Ra’s al Ghul’s life was nearing its end. He knew this. He had declared its final day. “Ubu,” he had ordered, “Apprise the Pit-Stirrers that the Demon’s Head shall present himself for the Mergulho al Ghul at the eve of the next moon.”
The Mergulho al Ghul, literally the “dipping of the Demon” ritual, would end his present life, which was receding rapidly on its own. The twelve gray hairs he counted the day he gave the order had multiplied into hundreds, which were now interspersed with an alarming number of white. His beard had grown thin and brittle. His body felt hollow and heavy. And his digestion groaned from the rich dishes he had been able to enjoy only days before, forcing him to a bland diet of tea and toast which was fully as depressing as the gray hairs and white beard. But by immersing himself in the fiery depths of the Lazarus Pit, Ra’s al Ghul would be reborn into a new life, as he had been for centuries, as he would be for centuries more… he hoped.
The troubling fact was that the effects of the pit seemed to wane faster after each immersion. At first, Ra’s attributed this to faulty construction, for a Lazarus Pit could not be placed just anywhere: there were precise points on the earth’s surface, where the ley lines intersected and which were placed favorably under Thuban, the Polar star in the Greek constellation Draco. It was easy enough to make some small errors in the calculation; mankind’s rape of the land and poisoning of the atmosphere may well have disrupted the life-flow through the ley lines or distorted the true position of the stars. Once. Twice even. But not dip after dip, pit after pit. Ra’s could only assume that there was a limit to the life-giving magicks any one being could absorb. He had extended his life for over a millennium, and he meant to continue. But eventually…
Talia was no fit heir. Weak, irresolute, and a woman, she could never assume the role of Ra’s al Ghul and lead his empire—and if she did, she could never hold true to his great goal and unite the world under DEMON rule. The Detective would sway her in a year at most, and she would set about deliberately dismantling his empire, assuming she did not destroy it accidentally with her incompetence.
Weak, irresolute, and a woman. No, he needed a true heir. He needed the Detective. There was a man such as this modern age seldom bred, a man who committed himself, body and soul, to a vision—a flawed vision, but the goal did not interest Ra’s so much as the dedication to achieving it. Yes, the Detective was a superior being, plain and simple. No one was better suited to sire an heir of his blood fit to lead DEMON into a golden age of global rule.
Ra’s sighed. He must put such worldly thoughts from his mind to prepare for the coming ceremony.
Giovanni D’Annunzio looked over the new arrival at his podium with the experienced hauteur of a Gotham City snob. The man was impeccably dressed and possessed an air of confident self-assurance that marked one born to privilege—yet there was something vaguely familiar about the man’s features, markedly handsome features at that, which hinted at celebrity. If he were a moviestar or a news anchor, that would knock him down a tier in Giovanni’s complex hierarchy. There was no question of the man getting a table, nor even of his waiting for one, but Giovanni had yet to decide if it would be a first level table or second.
“Your name, Signore?” Giovanni asked with a bored drawl.
“Dent, Harvey Dent. A party of two, the reservation is under Wayne.”
Giovanni’s face transformed at the magical name.
“Ah yes, Mr. Wayne’s guest. Welcome to D’Annunzio’s, Signore Dent! Here I assumed he would be lunching with la bella gatta, Miss Selina, that is. Signore Wayne, he has not yet arrived, but his table will be ready in due minuti, two minutes, I promise. If you like to wait in the bar, I come get you.”
“As it’s only two minutes, I’m sure I can wait,” Harvey Dent observed dryly. The frequency with which the number two came up in casual conversation was the most poignant irony he’d observed since that curious Jason Blood fellow had banished Two-Face from his life.
Giovanni was as good as his word, and in two minutes time he escorted Harvey into the large dining room, to what was clearly the very best table. Harvey shrewdly surmised that being led in by the proprietor himself was a rare honor, one Giovanni bestowed only on the very few, like “Signore Wayne’s guests.”
As they approached the table, Harvey saw that there was already a chilled martini sitting on the table before the chair to which he was being pointed. He couldn’t suppress a chuckle as he looked it over: Selina’s martini—garnished with a live orchid no less.
