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"What prophecy doesn't have vague, apocryphal signs? Let's see, the usual ones cited are the appearance of Thin Bloods, Caine sightings, doom, gloom, that route."

So the plot of your standard fantasy or adventure story needs to keep referencing the story arc or continuing plot, and the heroes need to know there's some sort of threat. And it's big, and dangerous, and evil.

But you can't let the heroes, or the audience, know what that threat actually is. Hence we get visions and prophecies and bits of vagueness like "Evil is coming", "The darkness will arrive" or possibly "The End Is Nigh", or some such. The audience is reminded of a coming villain or threat but is never really given a clue what it might be. It could occur once, or in every episode. Omens, like strange animals, or animals behaving strangely, or peculiar weather can also work.

When the threat is never made explicit and only the effects are shown, see Take Our Word for It. If the actual threat fails to impress our frightened heroes, see Feet of Clay.

Goes beyond Foreshadowing. See also Cryptic Conversation and Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Often You Will Know What to Do. Even if the audience doesn't.

Subtrope of Portent of Doom. A Storm Is Coming is a specific subtrope. Related to Arc Words. Not to be confused with Harbinger of Impending Doom.

Examples of Vagueness Is Coming include:


Animated Films

  • Watership Down: "I know now... a terrible thing is coming." ... "something very bad is about to happen...! It's all around us!"
  • This is how the main conflict of The Simpsons Movie is set up. Abe Simpson has a "religious experience" in church, culminating in a strange prophecy that everyone initially dismisses as just a foolish old man's eccentricities. His ravings during the episode are all in the form of riddles, so they sound incomprehensible and aren't taken seriously. Assuming that God was trying to warn Springfield, the intelligence of the churchgoers was clearly overestimated.
    • It wouldn't have been nearly as effective dramatically if Abe had made to say outright: "Don't dump pig waste in the lake or the Environmental Protection Agency will quarantine our entire town."

Anime and Manga

  • Third Impact from Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Berserk: The Skull Knight makes his first appearance after Guts defeats Griffith and leaves the Band of the Hawk and tells Guts that from that moment up until the Eclipse in one year, he and his friends have begun walking toward their doom. Though he does not give any more detail about what the Eclipse actually does or signifies, he doesn't hesitate to tell Guts that when it does go down, horrible things will happen, saying that a storm of death will come and consume the Band of the Hawk which is quite literal when the Eclipse actually does happen -- and the chapter where it all starts going down is even called "Storm of Death." A year later, when Griffith reaches his Despair Event Horizon and activates his Crimson Behelit and the Eclipse finally happens, all Guts could think was that he and his comrades were in terrible danger.
    • Oh yeah, and all of the times that Nosferatu Zodd popped in to remind Guts and the Band of the Hawk about his prophecy was pretty much doom on a layaway plan.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS gives this as an ability to the Saint Church's knight, Knight Carim, allowing her to write vague poems that apparently predict the future. She can only write them once a year, as well. Lampshaded within the show, with the TSAB's higher-ups refusing to believe her prophecies due to vagueness. The most major instance of this is when she prophesies the "Ship of Law guarding the land" being destroyed. When Section Six and the Ground Forces are subsequently destroyed, they thought that this was what the prophecy meant (and what the heroes were trying to prevent). Until the ancient warship of the Belkans, a Lost Logia, is reconstructed by Jail Scaglietti. The prophecy was pointing to Section Six successfully destroying it.
  • Walpurgisnacht is this in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
  • Some of Tiffa's predictions in After War Gundam X fall under this.

Comics

  • Marvel Comics' Onslaught was introduced without anybody knowing who Onslaught was, including its creator. Just Juggernaut... falling from the sky, and when asked who/what happened all he could say was "Onslaught."
  • In the Final Destination (comics, as well as some of the films) the words "it's coming", and "it's here" can be seen at various points.
  • In the issues before The Death of Superman started, there would be a page of a mysterious fist pounding at a wall, proclaiming "Doomsday is Coming" until it busted through, in which it went "Doomsday is Here!"
  • This trope is invoked by Destiny in one issue of Sandman, describing his encounter with the Three Fates: "Their comments were, unsurprisingly, oracular and ambiguous."

Fan Fiction

 Mal: She said, and I quote, 'A Storm Is Coming.'

Inara: That's...vague.

