A Lady's Lens Preview

Chapter 1

In Which Holly's Lens is Manifested into a Magical Storm

The most pressing concern Holly Gale and Elinor Gale had today was to decide which of the three very important invitations they had received to determine where they might attend. Said invitations all took place on the same date and the times overlapped with one another. They must choose one, else they would not find their husbands, and they would risk becoming spinsters. The Gale sisters also wished to attend one so as to have their fun of dancing, card games, and good company.

The ladies could simply not travel from one to another after spending only one hour before departing again.

With a loud, exasperated sigh, their father, MrMr. Gale, rose to his feet from his worn brown armchair, slapping his rolled uprolled-up newspaper on the low table. "I cannot bear any more of the inanities of deciding where to go. For Heaven's sake, pick one and be done with it." He stared at Elinor and Holly with a pinched face. The ladies gave each other a sidelong glance with a giggle. He harrumphed. “I am going to my study.”

The portly man departed from the drawing room with some aplomb. The sisters broke out into muted snickers.

"I wish we could just split ourselves three-ways and attend all three!" Holly declared, smacking the third invitation down on the low table in front of the couch in which the sisters seated themselves for such an arduous task.

"Don't be absurd, Holly," Elinor said, picking up the third invitation back up to examine it with a sigh. "However will we pick?"

"If only we possessed the ability now!" Holly bemoaned, raking her fingers through her curly dark brown bangs. "I thought one of us was supposed to get the Lens.” She chewed her lip, looking at Elinor. “Perhaps… do you think Grandfather[GU1] is wrong?"

"For all we know, it might go to Will," Elinor said absently, shuffling the cards as she reread them. "Ladies have no business in the War Office or politics or any meaningful employment."

Holly’s face pinched at Elinor., "Ladies with Lenses are respectable."

"In secret, Holly. Do you see them in those places dominated by men? No. It is better for Will to get the Lens." Elinor fanned herself with the invitations, “Nay, I do not want the Lens and hide myself all the days of my life.”

Holly gazed around their drawing room decorated with green and silver furnishings and decor. The hearth laid empty of wood or fire. It was quite warm in the room during the summer, and Holly detested the heat of London at their rented townhouse.

She let out an irritated sigh, sinking further into her seat on the couch, and she desired to be free of her duty as a daughter of the Gale family. She hoped to find a suitable man to marry who were sensible about women’s suffrage. With renewed vigor, Holly leaned over to her sister, plucking the stack of cards from her sister’s protesting hands. Once more, Holly studied the invitations with keen eyes as though she could divine something from them to learn which invitation to accept.

"Holly," Elinor objected, trying and failing to get the cards back as Holly shifted in her seat to maintain a distance between themselves. Elinor scoffed, giving up the fight., "Really!"

Holly leafed through the cards. Kendall's ball, Cambridge's ball, or the Duchess Berkeley's private dinner party. All three were quite promising and they were sure to have important people in attendance.

"I wonder if Duke of Richmond will be at Kendall's?" Holly muttered, thinking of the charming gentleman she wanted to be acquainted with. The sound of rustling papers was barely registered in Holly’s mind as her mind wandered down the delightful path of daydreams with an unachievable man for a husband.

"Oh my. Have you heard what’s happening with Earl St Vincent?" Elinor’s words broke into Holly’s dreams. ElniorElinor shook out the newspaper to read. "It says Lord Vincent has left the court, leaving the Prince[GU2] Regent’s side to take up new posting of his own? It's such a scandal!"

"Mm… Is it?" Holly asked with half a thought to her sister's commentary on the latest London gossip. "Did Prince Regent take issue with Lord Vincent?"

"That is just the thing, it doesn't report why Lord Vincent left the court, and Prince Regent won’t give any comments on the matter.," Elinor continued reading, shaking out her newspaper again to smooth it out. "In other news, it seems Napoleon is pushing hard into Spain… oh dear. If only we had more men with Lens abilities. It’s not good the public doesn’t know about Lens holders. It is not of the devil, you know."

“I do not disagree with that, yes,” Holly said, shuffling the cards in frustration. “I do think Papa has a point about just picking one and then—"

"Oh!" Elinor exclaimed, "We must attend Kendall's ball. I heard it from MrsMrs. Jennings—you know, the lady across the street—that it is sure to be the most happening ball this week. We cannot miss it."

Holly took out the invitation to Kendall’'s., "Then I suppose we must respond to their invitation." She handed the invitation to Elinor for her to respond while Holly pondered on possessing a Lens ability to prove to her father that she will never do parlor tricks, and instead, do useful work. Perhaps even serve the Crown… Holly let out a sigh.

Truly, Holly wished she had magic to perform a useful bit of magic. A dopplegangerdoppelganger spell to attend both Kendall's and the Duchess' private dinner party where she truly wanted to attend. Her close friend Eliza Stratford was invited there as well. She let out another dreamy sigh.