“Evidently they didn’t get the word in the bar about la bella gatta,” he noted, handing the glass gingerly to Giovanni. “Perhaps you’ll take this away and bring me your best single malt Scotch.”
“Of course,” Giovanni said pleasantly, then he tilted the glass temptingly. “Signore is certain he would not like to try the Paradiso martini?”
Harvey looked at the drink’s garnish, the light purple-white petals pocked with tiny red and yellow dots, and an unfathomable look came into his eye. His left eye squinted slightly as the left side of his mouth curled into a faint, fleeting smile.
“Eh, no,” he said at last. “Flowers in the vicinity of my lips, this is not a good thing. Just a scotch, please—single malt.”
Giovanni nodded and left.
Ra’s knelt at the altar of Huang-Ti, the “Yellow Emperor,” said to have been carried away body and soul at the end of his life by a Dragon Spirit in reward for having ruled justly.
Stubborn Western ignorance would never understand the noble magic of dragons. Ra’s still remembered bitterly his efforts to educate Richard Wagner on the subject. He was grooming Wagner, sensing a power in the German composer that could inspire armies to conquer the Earth! That didn’t work out, of course. Nazis. That’s what Ra’s got for his trouble. All those years following the composer from Dresden to Saxon to Paris to Zürich, forced always to meet in those ale houses and drink that revolting Leipzig beer, priming the man with the most rousing ancient legends. And what did Wagner do with it? Fafner! A sorry excuse for a dragon who did nothing more than guard a hoard of treasure—until the hero lured him from his home, hid like a coward under a rock, and stabbed him in the belly. What kind of inspiration was that? What army could possibly rally around… What a waste. More wasted years.
Ra’s al Ghul sighed. He was meant to be preparing himself for the ritual. He had to clear his mind of these painful recollections. All thought was distraction. He must ready himself to embrace oblivion.
As Catwoman, Selina was accustomed to flitting about houses like Wayne Manor, silent and invisible to the occupants. As a professional, she had no difficulty eluding someone like Alfred; it was no different—in fact, it was far easier—than evading security guards.
Except that she rather enjoyed slipping past those hopeless dolts the museums hired from Pinkertons or Foster & Forsythe. Whereas hiding in the little alcove in the library until Alfred had passed with his tea tray, that gave her a disquieting pang.
But what could she do? He was being impossible. She had nothing more than a simple bruise on her cheek from the museum skirmish with Catman. It didn’t even develop into a full black eye. It was a bash on her cheek, a little swelling and a little discoloration that was nearly healed already. And yet Alfred was fussing over it as if nobody in the Bat-family had ever come home with a bump or a scratch. So far, he had iced it, salved it, disinfected it, iced it again, and asked to check it no fewer than four times a day. Feline pride rebelled!
Not to mention, each and every examination was the occasion for another little “chat” about her moving out of the manor that night. It was one night! She and Bruce had decided, given the Bat and Cat history attached to the Gotham Museum of Modern Art, that it really would be too difficult going to the reopening gala as a couple. Just dressing for it in the same room seemed impossibly awkward. It would be so much better if she could go on her own, just as she would have if nothing ever changed between her and Batman. So she had moved out to the penthouse for that one single night, taking her evening gown and her jewels, her makeup—and, of course, her cats. For Selina, no dwelling could feel like home without Whiskers and Nutmeg. And it was that detail which seems to have outraged Alfred beyond any rational understanding.
Bruce admitted that Alfred had heard a good number of denials and half-truths over the years on the subject to of Batman and Catwoman. And he apparently took Bruce’s perfectly accurate and dispassionate explanation of the one night arrangement to be the biggest Bat-whopper so far. But Selina, happy innocent, had assumed that when she returned home the next day, all would be set right: she was back, the cats were back, and life at the manor would go on as before.
This, evidently, was “Feline logic” (Bruce’s little term for whatever perfectly simple thing he didn’t understand). Except in this case, it was Alfred who viewed the mutually acceptable one-night separation as some kind of monstrous outrage.
