Aster found herself on a stage, a small circular platform of polished wood. It was surrounded on all sides by a ring of heavy, velvety black curtains. A little bit of light slipped through from beneath them, just enough to make out the immediate surroundings and notice the sheen on the wood. She tapped her foot down with a click, which quickly faded into the surrounding hush without any returning echo. Aster stepped forward, grabbed a hold of the surprisingly soft curtain and pulled it aside. It shifted easily, light rushing into the new gap. Aster caught a glimpse of brilliantly shining colors, vivid and almost blinding. She shut her eyes to let herself adjust, and opened them to a blurry view of her ceiling.
A groggy sense of disappointment dawned, accompanied shortly by an all-too-familiar beeping from her phone. She turned off her alarm, and gave herself a few moments to contemplate whatever spectacle her unconscious had been about to show off, but it ebbed away the more she tried to focus on it. With a sigh, she got up to start her day. It wasn't very long before her parents did too, their night out not late enough to disrupt the usual schedule too much. It had just been a spur of the moment get together that went on a bit long, they explained. Her mom offered a bit of an apology, but Aster waved it off. They fit in some more idle chat before it was time for the bus.
Aster liked high school. While by no means perfect, and at times frustrating or stressful, it was usually interesting, engaging, and even fun. Or, at the very least, tolerably boring. It was almost always a pleasure to learn new things, and she did pretty well with the busywork. And this year in particular her class schedule hadn't been saddled with anything especially dull or unnecessary. It was quite nice, although she certainly wasn't dreading the prospect of summer vacation coming in a couple months.
The bus came on schedule, and Aster took her usual seat. She didn't pay much attention to whatever was going on around her, doing her best to tune out the chatter and the driver's choice of country radio. She gazed idly out of the window, as she turned her thoughts to anticipating the likely contents of the day's classes. That topic didn't hold out for very long, as there wasn't much reason to believe the day would be particularly special. By the time lunch came around, her suspicions had been borne out. Reasonably informative and engaging, but not exactly exciting.
She made her way to the table she always sat at, paper lunch bag in hand. It was one of those claimed by a mostly sessile friendgroup, in this case her own. The four of them didn't even fill half of the table, but nobody had ever settled on the other flank. Not that space in the lunchroom was at much of a premium. Hers wasn't a very big school, but some of the rooms had missed that memo. She was second to the table that day, after Emily. Emily was Aster's best friend, or at least the number one candidate if she ever started using the phrase.
Emily was all smiles, as ever. She was a bubbly, flamboyant person, which probably explained why she dramatically clasped both her hands around one of Aster's when she sat down.
"Hi Emily. What's up?"
"Oh, not much, you know, basically nothing, same as always really."
"That's a little underwhelming, considering the enthusiastic reception. Is something the matter?"
"Not really. There was a substitute teacher last class, and he was new."
"Like I said, it's fine. I'm used to being the center of attention."
Aster's expression twisted in sympathy. She wasn't quite sure what to say about that. The awkwardity spread to her friend's already slightly sheepish face. Aster placed her free hand atop the two clasping her own, in a gesture she immediately regretted. It only worsened things, as if cementing the strange sense of tension by the motion. Emily blinked in surprise, and another moment ticked by in further silence. As nothing continued to happen, Emily burst into a fit of giggling. Aster cracked up a little in sudden relief, as the odd moment passed by. The little bout of laughter wound back down, and Emily piped up.
"You should have seen your face!"
"You managed to look so serious. Really sold the dramatic hand grab! I'm impressed."
"Oh, right. Well, I try."
"There's no need to be shy about compliments, you know. Haha, is that a blush?"
If there wasn't one already, that brought one to Aster's face. She rolled her eyes, as she disentangled her hands from her friend's. Emily gleefully kept up the affectionate needling, and Aster did her best to tease back. She was hopelessly outmatched, but it was still fun, and she wanted to indulge the return to the usual good spirits. Or at least to mischievous ones.
Aster often found Emily's mood to be pretty infectious. It was probably her effusive attitude, or her vibrant expressions. The third eye made them especially striking.
