A deep musty purple marked the finale of the sun's lazy descent into Skull Crag, the highest peak of the Sunset Mountains, which always seemed to be frowning upon the land it so loftily perched upon. It wasn't always like this, thought the wizened old man. Or was it? He took a thoughtful pull from his ornate scrimsh aw pipe, a vanity which did not match his rugged brown smock and wildly splayed hair, and one which was never far from him. No, he said reaffirmingly, chasing away thoughts that he knew were not his own, but an unwelcome projection of another will. He remembered when this was the most brilliant part of the day, how Skull Crag veined with reflective black obsidian, would make the sun seem to explode at sunset, sending platinum lances of light in every direction, like a giant prism.

Then The Shadow came.

Not in full force, as a brazen and honest foe would, but by the cover of darkness did it slink, bit by bit, into the lives of the honest. Honest and hopeless now, the old man corrected himself. He knew he couldn't be the only one to notice how the twilight was so different, how it was a black hole that not only dest royed the light, but also dignity, resilience, and hope. Nor was he the only one to witness the more sinister, corporeal elements of these dark tides. The followers of The Shadow had begun to move among the free people of the Realms. At first, they had seduced these simple folk with promises of protection, of a new age of wonders to put earlier eras of greatness to shame. The people of the Shadow intertwined themselves in the daily lives of the townsfolk, becoming the magic users who wielded knowledge and power, the clerics and priests to whom the people came for healing both physical and spiritual, the warriors which the people depended on for protection from foes outside and within...

Now the Way of The Shadow was everywhere. Those few who both noticed and were alarmed by the Shadow's stealthy rise to power were quickly and quietly silenced before even the slightest breath of their trepidation leaked out. This scared the old man the most, for not only did the Shadow always seem to know who wasn't aligned with it, but it acted rather quickly against them, stealing them away in the quiet hours of the evening to an unknown location. When they returned in the morning, they returned as a resolute follower of this new order, with an unrelenting lust to make sure that all served with the same ardor. The network had spread quickly indeed, he thought with a deepening sense of dread, for even those wandering merchants from across the world, those from lands near and far, came to the town already enthralled with the insidious power of this ephemeral foe. No, he sighed, he could not count on an outside force to help, it seemed. What was the use? The last pallid rays of the sun faltered beneath the brackish shade of the skies, the shade that encompassed all as of late. The waters had only begun to churn, the old man knew with certainty. Much more was to come, and it couldn't be good. He had seen a lot in his years... The orci sh horde that swept across the coast, destroying all in its path and leaving the town a broken child's plaything, tossed to the side because it could no longer serve a purpose. Yet they rebuilt and all was well after a few years of toil. The cruel Mage-King of the north had held the town in his powerful grip, forcing the young to labor next to the infirm in order to feed his monstrous armies, leaving the townsfolk with next to nothing to survive upon. This tyrant also faded to an unpleasant memory when his own generals had him assassinated. Never before though, had the old man wanted to just sit down and let the earth claim him . The Shadow was just too gargantuan and abstract. It was too...

Suddenly a loud rush of wind ripped into the silence. Awaken from his reverie, the man almost stumbled to his knees when a great flash of light seemed to pour through his mind's eye.

IT IS NOT YET TOO LATE.

The old man whipped around, surprisingly fast for his rag doll structure. Nothing. Yet the air seemed somehow fresher, and less oppressive than it had a moment ago... As if he had wandered into a tiny place unaffected by the omnipresent murk.

Flash.

This time he felt as though a sledge had hit him square in the chest so clear and thunderous was the voice. The pipe dropped from his gaping mouth.

THERE IS STILL TIME. THERE IS STILL HOPE. THEY COME.

He could not for the life of him speak, so paralyzed with fear was he. Had the Shadow come to claim him as well? No, this force was different, he decided immediately. Dare he hope his silent prayers for salvation had been heard?

Flash.

Letters wreathed in light with intense clarity appeared in his head

EXCIDIUM UMBRA

THEY ARE YOUR HOPE. THE SHADOW WILL NOT LAST.

EXCIDIUM UMBRA

The words, like living fire, etched themselves into his subconsciouness, and the peace that he had sought since this onslaught of darkness began seemed but an armslength away. His heart swelled with joy at what seemed an unalterable future.

EXCIDIUM UMBRA

The Shadow, it seemed, would have it's own trials and tribulations as well.

A glimmer of dusky white reminded the old man to grab his still smoking pipe as he made his way back down the rocky path of the hill to his shack. He had much work to do.