Film

  • Occurs at various points throughout The Lord of the Rings films.
    • "Darkness crept back into the forests of the world. Rumors grew of a shadow in the east... whispers of a nameless fear." "Smoke rrises from the mountain of Doom. The hour grows late..." "The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the east... a sleepless malice. The eye of the Enemy is moving!"
  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail:

 Tim the Enchanter: Follow. But. Follow only if ye be men of valour, for the entrance to this cave is guarded by a creature so foul, so cruel that no man yet has fought with it and lived... So, brave knights, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth!

King Arthur: What an eccentric performance.

  • Renfield in Bram Stokers Dracula (in the novel as well?): "The Maaaster is coming!" (of course the audience know who the Master is, but the unwitting inhabitants of London don't, yet).
  • The Living Wake centers around the protagonist's "vague and grave disease".
  • The omnipresent thread of the looming Nothing in the first half of The Neverending Story.
  • The Jedi council deals with this in the three Star Wars prequels. "Dark, his future is..." as Yoda describes it - but evidently not so dark as to interfere.
    • In every Star Wars film there's a least one person who has "...a bad feeling about this."
  • Event Horizon - when :Justin temporarily regains consciousness after spending time in vacuum, his contribution to the conversation is "It's coming... the dark..."
  • Two Thousand Ten the Year We Make Contact. Dave Bowman arrives and tells everyone they've got to get their butts in gear and leave within 2 days. Everyone asks what's going to happen, and all Dave bothers saying is "Something wonderful". I guess " the monolith is going to transform Jupiter into a sun" would be too hard for folks to understand.
  • Bert in Mary Poppins. "Wind's in the east. Mist coming in. Like something is brewing, about to begin. Can't put my finger on what lies in store. But I feel what's to happen, has all happened before."

Literature

 "Whence came Natohk?" rose the Shemite's vibrant whisper. "Out of the desert on a night when the world was blind and wild with mad clouds driven in frenzied flight across the shuddering stars, and the howling of the wind was mingled with the shrieking of the spirits of the wastes. Vampires were abroad that night, witches rode naked on the wind, and werewolves howled across the wilderness. On a black camel he came, riding like the wind, and an unholy fire played about him; the cloven tracks of the camel glowed in the darkness. When Natohk dismounted before Set's shrine by the oasis of Aphaka, the beast swept into the night and vanished. And I have talked with tribesmen who swore that it suddenly spread gigantic wings and rushed upwards into the clouds, leaving a trail of fire behind it. No man has seen that camel since that night, but a black brutish manlike shape shambles to Natohk's tent and gibbers to him in the blackness before dawn."

  • Parodied in Bored of the Rings, where Goodgulf tries to warn Dildo with a series of portentous statements, going from "Evil Ones are afoot in the lands" to "There is a dog in the manger."
  • Justified in The Dresden Files- vague statements and misdirection are a way of preventing time paradoxes. For example, the Gatekeeper's extremely vague message about dark magic in Proven Guilty is actually the start of a convoluted Gambit Roulette to get around the fact that if he told the rest of the White Council about the impending vampire attack, they'd evacuate and the attack wouldn't happen, so he couldn't have foreseen it. It also serves to set up events so that Molly isn't executed as a warlock.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The motto of House Stark: "Winter is coming".
  • Used many times in the Warrior Cats series. For example, in Midnight, we actually see StarClan recieve the vision, but they are incredibly vague about it. A conversation from the first two pages:

 Bluestar: A new prophecy has come! A great doom that will change everything has been foretold in the stars.

Oakheart: I have seen this too. There will be doubt, and a great challenge.

Bluestar: Darkness, air, sky, and water will come together and shake the forest to its roots. Nothing will be as it is now, nor as it has been before.

Random cat: A great storm is coming.

Nightstar: Can nothing change what is about to happen? Not even the courage and spirit of the greatest warrior?

Bluestar: The doom will come. But if the Clans meet it like warriors, they may survive.

    • And what did all that vagueness refer to? Humans building a housing development in the forest.
  • Pretty much the story of Harry Potter's life.

Live Action TV

  • In the miniseries version of The Stand, Mother Abagail helpfully informs the heroes: "The Beast is loose in the fields of Bethlehem. The rats are in the corn!" She also says "A Storm Is Coming. His storm!" And "the rats are his."
  • Doctor Who:
    • In 'The Beast Below', an episode of Doctor Who, there is a creature that everyone refers to only as...The Beast Below.
    • Practically all of the Arc Words of the revival of Doctor Who count as a vague threat - "Bad Wolf" (though that turned out to be a good thing), "The girl will die in battle", "You have something on your back", "He will knock four times", "The song is ending", "Darkness is coming", "The Pandorica Will Open", "Silence Will Fall", "Tick-Tock, goes the clock".
    • "The Fires of Pompeii" is chock-full of this in even more bizarre form than usual, because the characters are ancient Romans being influenced by an alternative timeline to develop psychic powers which they naturally attribute to the gods and accordingly couch in all kinds of Meaningless Meaningful Words. Which is why it's nice when the Doctor eventually gets sick of it.