The eye looked mostly like the other two, a similar size and with the same green iris, but it was clearly off. It was shaped rounder, and bulged out prominently from the center of a forehead that didn't look designed to house it. The eyelids at least helped it appear more normal, but Aster had seen the eye open uncannily wide before. It had been a little unnerving for a while, but Aster had pretty much acclimated to it. For her part, Emily enjoyed the opportunity to be exceptionally expressive, although that wasn't the only reason she didn't hide it under her blonde bangs.
At the moment, the eye was squinting at Aster in exaggerated fashion, and the rest of Emily's expression was clearly playful.
"You seem kinda spacey today, Aster. Or worryworty."
"I don't think that's quite a word-"
"Anyways, uh. If something's nagging at you, you can nag me about it. Or not feel bad about not telling me. Or whatever."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
"Cool. Anyways, I dunno if we're early or the other two are just late but I'm going to get in on the whole actually eating lunch thing."
"Probably not a bad idea."
It was a few more minutes before the other two arrived, Chester and Diana walking as a pair. Emily set down her sandwich to wave them over, not that it was needed to bring them to the table. Aster offered a wave that didn't involve moving her entire arm. The two sat down with them, Chester next to Aster and Diana across from him, beside Emily.
Chester was short, with mousy brown hair, prominent glasses, and a penchant for button-up shirts. Diana was tall, with impressively long and curly red hair, and easily the most stylishly dressed of the four, as ever. She didn't care much for fashion anymore, but she still had the clothes. At the moment she was in long sleeves, which were unbuttoned at the cuffs. Her hands were set flat on the table, mottled in shades of red, with exceptionally long and slender fingers that ended in bulbous tips. Bright red and slightly translucent skin webbed the smooth fingers together at the last set of knuckles. They looked like they belonged on an oversized maroon frog, not on the otherwise normal-looking girl. In a sense, they did.
It wasn't always her hands. But it was usually something, some body part warped into a distorted, vaguely amphibian feature in its place. Diana could change it back if she tried, but things tended to shift when she wasn't paying attention to them. Apparently, she found it easier to just ignore the changes most of the time. Aster didn't quite understand that, but it wasn't really a pair of shoes she could place herself into. Even not counting herself, Diana and Emily weren't the only students with preternatural powers, but they were easily the two most obvious cases. Comparatively, her own was invisible, and would be even if she wasn't hiding it.
"Good of you two to make it!"
"I'm why he's late. Also why I am. Thankfully, it's just lunch."
"Are we even late? Maybe they're just early, and uh, so was everybody else also."
"You've cracked the case. And after we went through all the effort to orchestrate it, too."
"Rats, it's all ruined. Now how are we supposed to mess with you?"
"Once again, the forces of good prevail."
"I didn't know we were Team Evil. Did you?"
"Well, you being on it with me is news. Oh, I guess my corrupting influence won a convert!"
"Damn. I suppose I ought to commit, then."
"I don't really feel like I've done anything to belong to Team Good. Is your side recruiting?"
"...Did everyone else just become supervillains?"
"I think so."
"It's okay, Chester, we won't ask you to join. I know you're too good a person."
"I'm not exactly relieved."
"And you shouldn't be! You can't stop all of us just by yourself."
"You say that, but he does sort of have us one to nothing at the moment."
"Does anybody know a three against one card game?"
Aster didn't, and a chorus of no's attested that neither did the others. The conversation dwindled down again as attention returned to the nominal purpose of the whole period. Lunch lasted longer than it really needed to, not that Aster was complaining, and the tail end did find itself devoted to card games. Unable to come up with an asymmetric one, they settled on a free-for-all. Diana ran away with it, amid the tragic collapse from within of Team Evil.
That was the last highlight of the schoolday. Aster shared more classes with her friends in the second half of the day, but they weren't the type to goof off during actual classes. The chance to talk between periods was often a breath of fresh air in what might otherwise get a little monotonous. The rest of the day passed by pleasantly. It didn't feel like very long at all before Aster found herself telling her friends goodbye as she got on her bus. She went to her usual seat, and her eyes turned almost automatically to the window. Her attention wasn't really on the familiar scenery though, as she thought about what to do that night. It was Friday, so a whole weekend was in front of her, and she didn't even have much in the way of homework. She really didn't feel like calling it another early night. So, she decided it would be another night to devote to practice, in the usual way.