Prologue

Contrary to popular belief, Arcturus did not enjoy causing destruction. Quite the contrary actually, though sometimes the situation did necessitate such actions. This had been one of those occasions.

His footsteps were silent as he strolled through what was left of the once glorious forest. Reduced to ashes and a single willow tree, he allowed the thing to live simply for the poetry of a single living creature left to weep for what once was. He could only assume what was left of the family and other living beings would be leaving this place for good. Arcturus would not blame them. Quite a spectacle had been caused.

Fortunately though – for him at least – he knew now that the next High Keeper was gone. There was no such thing as too few threats. And he finally had his full range of magic restored. Living without plant magic for the last hundred years had been miserable. He felt like a piece of him had been stolen, gasping for something that could not be restored. A cruel, extreme punishment for blessing the world with something so unique and obedient.

They would regret their decision in time. Things were finally falling into place.

It truly was a shame about that Elementalist. She was the first regrettable piece of the puzzle in so long. Something so gentle should not have had to suffer as she did.

But casualties occur in a war. Even ones as memorable as she.

"You have grown cold." It was a voice Arcturus had not heard in a century, though one he would never forget.

He did not turn to face the stranger behind him. "Hello again, brother. It's been a while," he said, casually. As though the last time he had seen the man, he had not attempted to take his immortal life.

"Indeed," the man said. "A century to be exact. I see you've reclaimed your plant magic." His gray eyes scanned the area slowly. "And your fire magic has not lost its touch."

A small upturn of Arcturus's lips relayed his smugness. "Indeed." He may not have enjoyed the entirety of the lives he had destroyed, but he was quite proud of his power. That was something no one was taking from him. At least not again. "How are your overgrown birds by the way?"

He almost turned around to see the expression on his brother's face when the delay ensued. Particularly when the footsteps that had been keeping pace with his own stopped. So much love for those birds. "You know they hate it when you call them that," he grumbled.

A humorless chuckle escaped Arcturus. "Well life is full of hatred, now isn't it, Phoenix?"

"I did not come here for animosity, Arcturus," the lighter man asserted.

Arcturus was still surveying the damage he caused, noticing a particularly demolished portion of land. What was that one? Ah, the bluish-purple abominations. Well, there was no regret there. Hideous plants. He kept his voice calm and low. "Have you come to steal something else from me, brother?"

The man sighed. "Must we do this? It's been nearly four hundred years."

Arcturus shrugged. "Then perhaps you could leave me to my business by now and we would have nothing left to discuss."

"Your business will be mine as long as you persist with this nonsense of revenge," the man snapped.

Now, Arcturus did stop his meandering. His hand ran sharply through dark brown hair and faced his brother. A brother who used to look so much like him, and yet, now all he saw was a façade of purity. This act of goodness, this parade of integrity, all of it a show for the world. A recompense for the sins of several lifetimes ago, no doubt, but they remained unforgiving towards their perpetrator.

"How pleasant it must be, Phoenix," the dark-haired man snarled. "Living such a righteous existence. All those fond, real memories."

"Brother, I-"

"No!" His roar caused a burst of flames to assault the already ashen grounds. "You've made your choices. Four hundred years ago and ever more since. I will make mine as I see fit."

Phoenix heaved a sigh, his shoulders slumping, light brown hair shifting over them in their strange waves as he did. "This will only end in destruction," he said quietly.

Arcturus did not need to raise his hands to quiet the flames that had risen in response to his outburst. A simple glance would diminish them entirely. "It is a necessary evil."

"And what of Asha?" Phoenix's voice relayed a soft questioning, a calm anticipation, that Arcturus knew was calculated and intentional. He was waiting for her as well.

The older brother turned back to the ashes and emptiness surrounding them. "She is not even alive yet," he stated. "By the old man's guess, it will be almost another twenty years before she enters this world, let alone is ready to fill a role."

He did not need to look at Phoenix to know his reaction would be one of indignation. "She is not the same Asha, Arcturus," he proclaimed. "Not your Asha."

Righteous ass. "On the contrary, brother," Arcturus corrected, stomping an oddly large pile of ash with his boot. "She is not your Asha. If you recall correctly, the late Lady Asha was never mine to begin with."

Shame rolled off Phoenix in waves so potent, his older brother could feel them pulsating around him. Such was the intensity of Phoenix's particular brand of magic. Though it had been centuries since Keeper magic had become more common, Phoenix's magic would always be more potent. His connection to the source of it was deeper, stronger. At this point, he was practically the Keeper of Keeper magic, coincidentally enough. Arcturus chuckled at his silent musings.

"I still cannot read exact thoughts, you know," Phoenix reminded him.

Arcturus did not bother to hide his smirk. "Yet you know I am mocking you?"

"Yes," he admitted. "Old habits die hard, I assume."

It was strange, then. The exchanging of laughter as though the entirety of the last four centuries had not occurred. Somehow they were merely brothers who teased one another, used their magic as a trickster's tools rather than deadly assault weapons. It was as though Lady Asha had never strolled through those front gates and into their lives, changing their fates forever.

That feeling of peace could not last between them though. Too much had transpired. Too much had changed.