The way he had lectured her as he iced her cheek (It really was a Bat-lecture, there was no question now where Bruce had acquired certain aspects of that insufferable rooftop “Battitude”), it… it felt unbelievably like the Watchtower. When he refused to admit she’d saved the whole bloody Justice League when they bungled themselves into such a sorry state against Prometheus, and all he would keep repeating was how she’d only snuck in to steal the Storm Opals—which she put back anyway.
She had come back to the manor, it was just one night at the penthouse, it was only a bit of fun, Lord knows she needed a bit of fun after all the—
“Ah, there you are, miss. I was just coming to look for you. It is well past time to apply a fresh ice pack.”
Selina closed her eyes and flourished her clawless fingertips, summoning patience. It really was unfair that anyone possess so much Battitude outside of a rooftop where she could claw off a piece and feed it to him.
Ubu stood alone in a dark subterranean alcove. To his right was the antechamber in which Ra’s al Ghul was purifying his flesh in preparation for the ritual of the Lazarus Pit; to his left was the narrow stone staircase which led to the Pit itself. The chant of the Pit-Stirrers echoed beautifully throughout the caverns. This was the first Mergulho al Ghul since the man born Corcea Porumbescu, son of Joseph Porumbescu, was called as Ubu. He clutched the vial in his hands and prayed he would be equal to the great task before him.
The Pit-Stirrers had begun to chant as soon as Ubu sent word that the Demon’s Head had entered the antechamber. They sang of the dragon that churns the whirlpool waters of life. Ra’s al Ghul would listen as he disrobed and immersed himself in the bath.
When the song ended, Ubu knew his master would be emerging from the bath. He folded a cloak of silvery scales over his arm, then took the vial of red pepper and flung it into his eyes, blinding himself temporarily. He then stepped into the antechamber, unable to see Ra’s al Ghul in his nakedness, and draped the scaled cloak around his master’s shoulders.
Giovanni D’Annunzio beamed with pleasure at the sound of discreet, manly laughter erupting again from Bruce Wayne’s table.
“We hadn’t been dating very long,” Bruce was saying, “it couldn’t have been more than the second or third time I brought her here. Coat check girl, right in front of Selina, tries to give me this fur coat left by some bimbo, Gretta something-or-other, that was like three months before.”
Harvey winced. “Leopard?”
Bruce nodded and quoted.
“‘But Mr. Wayne, it’s imported snow leopard. I’m sure Veronica would want it back’—Veronica, that was her name. Veronica.”
Harvey chuckled. “You are lucky to be alive, my friend.”
“In all sorts of ways,” Bruce admitted.
“I can hear it now,” Harvey went on, still laughing. “‘Ix-nay on the oat-cay.’ Probably followed by an ‘iss-hay,’ an ‘owl-gray,’ and an ‘aw-clay.’”
“Probably,” Bruce said readily, pleased at the opening that suggested itself. “Considering how quick you all are with the word play.”
“We all are? Bruce, please, you know I like thinking of myself in the singular these days.”
Bruce smiled. “You know what I mean: that whole Iceberg crowd, Selina’s ‘friends’ among, eh, what is it you call yourselves? ‘The rogues.’ I’ve noticed the word play is pretty common, that’s all. Must be hanging around with that odd Nigma fellow.”
“Eddie,” Harvey said amiably. “He’s all right.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Bruce grumbled, then his manner changed. “Of course, you’re in a much better position to be a real friend to her, Harvey. Seeing as she’s given up that life and so have you.”
Harvey’s face darkened.
“She hasn’t exactly called, Bruce. Not since that one visit right after…” he gestured to the healed side of his face, formerly scarred into the visage of Two-Face. “It’s ironic, you and I lost touch after the acid—”
“Oh, I don’t blame you,” Harvey said quickly. “I certainly would have avoided Two-Face if I’d had the option. It’s just… now he’s gone, you and I sit down to a nice lunch, and Selina seems to have misplaced my phone number.”
“You haven’t called her either,” Bruce pointed out.
