“Graaaahh!” His left wing was gone. The entire stalk, from its base connection at his mid-back, to the razor-sharp edges, had cleanly disappeared. This sort of thing was a common enough occurrence, but the victim had never found it any less irritating. He would’ve eviscerated the being responsible centuries ago if that being hadn’t been himself. Bitil, Makuta of the Southern Islands━ the western chain, at least━ some of the western chain━ had long ago laid to rest any uncertainties he might once have felt about using such a risky mask. Risks were only dangerous for lesser beings, and posed no threat to the fount of raw power that was a Makuta. Bitil might lose a limb from time to time, but pain had not troubled any of his kind in more than thirty millenia. Armor, limbs, even bodies could be replaced, and so often were for reasons far less pressing than critical damage━ Mutran had once ordered the construction of a new suit of armor for himself after deciding that his old one resembled Chirox’s too closely. That didn’t make a sudden imbalance between the left and right sides of Bitil’s body any less annoying. After a few miserable attempts at flying using one wing and his gravity power, he gave up and shapeshifted the remaining wing away. There was also the minor problem of the freshly created hole in his back, through which his essence was now trying its hardest to escape. Not wasting any time, he summoned a yellow-armored Rahkshi to his side, which used its heat vision to cauterize the wound, sealing it for the time being. That patch of his torso had no armor, so he would need to be cautious until his body could be repaired. Caution, when he knew the Dark Hunters were planning to attack this fortress within the hour? Laughable. He was Bitil, feared by even his fellow Makuta━ or why else would they have assigned him to such an inhospitable region, a domain too treacherous for a lesser warrior to maintain control of? They knew his strength, and they respected it. This will not impede me, he vowed. Even without the ability to fly, he was more than a match in combat for whatever scum the seekers of shadow had sent on the assault. A Dark Hunter craved power━ a Makuta embodied it. They stood no chance whatsoever. Though the Hunters were universally associated with stealthiness, the degree to which they caught him off guard still came as a shock to Bitil; within moments of being sighted they had penetrated the fortress’s walls. The group was as motley as could be expected, but all six fought with lethal efficiency, the Vortixx wielding the plasma cannon most of all. A handful of Visorak had already been obliterated by that one alone. Two of the Hunters were known to the Brotherhood. The first was an imposing figure in red armor armed with a staff and shield━ Firedracax. His hatred for Visorak had been prominently displayed throughout the war, and this battle was no exception. Though his weapons were less impressive than the one carried by his black-armored comrade, he tore into the spiders with a savage fury that more than made up for it. Bitil ignored him; the forces stationed here had more than enough Visorak to spare, and Firedracax wouldn’t bother with the Rahkshi or Bitil himself until it was far too late. The second familiar Hunter was the being codenamed “Seeker”, a silver-armored warrior with four razor-sharp legs and a seismic-empowered staff. While Firedracax was known for his bloodlust, Seeker’s name was met with universal derision━ he had been an agent of the Brotherhood until his legendary failure to protect the Kanohi Avohkii from Teridax’s team of Hagah. Now he was nothing more than an energy hound led around by the Shadowed One with the promise of retaking the mask always kept just in front of him. Another opponent unworthy of Bitil’s attention. The Rakhshi would deal with that one soon enough. More interesting, though, was the trio of headless quadrupeds firing blasts of energy with impressive speed. They matched the description given by Krika of robots that had escalated Zakaz’s civil war past any reasonable standard for conflict━ the Nektann. It was a safe assumption, then, that these particular drones were controlled by the Vortixx, seeing as it was the inhabitants of Xia that had produced them in the first place. Well, then. That simplified things. Telepathically commanding the half dozen or so Rakhshi present to keep the Nektann occupied, Bitil loosed a blast of elemental Shadow from his longswords, aiming squarely at the ebon-armored Xian, who had just finished incinerating an Exo-Toa with his cannon. The Dark Hunter spotted the attack with plenty of time to spare, and nimbly jumped to the side, flipping in mid-air to dodge the Shadow blast. That was fine━ Bitil had only intended it as a distraction. Already he was running towards the Vortixx at full speed, zigzagging across the battlefield to avoid the engagements between his minions and the rest of the Hunters. A dead Vohtarak, sent flying by a seismic wave from Seeker, was flung directly into his path. He cut it in half and blew the resulting corpse fragments out of his way with a small application of his Cyclone power, all without slowing his course. In Bitil’s mind, the battle was already won. Take out the Vortixx and the Nektann would flounder without anyone to give them orders. The remaining two Hunters would be forced to retreat. The next obstacle that barred his sprint across the battlefield wasn’t nearly as cleavable as a Visorak: the Vortixx had returned fire with his plasma cannon. Bitil simply triggered his Dodge power, flinging himself