The garden was a symbol of all life; all forms dependent upon each other, and upon the gracious higher powers that allow them all to exist. Coneya, as a Gardeni, was one of the most powerful beings in the universe, as her lineage had given the power to control elements to create life and help it flourish in their garden on Earth's moon. Never before had that power been used for destruction, and she would be the first to do so… the first of her lineage to be forced to fight.

This would not be the case just yet. "Coney", as she was usually called was sitting in a dojo room at the top floor of a building. Pricking her large ears up, she could hear a couple of the instructors coming up the stairs. It had been very difficult for her to get this far and earn their respect – she had a passion for magical combat, yet due to her lineage as a Gardeni, it was more often seen as inappropriate for her than a serious discipline. The instructors were mostly rabbit-like; their race, the Lagosa, varied in bodily form – some were more like rabbits, some were more like the lost mankind. Coney was approximately 25% rabbit, or "Dexborn"; one of the instructors was a "Toko" or one who is approximately 75% rabbit, giving them much more functionality in jumping, punches, and kicks. The other was approximately 50/50 or "Mixim", and could easily use rabbit agility while wielding weapons and magic at the same time. Coney, however, had two magical advantages; first, being a Dexborn, she had much higher and elaborate concentration for spells; second, she was a Gardeni, one of the Great Families, and was born with intense innate power. In all of their race's history, anyone from the 3 Great Families was highly honored for their roles… but also, left in their roles. They were never to be placed in danger's way, never to be forced to fight, and were always escorted by bodyguards when outside. The usual dangers came from pilgrimages to The Peaks of Eternal Light to honor the Goddesses and God or from contact with alien races. However, since war had recently become a norm for their race, they were no longer able to be exempt from magical and fighting training. Most of this was for the purpose of magical and spiritual enrichment, making them more capable and better at controlling their power and mastering their own minds and spirits… creating better leaders and setting an example for warrior with less potential… yet, there was the darker truth that their numbers were becoming fewer as of recently, and if things became desperate, the Great Families would be their best bet. Regardless of this, most fought the change, including the very instructors that were teaching Coney.

Altaro and Benici bounded up the last of the wide stairs, not yet seeing Coney against the far wall as they bowed at the entrance. Her whiskers twitched as she caught a scent of the sake consumed by master Altaro. He was an old Toko; his brown hair gone gray and dirty, with a massive beard trailing on the floor in front of him. He wore a red karate gi and walked with a staff made of the most magical wood from the garden. The old master usually stayed away from the sauce on training days, but he was frankly tired of getting his old bones and flesh hurt… and Coney's magic could definitely make those things hurt.

Benici, wearing a purple karate gi and nothing else, was a brown Mixim in his mid-adult years. He shot a surprised glance at Coney, somewhat impressed that she was early for once… alas, it was not often that she was able to impress him, at least visibly. He usually eyed her with judging and disapproving eyes. She had initially reminded him of just another woman with loose-morality and an idle mind, but had since proven that there was more to her. Still, he thought she was immature and obnoxious to the point of bringing a smut to her good family name. Coney stared back challengingly, her ears alert, and her mid-length yellow hair started to rise and flow just a bit with magical energy and anticipation. Her white fur was just slightly on edge, as she was ready to move, unable to read Benici's intentions on his face. He was known to strike before a student was ready, and he was definitely known for not making things easy on her in particular. Still, he stayed his hand. There was something in his eyes, suddenly… something like concern… an unusual sort of emotion for him. Coney watched and monitored this, her guard lowering just a bit.

"Coneya", he closed his eyes as he spoke, "I hesitate to tell you any of this"… as he lowered his head… and proceeded to remain silent for more than a few moments. Despite her deep breaths, Coney found herself feeling a bit ill at the serious tone. Her heart rate was elevating, and she wasn't sure why.

"Yeah, well next time, you should do your hesitating before starting"… Coney thought to herself.

Altaro put a reassuring paw on Benici's shoulder. Benici twitched his face and pursed his lips, opening his eyes and spoke again, "Coneya… the elders, including Altaro have agreed on something…" He swallowed, and Coney felt very unsettled at the graveness with which Benici spoke. "As you know, they are all very aware of your incredible magic potential, but they noticed something else… and it is better that I show you than simply tell you," Benici changed to a more resolute tone as he went into a stoic fighting stance, "I am not planning to spar with you… but you need to give this all that you've got. Hit me with your most powerful magics."

Coney took to her feet, a bit insecurely. Her face was scrunched in disbelief and a bit of stress, "What are you even talking about!? Look, I'd love to let loose on you of all people, believe me, but I… you have me worried now… and I guess I really don't want to actually harm you… "

Altaro started to the other side of the room, giving a quick nod of approval to Benici, and saying nothing. Benici stared low, unable to meet her eyes, as he was worried too. "Coneya, trust me to take care of myself and do as I say." He finally looked up with a prepared look in his eyes, "That is an order!"

"I don't even… ugh…!" Her whiskers began to twitch again as her hair began to rise and flow once again, this time as if it was in a moving stream as she began to call the elements.

All at once, a strong pale green wind blasted at Benici as the ground around him started to shift with spiny vines that started to protrude through. Benici wildly jumped back and forth to the side to avoid the onslaught. A wave started underneath him, and pushed him back just a bit, into a vine that whipped into the back of his legs and held steady to make him fall back. Suddenly, the ground around him started to rise while the vines quickly bound him down, and the wind spun around to make a miniature tornado that started reaching down to him. Coney's hands begun to lower and relax at this, as she took his helplessness as a sign of submission and defeat.