“There’s an old adage about horses, Bruce: you can lead one to water, but you can’t make it drink. Well, you can’t even take a damn cat to the water. She’ll call me if she wants to, and as she evidently doesn’t—”
“Come out to the house, then,” Bruce interrupted. “I’m inviting you. Saturday. We’ll have a barbecue.”
Harvey felt an urge to flip for it; his fingers itched to hold a coin and use that to make the decision. He couldn’t, of course. To flip a coin, to let Fate make any choice for him, would break the magical bargain Jason Blood had made with the cosmos to heal his face… Still, sometimes, for reasons Harvey couldn’t begin to fathom, a part of him ached let go of the responsibility and just let a coinflip decide.
Instead he turned to Bruce and asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s summer, and because, apart from the annual Wayne Enterprises-Wayne Foundation Labor Day Barbecue, I haven’t had a cookout since Dick was twelve.”
Harvey laughed broadly. “The Annual Wayne Enterprises-Wayne Foundation Labor Day Barbecue?” he repeated.
“It’s just as much fun as it sounds,” Bruce noted wryly.
“I don’t doubt it. And Saturday, by contrast, would be?”
“The not-since-Dick-was-twelve, Alfred-won’t-let-me-touch-the-grill, Selina-will-run-around-in-her-bare-feet, couple steaks, bottle of good wine, shoot the breeze with your old friends.”
“You put it like that, I’d be a fool to say I had to ‘flip for it,’ wouldn’t I?” Harvey grinned.
The Lazarus Chamber was essentially a temple, five-sided, built around what appeared to be a small underground lake. Each face of the chamber contained an image of a dragon, a simple altar, and, upon each altar, a small ivory tusk. The lake was still and dark, its waters—if water it was—thick and black, emitting a faint, warm smell of sulfur, carbon, and yeast. The odor was masked with a heady blend of exotic incense, burned in special dragonhead dishes at each of five points around the lake. The only light in the chamber came from torches, each held in place by a sconce shaped like a dragon’s five-clawed talon.
Ra’s al Ghul descended into the chamber, resplendent in the scaled robe which seemed to shimmer eerily in the firelight. The Pit-Stirrers resumed their chant as he circled the Pit. They sang first of Marduk, the first dragon, who slew an evil one and filleted its carcass to create the heavens, the earth, and humanity. Ra’s reached the first altar and nodded to the Pit-Stirrer stationed there. The man bowed, took the tusk from the altar, and solemnly carried it to the edge of the Pit. Soon, ripples appeared in the thick, black pool and Ra’s proceeded to the next altar. The chant went on to praise Cuculcan, feathered serpent of the Maya and the Olmec…
The New World, Ra’s thought, the New World that first seemed so promising: teaming with native peoples who knew the land, knew the spirits, and even knew of the dragon. The Europeans infected that pristine world, as always, with their vile corruption, their religious mania, their industries and diseases, and that vilest of obscenities: democracy. Still, for all its vice and decadence, the New World suggested but one thought to Ra’s al Ghul: The Detective. A whole hemisphere’s promise and defiance embodied in a single man.
…The chant praised Quetzacoatl, of the Toltecs and the Aztec, whose temple dwarfed the sun and moon… Quetzacoatl, appeased and made strong with the blood of human sacrifice…
Was it really less than a single lifetime since the Detective crossed his path? How was it possible, in less than four swift decades, for one man to amass such knowledge of the world (and of the DEMON organization) that he could not only fight Ra’s al Ghul, but succeed? How was it possible that one man, even one with Bruce Wayne’s resources, and his undoubted natural gifts, could not only survive these battles with the Demon’s Head, but deliver setback after setback?
…Mang, the four-clawed, representing all worldly power…
Rout after rout. Defeat after defeat. One man. It was inconceivable. It wasn’t the Mystery Men or living gods of the Justice League that thwarted his stratagems time after time; it was the Detective alone, stubborn and relentless, refusing to let him win. If he could harness that man’s will, that drive and talent, Ra’s knew he could achieve his aim in a single human lifetime. He would live to see the dream.
