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Literature / Nowhere Stars

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Magic needs darkness as stars need night.

For as long as anyone can remember, humanity has existed under the threat of Harbingers, living nightmares that devour dreams and passions, and souls. However, humanity has protectors: the Keepers, children chosen by the Messengers of the Goddess Claiasya who can wield the magic of their souls. Modern-day Keepers are treated as a mix between celebrities and religious idols, but few accept the position just to become heroes. In fact, the Messengers promise that if a Keeper consumes and purifies enough Harbingers, they will be able to reshape themselves - or the world - according to their desires.

It is for this reason that Liadain Shiel, a terminally ill girl, becomes a Keeper, hoping to change her fate while she still has time. But magic wants its users to grow and change, not simply continue living, and the secrets swimming beneath the sea and beyond the sky have designs of their own...

Nowhere Stars is an ongoing Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction Web Serial Novel that started in 2022. It is written by Anemone, and it can be found here.

Nowhere Stars contains examples of:

  • Abstract Eater: Harbingers eat things like dreams, passions, and souls.
  • Adoptive Name Change: The Fianatas are an extended-foster family of Keepers, all legally adopted by the city's patron-protector, Iona Fianata; they all formally go by that surname, regardless of what names they had before.
  • Animal Motifs: Everything associated with Claiyasya, the goddess of the dominant (and seemingly only) religion in this world, is rife with ocean and sea-creature motifs. The Messengers all resemble sea creatures or have ocean-coloration, monasteries to her are built on islands, the lingua franca is called "Thalassyan," the center of the church is an underwater city, the souls of the dead are said to "return to the sea", and Harbingers seem to fear and avoid the ocean. As Claiyasian "overculture" is apparently the dominant culture of the world, this has trickled down to secular aspects of society too (see: Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" below).
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Harbingers that fall within "Cluster A", according to Aisling; they aren't hostile to humans, they genuinely see the things they do as helpful. It's just that their idea of "help" invariably involves some form of Body Horror, being Brainwashed and Crazy, or some other horrific fate.
    • Yurfaln has no ill will towards Liadain or its victims; it simply considers sickness, suffering, and slow death beautiful and wants to share them with as many people as possible.
    • Aulunla genuinely wanted to help its one human friend Isobel to achieve their dreams; it had no problem using its powers to drive multiple people to suicide to gain power to achieve this goal.
    • Mention is made of one Harbinger that wanted to bring people together and overcome their differences... by flaying the skin off of them, as it was a "barrier" to their connection.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Most contemporary technology of reality exists in the world of Nowhere Stars, but they have different names, often befitting the "sea" theme the culture has: the internet is the "Coral Sea", websites are instead "reefs," and computers are "Cnidarian drives" (or "drives" for short).
  • Child Mage: The Keepers have the power to use magic. The magic seems to come from their own souls and desires.
  • Child Soldiers: Though the Keepers are regarded as celebrities and superheroes, they are still children fighting monsters that could very well kill them.
  • Dark Magical Girl: Liadain is forgotten by her friends, largely ignored by her father, and became a Keeper purely on the hope of finding a way to cure her illness with magic and live forever. She's no less isolated or mistrustful of others in her new life, and her style of magic doesn't help matters.
  • The Dreaded: Sophia the Deathless, a particularly ancient Keeper; not much has been revealed about her, but even Liadain is terrified to even bring her up, and she apparently has a habit of dissecting peoples' souls.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: The forests outside the city bounds are completely infested with Harbingers, and unlike in the city they don't bother hiding in Wounds; instead, they superimpose their Pocket Dimension over reality, so you can wander into one and not even notice until reality starts twisting around you. The Harbingers here spend most of their time warring with each other, but will happily go after anyone stupid enough to poke around the forest.
  • Great Offscreen War: One is occasionally mentioned in Liadain's narration, though details have yet to be given, aside from the fact that a lot of architecture and culture changed afterward to its current, borderline Solar Punk state, with the implication both were much closer to our own world beforehand.
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Discussed; Keepers and Harbingers are an accepted, almost routine part of life in this world; souls are also a known and observable fact, and the goddess Claiasya presumably exists as the Messengers outright claim to be working for her. Outside of these things however, there has never been any undeniable proof of other supernatural forces, like ghosts for instance, or non-Keeper related forms of magic. Liadain practices Tarot as a hobby, but doesn't believe it has any magical power. Even the existence of an afterlife is highly questionable, as there's no clear idea where souls go upon death. Several people throughout the centuries have tried to use this trope to argue for the existence of such things, but there's no real proof.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Most children, to one extent or another, dream of being chosen to become Keepers, and are disappointed when they 'age out' of the age range. When Shona asks Aisling what exactly the Messengers are looking for, Aisling sounds like she's had this conversation many, many times.