A discomfort settled between them, causing Arcturus to continue his examination of the forest destruction. It truly was a shame to destroy something so great. Even if he was not the Elementalist – the most powerful of his kind – he was still a Mage. And as a Mage, he could not deny his connection to the elements. His obligations to the earth felt as natural to him as the desire to feel the sun on his face. Seeing such destruction to the trees and flowers and even the weeds that once flourished here caused him a discomfort that forced him to flex his fingers uneasily as he walked. His only consolation was knowing he finally, finally had his plant magic back. It had not been easy, and not necessarily honorable, in obtaining, but it was his nonetheless. He could easily enough repair this forest.

If he chose to.

"Are you going to fix this?" Phoenix asked, once again intruding on Arcturus's feelings and thought-directions.

"I am undecided," the older brother answered honestly.

Phoenix had made his way to walk next to his brother, matching his speedy walk. As so, Arcturus was able to see the man nod slowly from the corner of his eye. "You should," he said.

Arcturus heaved a frustrated sigh. "Ever the honorable."

Still, he reached an arm out lazily, feeling a fluttering magic echo its way from his chest and through his arms. This particular magic neither warmed him, as fire did, nor cooled him as water would have. It simply was.

Around them, a slight breeze blew the ash from the forest. Where it was carrying it, he did not care. Away, was his only instruction. It did not take long, a mere moment or so, for the scene to be erased of all soot. The barren setting was still too much of a wasteland to be erased of the damage done, however. Had he been most Mages, he would have closed his eyes to further feel the magic caress its way through him. His original tutor had encouraged him to do this. Focus on feeling the element in your control, the man had said. But Arcturus preferred to watch his creations come awake. And so, when he felt the tiniest bit of grass at the edge of the forest, he found the ability within him to encourage it to grow through the wasted forest as well. It was difficult, as he was still unused to this tingling that stretched all the way to his toes when he brought it forth, but still he saw the empty area turn green with a thin coat of grass.

It was not much, but it would do.

"Did he predict this as well?" Phoenix asked. "This High Keeper you've employed?"

Arcturus scoffed at the question. "He barely warrants the title," he said. "Aren't all of you Keeper's meant to be noble and self-righteous?" He surveyed the new green-ness of the area. It was more akin to a valley than a forest now. Such was the power of a Mage. "Barely a satchel of gold and he was paid off for enough information to achieve all of this. Although he did have that rare talent of foresight. I do not remember the last time I met a seer. Even a half-competent one."

"I seem to recall several competent ones," Phoenix said, barely loud enough for Arcturus to hear.

The barely older brother rolled his dark eyes in response.

"What did he say?" Phoenix asked. "This dishonorable High Keeper?"

Arcturus thought for a moment about his meeting with the gray-haired man. The man had been shameless with his use of Keeper magic, using conjured mirages to tell his grandeur tales, reading the emotions and possible future occurrences of random passersby as often as he could, no doubt passively bragging his abilities. As strongest of his kind, his title already pronounced his power. Yet he was a showman. And it was no wonder in that respect that it took so little to tempt him to brag even further of his ability to find the location of the next High Keeper, although the thought that someone would surpass him one day gave him little pleasure.

"He informed me that the man who would surpass him was with the Elementalist," Arcturus said, deciding there was no harm in allowing Phoenix this information. "There was not much information required. He gave me a location and the name of the Elementalist. Which wound up being quite useful in the end," he noted, glancing at the grass once more. "My abilities quite outrank even hers now."

Phoenix did not look impressed. "And what will you do with your great power?"

Arcturus spun a small tornado in the palm of his hand, getting lost in the sight of his creation. "I'm going to finish what I started," he said. "You made a mess, brother. I intend to fix it."

His brother's gray eyes locked on the circular wind storm raging in Arcturus's hand. "I was young," he said. "I never meant to hurt anyone."

"And yet, here we are." Arcturus snapped his hand closed abruptly, ending the tornado, feeling the wind retreat back into his palm, having nowhere else to go. The feeling was almost too sharp. Magic returning to the body was quite painful indeed, even in such a small dose as that tiny tornado.

For the first time in nearly one hundred years, he looked at his brother closely, examining the face he used to know so well. Phoenix's cheekbones were only the slightest bit softer than his own sharp ones. Lines showed he held most of his facial concern in his forehead, leading to a long nose that tapered down to a set of thin lips. His gray eyes were perhaps the most memorable, creased at the corners as though he had spent a lifetime searching for something. Or someone, Arcturus noted. Someone long dead.

Phoenix shook his head, a look of pleading and devastation obvious on his face. "Brother, please."

Arcturus paid him no mind. His decision was set. It had been for years. Hundreds of years, in fact. When one has lost everything, there must be something to hold onto. In Arcturus's case, that something became rectification. He would right the wrongs that had been forced onto him. A lifetime of lies and betrayals, his kingdom brought to its knees, all at the hands of his own brother. Even now the people of this world were led to believe they could trust these Keepers and their Man Magic. Arcturus would change all of that.

"Tell your great bird friends I say hello," Arcturus said fleetingly, picking up his pace once more. He had turned away from the other man entirely. This conversation had reached its end. Or perhaps it was his tolerance for his brother's company that had reached its end. "Actually, don't," he clarified. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a war to start."