With a wide flourish of his upraised arm and a few brisk syllables, the old mage threw up a hastily conjured shield. A translucent diaphragm whuffed into bluish existence before him. Its sudden appearance sent whorls of dust skittering a few inches from his feet. The conjuration could not have been better timed as within a fraction of a second, speeding blobs of purple slammed into it. The man definitely felt his task was better suited for one much younger than he, though, the rub was that there was no such one. Once, there had been hundreds of mages. That was before the vast flight of iron dragons had descended from the skies.
The vibrant practice of magic, a calling of honour and pride, learning and advancement, had been reduced to a role of scrambling defense. The old mage had not yet determined who had become more greedy. Was it the royals and high-ranking officials who had hoped, ultimately in vain, that their bags of gold and treasure would keep them safe? Or maybe it was his magical brethren who had leapt at the opportunity to profit from the elite's desperate need to hire out for their survival. The old man was bitter and he understood that. He knew full well that many of those he had called colleagues were members of high-ranking families who had contributed large sums to ensure their sons' and daughters' success at the Enclave. When the time had come to call in the return on their investment, many mages had no choice but to respond. But, not all had such patronage and had instead been lured by the promise of riches. Who was worse than whom had become an intellectual argument, however, as each magical mercenary had fallen before these beasts who were not alive.
These creatures were like nothing he had ever witnessed. Each was surrounded by purplish rings of fire that seemed to him to not burn at all but rather shine. And although they did not live nor breathe, they were fast and indefatigable.
Against this foe, magic seemed to have no actual effect. Great arcs of electricity, vast gouts of flames, and roiling clouds of acid, none of which inflicted any measurable impact. The dragons flitted so easily through the sky and banked with such alarming dexterity and precision that the more mundane methods of defense were rendered laughable. Palaces and fortresses were left in ruin with the missiles launched from arrays of trebuchets lying impotently in the fields surrounding them. Even teleporting between kingdoms was, at best, a last-ditch effort to scramble away. These metallic creatures were far swifter in the air than any horse on the ground, and the near-instant travel afforded by magic did little to grant much stay from the inevitable.
It had been days since he had heard anything but the distant high-pitched whines of the dragons as they shot through the air at incalculable speeds. They traveled so fast that the smoke from their breath left trails in the heavens that took hours to widen and even longer to dissipate. It had only been sheer luck that caused him to spy an approaching group of what he guessed to be servants of the dragons creeping up the hill toward the keep where he had been hiding, preparing.
Fortuno now stood before the thick doors of the Intri Enclave, the college that had trained all of those fallen mages and indeed himself. This was the last holdout, for within was housed all the secrets of the magi and it was here he felt he needed to make his last stand. From behind his lens-shaped spell, he stared out at the ten beings on foot who stared just as pointedly back at him. They wore suits not fashioned of any metal he had ever fathomed and their helms shone in the mid-day sun, reflecting it. Each wielded wands that required two hands to grip, one of which had just emitted the purple blobs he had repelled with his shield.
The foremost attacker leaned his head to the side as if listening and then just as promptly righted. He made a forward motion with one hand which he then returned to his wand. The group resumed its confident stride toward him.
Fortuno threw more power into the shielding as their wands began to repeatedly issue forth continuous streams of purple matter. Each volley landing powerfully against the conjured physicality of his shielding. As they advanced, the strength of the strange fire increased causing greater strain upon his defenses.
He released a sigh of resignation. Fissures began to spider across the event horizon of his magic. Continuing to pour more energy into it would not strengthen it. The additional strain would in fact cause it to fail sooner, shattering before he could complete his stored magic. He would need the energy reserves he was pumping into his shield for that.
With his other hand, Fortuno traced the intricate sigils he thought he would never need. The passage of his fingers left trails of glittering blue luminescence in the air. All wizards in a time of war compartmentalized a portion of a self-destruction spell into their consciousness. The spell was a long and arduous undertaking, but with one such spell already partially committed, one only had to complete the incantation for it to set off, whereupon a good portion of a small city could be cratered. It would be enough to take out himself, the squad ahead of him, and hopefully, the vaults of magic before which he stood. The time had come and he felt his shoulders relax in resignation.
Fortuno unraveled the binding that served as his shield and he thrust out both of his hands, prepared to shout the final keyword that would ignite his own destruction when a screaming sound jerked his attention upward.
One of the iron dragons had snuck up on him and was hovering a mere dozen meters above his head. It let out a screech and loosed three enormous purple blobs directly at him, each one several times larger than the ones against which he had just been defending.
His distraction provided his foes the opening they needed with his shield now down and his death spell forgotten, but it was an advantage they never got a chance to exploit.
A crackle in his helmet alerted him to the incoming message from above: GOT HIM!
The squad leader snorted as he lowered his plasma rifle. He flipped his visor up and peered at the small crater not ten meters in front of him: Lucky shot.