"What are you thinking, sister? All that sighing cannot be healthy for one’s lungs, Holly," Elinor commented, peeking up from writing their responses to the invitations.

"Nothing of consequence. Just a silly little thought," Holly answered with a wave of her hand.

A sudden burst of warmth exploded on Holly's skin, tingling in its wake. With the sound of a whoosh, her breath was sucked out. A matching sound seemed to come from Elinor's mouth open in an o, eyes wide in alarm. They could not breathe forefor a moment as Holly clambered to her feet against the swirling electric wind. Holly stumbled on her skirts as she ambled towards the suddenly roaring flames in the hearth. Holly’s breath returned as pants, her body trembling.

"What is going on[GU3] ?" Elinor exclaimed in terror, following Holly at her heels. Holly shook her head and stopped before the hearth, staring with wide eyes while she absorbed the meaning of what was happening to her.

Several things she observed all seemed to happen at once. Strange power flowed through in and out of Holly. Another breath was sucked out of Holly with a gasp, and the power of the force exploded once more. Elinor's screams rent the air, which seemed to fuel the power behind this manifestation of power. Sounds of crashing filled her ears.

Lights filled the drawing room in a burst of energy. Water droplets and fire swirled together in the air. Elinor's screaming was cut off by another sound of crashing. Holly stood frozen terrified in front of the blazing hearth of the smoldering drawing room. She breathed the hot air painfully through her nose and out her mouth with a cough, praying with all her might her sister was ok. She was uncertain what would happen if she moved an inch, else her movement would increase the sudden magical storm flowing out of her soul.

She needed to get the control over her newfound Lens, for surely that was what was taking place right now. Lens had come into her at last. Control, she thought, squeezing her eyes shut, I must have control. Holly's arms shook with the effort to contain the wild magic.

As she listened to her sister's moans and whimpers, Holly focused. "Go, go, go away," Holly mumbled in between pants of breath. With a thought in a blink of her eyes, the swirling storm vanished. With the rain, fire, wind, and electricity gone, it left only traces of smoke in the air and water coated every surface of the ruined green drawing room. The only thing holding any evidence of her new Lens was the fire in the hearth, and she fought with it. It is simply too hot to have you here, Holly thought with some irritation. The flames resisted her command to go out. With her teeth gritted together, Holly slowly sucked in a breath, and with it, mentally drew the fire in too. Before the flames could touch her nose, it thinned into nothing.

Sweat ran down the back of Holly's neck from the heat and her exertions. Breathing hard, Holly straightened her back with her head held high, filled with joyous glee with which she had achieved an impossible task. "We do not need you," she told the hearth. "It is simply too hot to have a fire in July."

In that moment, Elinor let out a small pained whimper, causing Holly to spin about on the spot. "Elinor!" She rushed to her sister's side to assess her state of wellbeing.

Elinor gave a great vitriolic shriek, shoving against Holly, breathing hard. "Stay away, stay away—you monster."

Holly's worried eyes snapped wide. She worked her mouth for a moment, struggling to find breath again as though the magic was escaping her soul again. "I beg your pardon?"

"Y-you—your magic—now I understand why the public must never know of Lenses," she stammered, huddling against the sooty wet chaise. "That's Devil's magic you've got there."

"Elinor! Don't be absurd—" Holly started.

Running steps sounded in the hallway, and Holly turned her head up in time to see her brother throwing the door open, slamming it against the wall and bouncing back. Will's fair skin shimmered at the state of the room, his hand held up to keep the door from shutting in his face.

"What in the blazes happened in here, Holly? Elinor?"

Their parents entered the room just then and stopped abruptly behind Will, peering in with incredulity. “What is that I smell?” MrsMrs. Gale demanded of her two daughters.

Scorch marks scoured the walls and curtains, and the smell of wet ash replaced the smoke in the air. No one spoke a word as MrsMrs. Gale struggled to see into the dim room. Her eyes snapped wide, "Good heavens! Is that awful smell—of fire?" MrsMrs. Gale moaned, squinting her eyes again in which to see better. It was clear to Holly her mother was not seeing the full damage she had wrought upon the room and grimaced at the thought of when MrsMrs. Gale did discover it. The Ccolor flushed MrsMrs. Gale’s face when she could not easily perceive the damage., "What exactly happened in here, girls? Tell me, this instant!" She questioned with an imposing glare in her dazed blue eyes.

Will's eyes panned his eyes about the room. "One of them burned the room, ma. Looks like there was a rainstorm in here too."

She let out a startled cry, her blue irises small, surrounded by the whites of her eyes. MrsMrs. Gale pushed Will out of the way and stumbled into the room in fear, clutching her skirts in both hands.