 Pyrovile: We... are... awakening!

The Doctor: Name yourself! Planet of origin, galactic coordinates, species designation according to the universal ratification of the Shadow Proclamation!

Pyrovile: WE... ARE... RISING!!

The Doctor: [imitating it] TELL... ME... YOUR NAME!

    • "Silence will fall" is especially terrifying, given the circumstances under which it's revealed. And then we find out it's a bit of a mistranslation; " Silence must fall, when the question is asked".
  • Much of the fanfare around the First Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "From beneath you, it devours."
    • On Buffy, Dawn was anticipated three times in a Dream Sequence: Faith talking about "Little Miss Muffet," and with Faith saying "Little sis is coming" and Buffy responding "I know." And once with Tara saying "be back before Dawn."
      • Note, the first of these was at the end of Season 3. Dawn came around in Season 5. Joss plans way too far ahead.
  • The Beast's arrival in season 4 of Angel is foreseen in vague implications of fire and blood.
  • Torchwood:
    • The Abaddon gets a few of these in the first series.
    • "The twenty-first century is when everything changes." Repeated every few episodes, and in the opening narration.
  • Lost adored this trope. Just about every season finale/season premiere (and quite a few regular episodes) would end with someone saying something along these lines.
    • At least once, it was actually lampshaded--the psychic who advised Claire about her baby warned her that blurriness is a very bad sign in a premonition.
  • In Smallville Jor-El tries to get Clark to stop Darkseid's hold on the world, but is so vague about it that Clark thinks he's talking about something else entirely, and stops that instead. Jor-El responds by yelling at him. Well sorry Jor-El, but maybe if you communicated better you wouldn't have this problem.

Music

  • In the lyrics of both "7 Days to the Wolves" by Nightwish and "The Howling" by Within Temptation, time is running out and some wolves/howling things are coming, and... that's about it. Similarly, in "End of All Hope" by Nightwish, this is the end of all hope, because... well, it's the end of all hope. And in Within Temptation's "Stand My Ground", "it" is totally coming and she's going to stand her ground against it; and in "Forsaken", the day has come and there's no time any more, and they are forsaken.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Your Horoscope For Today" is surprisingly clear for all its predictions, but tells Taurus "...The stars predict tomorrow you'll wake up, do a bunch of stuff, and then go back to sleep."

Professional Wrestling

  • TNA was VERY bad with this during the THEY storyline. For most of the arc, Sting, Kevin Nash, and the Pope were being so vague that if they had just told Dixie Carter who THEY were, the whole mess that they have on their hands right now could have been dealt with!

Tabletop Games

  • The Ravenloft metaplot features a prophecy that alludes to a "Time of Unparalleled Darkness". Very few details are given as to the specifics, other than it sounds bad. Events like the Grand Conjunction, the Grim Harvest, the disappearance of Ruldolph van Richten, and the outright disappearance of several island domains have all been hinted as leading up to this time of climactic badness. Considering the themes already present in the Ravenloft setting as a default, that's saying something.
    • The Grand Conjunction itself was one at the time. A prophecy by the Hyskosa, the setting's Nostradamus analogue, laid out six incredibly vague events that, when brought to pass, would lead to the destruction of the entire demiplane. Only interference by Azalin, who had been manipulating events to bring the prophecies about ahead of time and inadvertently juxtaposing the last two verses prevented the Grand Conjunction from taking hold in full. Even so, the turmoil was tremendous, leading to a modified Class 1, with several domains shuffled, lost, destroyed, and even discovered, along with a massive Bottomless Pit covering hundreds of square miles in the center of the Core's landmass.

Theatre

Toys

  • In Bionicle, Gaaki's Mask of Clairvoyance gives her visions of the future, and for some reason causes her to speak in extremely vague terms. However, her teamates are occasionally able to decipher her ramblings, eg "Seekers of Shadows" means the Dark Hunters.
  • Throughout the Transformers franchise there is a three word phrase dreaded by all: "Chaos is coming." referring to Unicron.

Video Games

  • In the Witch Hunt DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, Morrigan alludes to some great change that is coming to the world of Thedas and suggests that the child created from the Dark Ritual was "a herald for what is to come."