…and they sang of Lung Wang, the immortal dragon king who dwelt in a human body…
This would not do.
…By the end of the chant, the black Lazarus waters were stirred by five tusks—by five claws—for the five-clawed dragon was the mark of ultimate earthly power, none but the Emperor could display it…
This would not do.
…Ra’s then began his descent into the pool. One lone Pit-Stirrer began to chant:
˜Fire is light.
The vagaries of world domination were a constant and necessary burden, and even to a mind such as Ra’s al Ghul’s, the discipline required to weigh each new circumstance against a thousand other variables was an endless struggle.
˜Fire that banishes darkness,
But to be
absorbed in thoughts of the Detective in
the very womb of the Lazarus Pit, it was
˜Fire that banishes death,
Thought was now irrelevant anyway…
˜Fire, mysterious and magical,
Thought floated… clinging to the surface of the waters… like oil… as Ra’s let his body sink beneath…
˜Fire that dances in air,
…into the tarry liquid…
˜Sheng chi, the Breath of the Dragon,
…his nostrils and ears filling with Lazarus…
˜Sheng chi, the Breath of the Dragon, is the essence of Life.
…until he knew no more.
“There we are, miss; if you will hold that ice pack in place,” Alfred intoned grimly. “I was pleased to see that Miss Nutmeg has settled back into her accustomed routine after the upheaval.”
“I’m sorry, Alfred, did you say something?” Selina asked with exaggerated innocence. “For some reason, I was remembering these Mouawad diamonds that I actually managed to get out of Sotheby’s back in the day: emerald cut, 24 carat, lilac-pink stones, just my color. For six weeks he kept at it, every damn time I turned around, there he was. And all business too, not a bit of fun did we have the whole damn time.”
“I recall the case, miss. He was quite pleased when he recovered those stones and apprehended the gentleman attempting to fence them. A foreign gentleman, as I recall, with a curious tattoo of a carousel horse—”
“Yes, Alfred. He got the gems, he got the fence, he got the money—but he never got me, not until I walked in here that day of my own free will.”
“As you say, miss.”
“Nobody ‘got’ me. Ever.”
“So give me a break, Alfred. All I did was kiss a man in a mask one night. I never meant to—OW! Alfred!”
“I do beg your pardon, miss, my hand slipped.”
“Mhm. Yeah. Sure. And the Mouawad diamonds were in my cleavage the whole time I—oh, never mind. Look, Alfred, all I mean is… sometimes I just need to have fun. Otherwise, he wins, the bad part of him, the Psychobat part, and I can’t allow that. There’s no harm in our having a bit of fun now and then.”
Alfred’s features had hardened into a stern, disapproving intensity that was pure Bat. And Selina met this formidable expression with an equally formidable one of her own, just as stern and just as intense, but substituting feline defiance for the disapproval. After several seconds of this, Alfred finally spoke:
“Miss Selina. I would be the last to deny you or Master Bruce whatever means of… healthy recreation you both found diverting. I would merely caution you against… displacing any of the material improvements that have been made with respect to the Master’s homelife, as well as your own, if I might venture to suggest it.”
A subtle, girlish smile crept over Selina’s lips before she answered.
“You mean that we’re both happier since we got together, so don’t mess it up?”
“Don’t worry, Alfred, a little ‘getting back to basics’ isn’t going to hurt anyth—”
“No, miss,” Alfred cut her off firmly. “What you have here are ‘the basics,’ as you put it. What goes on out there, diverting though it may be, is no basis for a relationship or a lifestyle.”
“Alfred, I would have thought a man of your intelligence would have learned by now that the one thing you must never, ever say to any cat is ‘NO.’”
The inner cat was tempted to punctuate the remark with a violent hiss, but Selina found that, riled though she was, she wasn’t quite capable of hissing at Alfred Pennyworth. So she merely handed him the ice pack, turned on her heel, and left.
All Ra’s al Ghul remembered of the insanity was the burn.