out of the blast’s way. This was why he was determined to engage the Vortixx in close quarters: any attempt to attack the Xian from afar with the likes of Chain Lightning or even his own Plasma power would simply be blocked by an equally-powerful ball of molten protodermis, but such a volatile weapon would be worse than useless in hand-to-hand combat. The Dark Hunter was more likely to incinerate himself than Bitil if he tried to wield it in such close proximity. A few more seconds and the gap between them had been closed. Bitil, of course, did not possess the power of Speed; it was arguably the most fundamental ability that had inexplicably been left out of the Makuta retinue by the Great Spirit, as many of Bitil’s kin had bitterly observed over the years. But nearly every Makuta’s body was nonetheless a perfect emblem of physical power, so it shouldn’t have been surprising at all that he had crossed a distance of several bio so quickly. Almost mechanically, Bitil set about slashing at the Vortixx with vicious intent, not worrying about maintaining flawless sword technique since his opponent had no real means by which to counter. It was all the Xian could do to avoid Bitil’s deadly strikes; while he clearly had the basic melee combat ability required of any Dark Hunter, he was quickly being backed into a corner by his lack of expertise in unarmed combat against swordplay━ or, for that matter, his lack of experience in fighting a being of such power as a Makuta. As the moment of his victory approached, Bitil mused that it wasn’t strictly true that no Makuta had the power of Speed. He vaguely remembered once seeing a Kanohi Kakama on Destral, one just as black and pitted as any of the other masks worn by the Brotherhood. It had definitely belonged to a Makuta, though Bitil couldn’t fathom who, or why. The mask of Speed was ever a popular choice among Toa; any Makuta who chose to don one would have immediately become a laughingstock. Possibly the only more blasphemous choice of Kanohi would have been a Hau, the ubiquitous symbol of Mata Nui himself. So who, exactly… ? Oh. Right. Dokzyl. The only female Makuta to side with Miserix during that now-infamous Convocation. That was where Bitil had seen her mask: nailed to the wall of the Convocation Chamber. She had been dead for tens of thousands of years. Hardly surprising, really, that she had sided with that old fool━ she always had a soft spot for the Toa, as evidenced by━ thud! Lost in his thoughts, Bitil had failed to realize that the Vortixx’s endless dodges were in fact meant to stall for time. Seeker had finished with the Rahkshi and Visorak that had been sent after him, and had launched a tremor towards the corner where Bitil and the Vortixx were squaring off. The Vortixx, anticipating the attack’s arrival, had deftly backflipped away from the site of impact, leaving Bitil to be knocked on his feet by the tremor. His other opponent wasted no time in taking advantage of the opportunity, bringing the plasma cannon to bear now that its intended target was safely removed from the wielder’s vicinity once more. Mentally cursing, Bitil only barely managed to activate his Dodge ability once again. The ball of superheated protodermis singed his armor along his right leg as it passed, before striking a Boggarak dead-center. The unfortunate spider let out a metallic screech as its structure melted. Bitil leapt towards the Vortixx again, only for the other to easily evade his longswords while Seeker loosed wave after wave of subterranean strikes. It was becoming annoyingly obvious that this particular pair of Dark Hunters were well-versed in combination attacks━ one kept the opponent off-balance, while the other hammered them with that infernal cannon. A quick glance at the rest of the battle revealed that Firedracax was still easily tearing through the ranks of the Visorak, while the Nektann had reduced several more Exo-Toa to piles of scrap. Bitil had to end this himself, quickly. The Vortixx laughed as yet another seismic attack struck, sending Bitil flying into one of the fortress’s walls with a dull thunk. “Mata Nui! I can see why you’re stuck guarding this worthless heap of rubble. Seriously, is this place booby-trapped, or what? The Brotherhood’s handing it to us, right? It’s a trap. Come on. You can tell me.” Bitil growled and extricated himself from the fresh Makuta-shaped dent left in the wall. “My brethren value my services in battle, vermin! I cannot say the same for yours, or they would not have sent you to face such as perilous foe as myself!” “Sure,” snorted the Vortixx. “I’m terrified by your masterful display of all two Kraata powers in your arsenal.” He lifted the plasma cannon again. “Whatever. Say hi to Nidhiki for me.” Snarling, Bitil threw all caution to the wind, triggering his mask power. From behind him, Seeker gasped as a second Bitil appeared, identical to the first in every regard but one━ the dupe was adorned with a pair of gleaming protosteel wings. Even as the first Bitil sidestepped the blast from the Vortixx’s plasma cannon and charged towards his target once again, the second was taking to the air, peppering Seeker with bolts of Shadow. Their combo far less effective against multiple skilled opponents, the Hunters were forced on the defensive, Seeker blocking the clone’s Shadow blasts with his staff, the Vortixx resorting once more to dodging around each of the original’s longsword strikes. Ordinarily, Bitil restricted use of his Mohtrek to one-on-one duels━ or, at the very least, battles against no more than three opponents. Conflicts such as