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Of all the STEM fields, astronomy is the most dangerous for a student at Elsewhere University. Every science has poetry in it, but astronomy is just so much more explicit about it. Observatories are liminal spaces at the best of times or the most mundane of universities, but only at this school does the tiny octagonal library need an iron bolt on the door and windows, only at this school is the inner wall of the telescope dome maintained with a crust of salt. Each of the three doors leading to the dome has a spray of blackthorn twigs pinned to it. It makes things a little easier, but only in the sense that after installing protective measures, fewer astronomy students vanished. The wind still howls outside the dome, sounding more like a voice than any wind should. The red lamps inside the dome still show shadows that aren’t cast by any student there. On some nights, the telescope will show you the wrong side of the moon, or Venus and Mars will switch places, or Vega will turn leaf-green.

The astronomy students do what they can to stay safe. But there’s magic inherent in astronomy, and there’s no iron nor blackthorn nor salt that can keep it out.

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