A searing, unquenchable fire devouring his flesh, raging through his veins. The tender membrane of his mouth and eyes erupting into corrosive flames. Spikes of red piercing into his lungs, knives of heat tearing away at his heart, and pain, everywhere red burning pain, devouring him, unquenchable… until a wisp of cool euphoria squelched the fire, just for an instant. The burning soon returned… and then another wave of relief, like cool water poured into his burning mouth, dousing the fire, soothing… just for a moment… until the burning returned, the agony returned, not quite so strong… more coolness, pouring over him, through him, like water… the coolness… a strange euphoria.
Ra’s al Ghul opened his eyes, dully noted the overturned altar, candles, and the bodies.
Only his bones still felt the burning fire of the Pit; the rest of his mind and body had eased into the soothing cool of post-dip ecstasy.
“Ubu,” he addressed the kneeling figure by name only as a nod to ritual, for Ubu was the only man conscious in the room, possibly the only one still alive after the violence of Ra’s madness. But his voice seized with a parched stiffness, and Ubu took it upon himself to rise from his knees (though to do so without leave could mean his life), to pour water into a golden chalice, and to offer this humble tribute to his master before kneeling again at his feet.
Ra’s nodded his approval, and resumed the order:
“Ubu, bring us a robe to cover our imperial person, then summon the Ajax-Bravos to scourge the Pit.”
“It shall be done, Master,” Ubu said, as a matter of form. In fact, the order was already given, and the Ajax-Bravos so honored, as well as the ceremonial robe, were already standing by outside the chamber. “Shall I have them dispatch any of these men who yet live?”
This question too was a formality, for all minions, even the lowly Pit-Stirrers, knew that none may live who witness Ra’s al Ghul’s madness on emerging from the Lazarus Pit. Even Ubu would offer to take his own life, although the Demon’s Head, in his divine mercy, customarily declined the offer.
But in the rapture of post-dip euphoria, Ra’s decided on this occasion that all those present might be spared. He donned the Dragon Cloak of Rebirth, and ordered Ubu to fetch the new intelligence reports from America. He felt that now, brimming as he was with renewed energies, he could read them properly, with a fresh eye! And a sharp mind! And the keen insight of a thousand lifetimes that is the wisdom of Ra’s al Ghul!
Gr’oriBr’di was unique in the vast DEMON organization. The Great One had offered to let him keep his original name, even though it was impossibly hard to pronounce. Having no great fondness for the name “Greg Brady” with which his mother had saddled him, nor for “Giggles” as the Joker called him when he served as the mad clown’s henchman, Greg was perfectly happy to accept a new designation from his new boss, and Ra’s rewarded him with a prestigious second apostrophe.
Greg Brady was also unique in that he had never undergone the formal indoctrination to the DEMON cult which outsiders might call brainwashing. Ra’s himself had decreed this: the psyche of Gr’oriBr’di must remain intact, as the man seemed to personify a mysterious X-Factor that only Gothamites possessed, a quality which enabled them to defeat his minions time and again. Ra’s hoped Gr’oriBr’di would pass on this X-factor to his minions, that they could battle the Detective on equal terms, as it were, and finally achieve a few wins.
Three of the minions currently posted to Gotham were indeed profiting from Greg Brady’s teachings to achieve a win, but their victory was over the other three minions posted to the same base, and the contest underway was stickball—Brooklyn style, losers bought the pizza.
Innovations of this kind were confusing to minions new to the Gotham operation, especially if they were transferred from the fiercer posts in Mongolia, Sumatra, or Kurdistan. But their comrades soon helped them adjust: the first manhole cover was home plate, the next was second base, the one in the outfield was the home run marker. What of He-whose-name-that-can’t-be-spoken? Oh yeah, him. Just call him “Batman” here. It’s okay, really, even in front of Gr’oriBr’di. Hit the “Spaldeen”—yes, that’s the high-bouncing ball—with the mop handle wrapped with black tape. Intelligence reports? Oh sure, place to go is the Iceberg. Talk to Sly, he’s a helluva guy. Just don’t hit on Roxy Rocket. Best scuttlebutt comes from a guy called Tetch; he knows everything about everybody.