  • Immortality Seeker: Liadain wants to use the powers she gains from consuming Harbingers to achieve Complete Immortality.
  • Life Drinker: Liadain can absorb the health of other people to keep the symptoms of her sickness at bay, and to give her an extra boost in combat; this results in the people themselves getting sick with a non-lethal version of her own sickness, so she tries to keep it to a minimum. This also gets discussed in one chapter, as an example of how little magic actually follows the laws of physics; as one doctor points out, "health" is not a fuel source one can tap and draw in, it's just a word that means "the absence of sickness."
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: According to Liadain, anyone who doesn't think this is lying to themselves to cope with a terrible fate they can't change.
  • Mentor Mascot: The Messengers. Liadain's Messenger is Vyuji.
  • Missing Mom: Liadain's mom passed away when Liadain was a baby, and she has no personal memories of her; it's implied she died of the same illness that's currently killing Liadain herself.
  • Older Than They Look: Once a child becomes a Keeper, they cease to physically age. The oldest Keeper in Liadain's city is in her nineties, and still looks like a teenager.
  • Offscreen Afterlife: The Claiyasyan religion doesn't go into any detail about the afterlife, despite souls being a known, proven, and observable phenomenon; scripture only says that the dead "bloom in full and return to the sea" with absolutely zero further explanation.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: In this case, they're abominations called Harbingers. They have strange goals and desires, they seem to feed by making civilians more like them, with predictably horrific results, and they live in Wounds, nightmare-realms where the rules of reality don't apply.
    • It's also not clear where Harbingers come from. Conventional wisdom is that they're born from "negative emotions" of humans, but new Keepers quickly learn that this doesn't quite cover it; Yurfaln was apparently born from a relatively positive emotion, that being a dying man's comforting thoughts, that it simply took to a demented extreme. Likewise, if Harbingers are born from human emotions, why are the woods and forests, which are totally devoid of humans, completely overrun with them?
  • Parental Neglect: Liadain's father does not visit her after dropping her off in the hospital, and Liadain mentions a few times that he doesn't really care about her.
  • Personality Powers: A Keeper's power is based on their inner self. For example, Liadain's powers revolve around illness (as she is terminally ill) and tarot cards (which she uses to do readings, though she doesn't believe that they have any power).
  • Pocket Dimension: Harbingers live in what are called "Wounds" (capital "W"), pocket realms that are shaped according to whatever their particular obsession is; thus, Yurfaln's is a cross between a grey, moldering tomb and a terrifying parody of a hospital, while Seryana's is a claustrophobic, rotting house with no doors.
  • Police Are Useless: Zig-zagged. Police can do next to nothing against Harbingers — and they know it. However, they never hinder the Keepers; the opposite, in fact, police are very useful for quarantining areas where a Wound has opened, and for getting survivors medical attention. After Liadain defeats her first Harbinger, she's actually surprised that the emergency call operator asks no questions when she calls in to report the survivors.
  • Tarot Motifs: Though Liadain dismisses the power of tarot cards as mystical nonsense, she enjoys doing readings for others, and tarot cards play a major role in her first transformation and in her powers.
  • Talk Show: Shona was briefly the teen-host of a junior talk show interviewing Keepers after she got too old to play her Magical Girl character; it didn't last long because Shona wasn't willing to stick to the sanitized, studio-approved questions.
  • Technicolor Eyes: Keepers have these. Liadain's eyes are bright green in her transformed state.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Champions of the Goddess," the official, church-sponsored trading card game about Keepers, seems to be one to Magic: The Gathering, with Keepers acting as Commanders.
    • One Harbinger is discussed that wanted to created "unity" by flaying the skin off of people because ‘our skin was a barrier to true connection.’ This is identical to the philosophy of Elesh Norn's Machine Orthodoxy, also from Magic.
  • Starfish Language: Harbingers have their own language, but for obvious reasons, there's never been a safe way for humans to learn it; some Keepers gain the ability to comprehend it, including Liadain, after she defeats and absorbs Aulunla, but all that really does is let them here their incoherent ramblings, rather than truly communicate. It doesn't even seem to have a name, as one short POV section from the perspective of a Harbinger (Vianzia) simply refers to it as the Language, with a capital "L."
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Harbingers can and will harm anyone, regardless of age. They will also fight the Keepers, who are children.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: After a Harbinger is defeated, its essence is left behind, which Keepers can absorb to add to their power.