With slow, measured steps, MrMr. Gale approached the sisters, who remained on the ground by the fallen brown armchair. He leaned down and set his hand on the surface of the low table. His hand came away wet and black streaks coated his fingertips. He tutted, surveying the young ladies. With a growing grim on his face, he rubbed the wet ash mixture between his forefinger and thumb.[GU4] "And there it is," he spoke with no fear. "Which one of you have the Lens?”

Holly opened her mouth to answer; however, Elinor’s screeching voice filled the air with her vitriol. “Her! She did this devil’s work!”

MrMr. Gale glanced at Elinor for a moment with some interest then turn his attention on Holly. “Please stand, Holly. Of the three of my children, God has given you the power of Lens in this generation. How unfortunate…" His eyes drifted to his son, Will. "Your Lens will be nothing but useless party tricks in our world, Holly. It is quite a shame."

Holly's throat tightened at his words, squeezing her skirts tightly to keep her face blank of emotional distress. She stepped away from her sister, who still twitched, and whimpers escaped Elinor's throat. With each step back from her sister, the tear in Holly’s heart deepened.

MrsMrs. Gale wandered to the chaise and sank into a seat onto it and then let out a shriek. She sprang up, twisting around to stare at the wet and sooty cushions in horror. "It is as you said, my son! Oh, it's ruined!" MrsMrs. Gale lamented with her face twisting as though she were in agony, “Do you mean to tell me the whole—the entirety of this room—has been completely ravaged?” She cast her eyes about the room. She waved her hands, muttering indistinct words. Then they became clear again., "We cannot receive guests in this room! It is going to use up all our annuity for the year, Holly!” She spun around to face her daughter. “If only I could see the true damage… no, perhaps, it is better I don't."

With a despairing sound, MrsMrs. Gale withdrew from the room, using her right hand to guide herself out, and rubbing her temples with her left. "We can't possibly expect any suitors whom might come calling on our ladies in that dreadful room! Oh my word, I must go see MrMr. Adeeha and…" Sshe grumbled on, her words trailing off into silence, presumably in search of the footman.

Holly remained standing where she was, feeling the tearing heart slowly ripped apart into dozens of glass shards.

The stack of invitation cards lay long forgotten near her feet, and the responses Elinor had not too many minutes ago working on was closer to where her sister still huddled on the damp and dirty green rug. Holly inhaled a breath, turning to face the empty fireplace. "What am I to do, Papa[GU5] ?" she asked, squeezing her eyes shut. She worked to repress the pure unadulterated emotions raging within her soul, threatening to spark her magic again. Now was not the time to let her family see her vulnerability. Her skin still tingled with the power she now contained. It startled her to realize the feeling was almost like a friend to her already.

What was left of her family remained in the room, and Holly could not determine which one she wanted to hear from first for comfort and reassurance. Not Elinor, she was certain of that, and it almost broke the pieces into more shards again.

"First order of business," MrMr. Gale said, pacing around the room, surveying the damage with obvious delight. This, Holly could not understand. "We must find you a master to train under to ascertain that soemethingsomething like this does not happen again. We will, of course, register your… manifestation with the proper authorities. Then there’s the matter of marriage as well, but we shall discuss that at another time."

Holly swallowed, "Papa… Do you think I could try to be of use to the Crown?"

MrMr. Gale barked out a short laugh, "Such an absurd notion. Put that out of your mind. Ladies do not simply walk into the Admiralty to work as a common seaman or work for the Crown. No daughter of mine will do such a ridiculous thing as that! How will they explain your presence to the public without revealing you hold a Lens?"

He stopped pacing and stood in front of Holly. "Under no circumstance are you to shame the most noble and ancient family of the Gales with your Lens. Otherwise…" His eyes flicked to the rest of the family. Holly’s stomach plummeted at his sudden coldness. "You will be banished from this family."[GU6]

“Papa, you know I will do no such thing, why are you being absurd?” Holly asked, clenching her fists, trying to reconcile his happiness about her manifestation to this man.

“Because, my dear, you are not a son, therefore, your Lens is wasted,” he exhaled, rubbing his face. “The only danger here is the public discovering the Gale family has magic. And therefore, revealing the Lens to London’s society. I cannot trust you with the Lens, and we will have to find you an apprenticeship so you will learn what you need to learn. Then there’s another discussion we will need to have at a later date.”

Holly’s throat burned listening to Mr. Gale’s disappointing words. She looked to Elinor for comfort and recoiled when Elinor averted her eyes from Holly, staring at a point on the wall pstpast MrMr. Gale’s head. Will’s face hardened,hardened; his lips firmly shut to stop himself from speaking his mind as he glared at the older man. Holly dropped her gaze to the ground, her hands clasped together in front of her.

"I understand, Papa," Holly said, the feeling of constriction snaked around her throat.[GU7] Her eyes wandered around, realizing for the first time that things will never be the same with her family again. “What’s going to happen to me now?” she asked her silent retreating family.

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