of spirits return to their place of origin, the spirit world, and let them be unable to return by sealing the portals between the physical and spirit worlds.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic season 3 premiere has the reign of King Sombra for the Crystal Empire. The crystal pony that Twilight interviews admits that while part of her amnesia is due to Sombra's curse, the other part may be suppressed based on how awful his rule over them was. Which would make perfect sense considering that the brief flashback earlier in the episode prominently displayed the enslavement of the entire population of the Empire by the height of Sombra's power.
    • In "Hearth's Warming Eve", the ponies of the past nearly faced extinction as the Windigoes fed on their hatred to turn the entire landscape into a frozen wasteland. What makes this example worse than the others is that the ponies ultimately only had themselves to blame for the situation instead of an Evil Overlord.

    Real Life 
  • Until around 65 million years ago the Earth was ruled by enormous, scaly beasts. It's pretty unlikely that they'll ever come back, but their avian descendants are still with us.
  • Also, according to the RNA World hypothesis, before DNA based life appeared, the world was once dominated by things which were basically viruses, although modern viruses may not have any connection to them. note 
  • Prior to the emergence and spread of cyanobacteria, Earth's atmosphere was anaerobic, and deadly to nearly everything alive today. Earlier still, it was so hot that the surface was molten, and vaporized rock was a component of the air.
    • There was also "Snowball Earth", where the Earth was covered in a thick layer of ice and snow which made life impossible.
  • The Universe had real dark times relatively early on its history, when everything was a hot, opaque, plasma. Once atoms began to form the Universe became transparent to radiation but the veil would not be lifted until the first stars were formed millions of years later.
  • And, well, the nature of whatever "space" the universe would eventually occupy right before the Big Bang is totally unknown to us.note 

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