this one, with his entire army engaging three Dark Hunters and their three mechanized lackeys across an entire fortress, were too unpredictable; Bitil lacked the ability to carefully monitor his clones’ movements and ensure they stayed out of danger. Injuries to himself in battle, as uncommon as they were, he regarded as perfectly acceptable, since the ultimate outcome was always his victory regardless. Damage inflicted on his clones, however, was infinitely more annoying━ his current lack of wings was proof enough of that. But the situation had left him no other choice, so he had reluctantly summoned the one copy to keep Seeker busy (and possibly even kill him━ the Hunter probably wasn’t very strong, seeing as his main tactic was disruption), swearing that he would send it back to its proper time as soon as the Vortixx had been finished off. Another aspect of the mask’s power that was somewhat uncontrollable: Bitil’s lack of precise control over when his copies were summoned from. Over the millenia, he had acquired a general feel for being able to pull himself from, say, a week ago━ and therefore from two weeks ago, three weeks, and so on━ but smaller units of time were much more difficult to gauge accurately. Wanting to keep as much of this battle under his control as possible, he had aimed at summoning a clone from the past few days, so that it would possess the same body as the one he had now, but he wasn’t even sure that it had come from before the moment he lost his wings until it actually appeared. He could see defeat in the Vortixx’s eyes, now━ only a few seconds left━ and he knew exactly what would happen afterward. The Nektann, devoid of a commander, would continue to act on their prior instructions to battle the Brotherhood forces, but without any tactical thought process would be easily overcome by a few bolts of Chain Lightning. Firedracax would want to fight until the end, taking as many Visorak with him as possible when he went down━ but Seeker, if he was still alive, would probably order him to retreat. The Shadowed One was smart enough never to put Firedracax in charge of any mission. The moment arrived. The Vortixx missed a beat as he twirled to dodge the next slash of Bitil’s swords, stumbling and falling onto his knees, his plasma cannon sliding across the floor and out of his reach. The yellow-armored Makuta, cackling with triumph, raised his right arm for the finishing blow━ and in desperation, the Vortixx made a swift motion with his left hand. It was a command to the Nektann: defend your master at all costs. In the seconds before his arm completed its downward swing, Bitil spotted three orbs of pure energy hurtling at him from the other side of the battlefield. His first instinct was to ignore them━ primitive Skakdi war machines surely could not cause any significant injury to protosteel Makuta armor, and even if they could, then to Karzahni with the consequences. The Vortixx would be dead, and the Nektann would soon follow him to oblivion. But another part of Bitil’s mind━ the cunning, self-preservative part, the part that every Makuta possessed out of necessity, as one did not survive long on Destral without a good sense for imminent danger━ realized what his bloodthirst did not: one of the blasts was aimed straight at Bitil’s backside. It would impact the freshly cauterized, un-armored area where his wing had been mysteriously disconnected. His shell would crack. His essence would spill out, and in the chaos of battle, there would not be time for him to patch the wound again or transfer to another body; all the nearby Exo-Toa had been destroyed by the Nektann. Bitil would die. And so no matter how much his conscious mind resisted, no matter how much it screamed for the Vortixx’s death, Bitil’s true self, his inner cowardice, took over, and triggered his Teleportation power. The Makuta’s entire body was dissolved into its component atoms, and after a few seconds, he was entirely reconstituted a few steps away, on the other side of the Vortixx. Cursing the Vortixx, the Nektann, and most of all, himself, Bitil refocused his energies on finishing the battle. Even as he fired a bolt of Shadow from his left sword, destroying the plasma cannon that the Xian was so desperately trying to recover, he heard the life-threatening blast of energy that he had so narrowly dodged make impact on something else behind him. The sound definitely wasn’t that of one of the fortress’s stone walls crumbling, but that of protosteel breaking━ it had hit another being, then. Pushing that matter, as well, out of his mind, Bitil fired two more bolts of Shadow with a savage yell, eagerly staring down the Vortixx as the other’s eyes widened with horror. One of the bolts stuck the Dark Hunter squarely in the heartlight, the other a few marks above it. Bitil maintained his gaze a few moments longer, before turning around to survey the rest of the battle. Already he was readying a blast of Chain Lightning to obliterate the Nektann━ All thoughts of the irksome drones gone, he froze, the Lightning dying away as quickly as it had been summoned. A few paces away, its swords gleaming from the Fear blasts they had just unleashed on the now-fleeing Seeker, Bitil’s copy stood, a fresh hole in its back where the energy blast had impacted. Its left wing was gone. The entire stalk, from its base connection at its mid-back to the razor-sharp edges, had been blown off, and was lying on the ground at its feet. The doppelganger gave Bitil an annoyed look before fading out of existence and returning to its own time, just under an hour ago.