"NO!" Benici yelled at her, "You are not done, give me your WORST!" He kicked his cut-up legs against the vines, and thrashed with all of his limbs with amazing strength, taking the vines out as Coney, raising her arms again, made the tornado come back down, which was now spinning with flames in the middle, as the ground rose under Benici.

"Enough! Quit making me do this!" Coney pleaded, "Whatever point you need to make just TELL me!" With all her heart and will, she wanted to stop, but she realized Altaro was staring at her in concentration… he had her caught in a powerful manipulation spell, and had been discreetly forcing her hand into continuing. His face turned angry as he saw her starting to resist his control, having noticed what he was doing. He concentrated harder and harder until he started developing a splitting headache, nearly to the point of blacking out… her magic was powerful, but he was old and practiced. He would make this happen.

What Altaro could not see, with his near-sighted limitations, is that Coney's eyes were turning black as her resistance was breaking. Benici caught sight of this and stared in horror, unable to finish lifting the vines off of his body, and he braced himself for extreme pain. "They were right," he thought to himself, "They were not simply idly worrying about her as elders do… this is real darkness. This is forbidden power that she has no control over. And this is going to hurt…"

Coney's entire body lifted off the ground, and started rippling, as usually only her hair would do when casting magic. Her eyes went completely black, but she could only see red. She was holding her breath and resisting something that was trying to break free, making it feel as if her insides were being torn apart. "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" She screamed a bloodcurdling shriek that projected much louder than her voice could possibly do on its own, making the building shake, and cracking noises sounded as the floor shifted just a bit. Altaro looked on in amazement and terror, never having seen anything remotely like this in all his years, and could not even concentrate enough to regret letting this happen. Benici, a strict man of little emotion, actually felt tears running down his cheeks as he started to feel so very cold. All of the magic surrounding him had stopped - the tornado and flames, the vines and the earth - all turned black and begun to collapse him in a turbulent sphere of shifting black matter. As her shriek was starting to fade out, Benici started to feel intense pain starting at his outsides, starting to rip into his body in cold sharp fingers of agony, as the tears froze to the sides of his face, and he held back a soundless scream as he kept his battle posture; accepting the unbearable pain as he prepared himself for possible death. The magic dissipated just before he was at the point of death, and he lay unblinking and in shock. Coney fell to the floor, her legs tucked behind her in a kneeling position, as she looked blankly on. Red. Nothing but red. Sound and vision came back to her very slowly. She realized she was hyperventilating and her heart was beating out of her chest. Her emotion at this point was indescribable, "What happened to me? WHAT HAVE I DONE!?" "BENICI! She cried out. "Oh Dieties, I'm a murderer! What have I done…!?"

"CONEYA! STOP! This isn't your fault!" Altaro cautiously rushed towards Benici, much faster than most could go at his age, ignoring the jarring twists of arthritis in so many of his joints. He laid a paw on Benici, noticing a pulse, and that he was still breathing. "He's alive! Calm down child!" In his panic, he had fogged up his glasses with tears, and he started to wipe them on his sleeve. Coney stared blankly at him, relieved but still in a panic.

"I'm so sorry, child. It was my fault, I pushed you too far… but I had to know the extent of this. The elders noticed during your match with your rival… the more power and concentration you put in your magic, the more this darkness starts to seep in. For a Gardeni, this is very unsettling… and quite possibly a dire omen."

"What does it mean?" Coney questioned as she found herself unable to get to her feet. Her limbs felt like jelly, and she was mildly quivering and convulsing.

"I… I'm afraid I do not know. I will have to speak more with the other elders about this, but… but I know what must be done. You must make a pilgrimage to the Peaks of Eternal Light. You must beg the deities to rid you of this curse. You must humble yourself in front of them, and it… it may cost you your magic." He dropped his glasses on accident in his attempts to clean them, and the sound of one of the lens' cracking matched Coney's inner reaction. "My magic? But… I live through my magic. My magic IS me."

"Why?!", she asked half-terrified, half-disgusted, "What kind of fatalist comes to a conclusion like that so soon!?" Altaro shook his head and neglected to answer, picking up his glasses and turning around to face away.

Her head fell in shame, panic, and despair. She just wanted out of her body. Everything felt so wrong about what she had just experienced… so wrong and merciless. It felt like… the absence of anything good. Usual magic, even for combat, was a rush of good feelings, euphoria… you could wear yourself out, and mental fatigue was the worst that should happen. This was… it was too much.

Altaro was almost to the end of the room when he finally spoke again, "I'm sorry Coneya… maybe I was wrong, and maybe this… is something much less serious in solution than it is in problem. I'm going to get a medic to help Benici… I know you probably don't want to talk about this, but you should really go and ask your grandfather for advice." His cracked glasses were put into a small case and into his belt; bumping one of his bottles of sake and making it tumble quietly onto the workout mats. The old man didn't even notice, uncharacteristically forgetting to bow, as he hopped away with the help of his cane, groaning quietly at the thought of the upcoming tribulation of stairs. Coney barely even noticed that he had left; determined to quit sobbing as she noticed her tremors subsiding. Yet she looked up, at the right moment to see it, as Altaro walked out. She numbly got up and began crossing the room, watching Benici's unmoving body, bumping her foot against the fallen bottle… she bent down to pick it up. This bottle was still full, though the top of it was warm. His hand must've been hovering it quite a bit…

Coney pursed her lips to the side and sighed before stashing the bottle into her garb slowly, watching Benici's still very unmoving body again, knowing he wouldn't approve. "It's stealing, sure, but ah… I need it more? Yeah, I'm totally gonna need it more after this. Totally. I can't wait. His loss." But she knew that Altaro was right, she needed to talk to Grandpa. He surely wouldn't let it come to her losing her magic … would he?