 Morrigan: Change is coming to the world. Many fear change and will fight it with every fiber of their being. But sometimes … change is what they need most.

  • In Dragon Age II, Flemeth herself suggests that Hawke will be a prominent figure in world-changing events.

 Flemeth: We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss. Watch for that moment ...and when it comes, do not hesitate to leap.

  • The original Baldur's Gate is full of references by miscellaneous oracles and people in the know to something dark being about to happen in general and looming in the Player Character's destiny in particular. When you're playing a second time and know what it is all about, it's amazing you didn't guess the answer the first time from all the hints.
  • The tutorial level of Kingdom Hearts has quite a lot of this. But don't be afraid - the door's not yet open.
  • City of Heroes has/had "The Coming Storm", which was introduced in Issue 9 as the background plot justification for Ouroboros (Which lets you travel through time). The plot line was dropped until Issue 19 (that's right, 10 whole issues), where "The Coming Storm" seems to be happening now, with the incursion of the Praetorians.
    • The Praetorian invasion may not even have been it. Issue 21 (12 issues later) brings a meteor storm / Shivan invasion that would seem to be the beginning of the "storm", as it ties in with a mission in the Ouroboros introductory arc. As of issue 22 (February 2012), the Dark Astoria arcs somewhat clarify what "the Coming Storm" may be: An alien invasion force known as the "Battalion", of which the Shivans are only part of their force. Naturally, the contact who tells you this admits that they aren't certain of it, however.
    • In addition to Ouroboros, the NPC Prometheus who offers semi-tutorial information for the end-game Incarnate system also can be coaxed into revealing non-specific hints as to future events (or confirm your own suspicions about the events occuring in the world). However, to unlock these discussions, you'll have to show completion of certain tasks and trials.
  • One of the side missions in Batman: Arkham City ends with Batman receiving one of these, ostensibly as setup for the next game.
  • Command and Conquer: Tiberium Wars: In the few missions before he supposedly dies, Kane is very nearly giddy about the arrival of... something. It's only once it shows up that anybody else, player included, learns that it's aliens. Hostile aliens. He's equally cryptic about what "ascension" is (he's an alien who was exiled onto Earth in prehistoric times and after Vega crashed the ship Kane built to escape the planet in GDI territory, Kane intentionally lured the Scrin onto Earth in order to hijack their wormhole technology instead), and basically everything else.
  • The Wild Hunt in The Witcher games is played for this trope, a mysterious force that Geralt is either chasing or fleeing even though he doesn't even know why. It seems that it's being set up as a major plot element of the inevitable third game.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • From the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, for weeks prior to Dagon beginning his ritual to release the Great Old Ones onto the Earth, every mystic hero (and villain, for that matter) whose name wasn't "Dagon" started receiving the same warning, "They are coming!" The warning showed up in the dialog of TV shows, it would appear in casual conversations with friends, in crossword puzzles, in dreams, and so on. As Dagon's ritual neared completion, the warnings became more and more blatant and obvious until, at one point, a random stranger walked up to Warlock and screamed "THEY ARE COMING!" into his face.

Western Animation

  • Squidbillies mocks this trope on a number of occasions with Granny's Ghost Stories... which invariably come true and the actual menace turns out to be every bit as vague and nonsensical.
  • Protoclown's arrival on The Tick was simply described as "It's coming!"
  • In the Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 episode Better Off Red, Sage states something even worse than the Red Sentients is coming and she's building a weapon to try and stop it. A lot of her strange behavior that episode seems to simply be because she's terrified of whatever this evil is to the point she didn't want to tell the group about it and hoped never to face it. The season finale reveals that this new enemy is the Ancient Ones, but nothing more is explained except rather frightening shadowy images of them and the fact they predate the Sentients (who created the multiverse). These facts, along with the fact their name seems to be a Shout-Out to the Old Ones, heavily implies they're in Eldritch Abomination territory.

Real Life

  • Nostradamus wasn't exactly clear with his predictions.
  • Nor is The Bible's Book of Revelations.
  • "Prophets" who have predicted the Endofthe World As We Know It that doesn't end up happening tend to have kept things vague so they can update things when things don't pan out.
  • In general, clairvoyants, astrologers, tea leaf readers, fortune tellers, cold readers -- in fact, anyone who claims to be able to talk to the dead, predict the future or glean specific details about a person -- will make statements so vague they're meaningless and let the listener fill in the details. This is done specifically because a statement like "You will face hard times, but things will get better" apply to absolutely everyone, so they can always claim to be correct.

Notes

  1. Scarytown, probably
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