Gr’oriBr’di was pleased when a minion showed signs of growth, venturing out to new parts of the city on his night off, coming back with tales of his adventures. Usually they discovered an arcade or a poker game. Occasionally they’d meet a girl. One developed a profitable side business scalping tickets to the big musicals. When Gr’ori decided that a particular minion had progressed far enough, he quietly sent word to Batman, and that minion, like so many agents of Ra’s al Ghul before him, would find himself outmaneuvered by the fearsome vigilante and shipped back to DEMON in disgrace.
Little pockets of discontent had sprung up in the desert compounds, in the castle in Nepal, in the Fagaras Mountains, even the training camp in Eger. Gr’oriBr’di knew that was Batman’s aim, eroding the DEMON cult from within. But Greg’s own aims were more paternal. He had been a henchman himself, he didn’t want to order men around like robots, he wanted to hang with them as brothers in arms. His efforts to introduce them to some semblance of a normal life were sincere and guileless—as they had been with Talia.
He had reached out to the girl. She was so screwed up, it was hard not to feel for her. Hell, it was hard not to like her. She’d get so worked up over the dumbest stuff, need the simplest damn things pointed out to her, and then light up like Christmas morning—for nothing, for a tickle fight or a trip to the pizza joint. And then, she up and dumps him—without even telling him she was dumping him—to go chasing after Bats. Some dumb mixed up idea she had about Bats. I mean, everybody in DEMON knew she was totally screwed up where Batman was concerned, but Greg thought they were past all that. Then, ten minutes back in Gotham City and she was off again. What was a guy supposed to do, just be a doormat?
“Bossman!” Ig’thar called. “P’Tal demanded a ‘do-over’ because a car turned into the street before he could swing, but Ta’long said the do-over is a stain upon honor and challenged him to a blood joust.”
“Coming,” he called, wearily. A blood joust. Some days. DEMON. He almost missed henching for Joker.
Ra’s couldn’t believe how blind he had been, so weighed down had he become with the despondency of old age, he had missed all the signs in these promising reports from Gotham!
He had sat down to supper at once, his body famished from the rebirthing ceremony, and his appetites were ravenous after the bland fare forced on him by his body’s rapid pre-dip decline. He ordered a large, elaborate meal: mullet with piquant sauce, fat thrushes stuffed with dates and forcemeat, wild boar with truffles, those delicious fig cakes, and, of course, a large pitcher of that excellent Cyprian wine.
This last Ra’s al Ghul gulped excitedly while his eyes scanned the key words in the report.
The Detective had sent away his concubine! The feline was sent away from Wayne Manor! The Detective was still keeping her, Ra’s noted… in the penthouse of his business citadel, it seemed. Well, that was understandable. They could wink at that, between men. But he had removed her from his home, and surely there could be but one reason for that.
Talia was in Gotham. The dispatches made that quite clear, and yet the accounts from the Chinatown base were more than circumspect. Gr’oriBr’di and his men were certainly aware of her presence in the city, but they tactfully omitted details, CLEARLY shielding his fatherly eyes from those particulars with respect to his daughter’s blossoming romance with the Detective. At last! At last he was to have that heir, a true heir of his bloodline, yet sired by a worthy and well-born warrior, one who would be fit to stand at his side as… as Tenente al Ghul!
No, perhaps not. While the title might literally indicate the Detective was to become an honored lieutenant of the Demon, it sounded rather like the Batman was renting a room above Ra’s al Ghul’s garage.
Mestre al Ghul? No, that would never do. Whereas it was meant to indicate an Overseer of the Demon’s minions, it sounded more like the Detective was named master of the Demon himself…
Well, he had time, (9 months, at least) to come up with a suitable title. The nomenclature could wait. What could not wait was traveling to Gotham City to formally welcome Bruce Wayne into the family!
To be continued…
Author’s Notes: Much of the Mergulho al Ghul ceremony inspired by the History Channel special Quest for Dragons and the book on which it is based: An Instinct for Dragons by David E. Jones, as well as the role-playing creativity of Rob Pierce, who pens Twofaced Tales.