Ahmet shivered as he pulled his parka tighter around him. As he gazed over the mountain ranges to the south, he daydreamed of warm, desert-surrounded Cairo, the ancient city home of his family, thousands of miles to the west. He thought it absurd that he, an Egyptian desert dweller, would find himself atop a mountain in the Himalayas, posted as a sentry.
Shisha Pangma, the mountain upon which he stood, had been his home for several years now, one far-flung assignment among a series of many that had taken him away from his oasis home. Only this assignment seemed different. The past few days had been a whirlwind of activity as the leadership council had arrived, bearing several mysterious crates from one of the lesser ridges of the Langtang Himal, the range over which Shisha Pangma predominated.
For days now the council met in secret, and Ahmet and the others of his cell had been relegated to watchdog duty. The indignity would not have bothered him so much if not for the long hours and solitude that his sentry duty brought. This evening, however, the cold winds bit a little more fiercely, and Ahmet, being only human, decided to seek shelter in the interior of a cavern.
To his chagrin, the cavern opened up into a larger chamber. Ahmet could see that the walls had been drilled, not shaped by natural forces. Creeping inward, he took shelter behind a stalagmite upon hearing a number of voices in conversation.
“Praise the Master! Praise the Demon’s Head! Our time has come again!” a cowled figure bellowed up toward a table that hung suspended from the cave ceiling.
Ahmet shivered at the voice and of the response from the other similarly dressed figures who formed a circle around a pit in the center of the cavern. “Blessed be the Master! Blessed be the Demon’s Head!” came the response in unison.
At once the table began to descend toward the pit, the chains that suspended it clanking eerily. Ahmet observed that there appeared to be a body wrapped in bandages upon the table. Then he noticed the pit, which seemed to glow with an emerald eldritch energy.
Fascinated, Ahmet watched as the table and its contents descended into the mysterious verdant liquid. After a moment, the fluid began to churn and roil violently. Several of the robed figures stepped back, as if fearful of the liquid, while others fled altogether. Only the large figure appeared undisturbed.
After what seemed to be several minutes, the imposing figure gestured to someone unseen, and the chains began to rise. Momentarily, the table reappeared as the emerald liquid drained off the sides and into the pit. Another gesture, and the table was moved toward the large man, who knelt down.
Ahmet watched as the man tore away at the bandages, although his silhouette blocked the bandaged figure from his view. “Yes!” the man cried as his fingers rent the bandages. After several moments he ceased removing the bindings and stood up. The recumbent form at his feet began to stir and then cough sharp, hoarse gasps of air. Then it climbed to its feet, unsteadily at first, but with each passing moment more sure of itself. Ahmet strained from his vantage point to make out the figure’s visage.
The large man spoke again, pulling his robe back to reveal a completely shorn head. “Milady, we are honored with your presence once again.” With a deft motion, he kneeled, almost prostrating himself before the other.
The woman gazed down at him, her long brown, almost auburn hair obscuring her eyes in wild tangles. Without a word she raised a fist, drawing back as if to strike the kneeling man. For a moment the hair drew away from her eyes, and Ahmet gasped when he saw only a feral glare gazing out. A snarl stretched across her lips as she prepared to strike.
Ahmet winced as the woman’s fist descended, but the blow never struck.
“Ubu, you have served me well as always,” the woman replied as she drew her hand back from the man’s face, only an inch separating the two.
“I exist to serve as always, Mistress Talia.”
“Attend me, Ubu,” Talia commanded as she began to strip away the remaining bandages. Ubu complied, averting his eyes as he removed the robe and handed it to Talia. The remaining robed figures had already departed without awaiting instruction.
As he watched Talia don the robe, Ahmet was mesmerized. For him, it seemed as if one of the bas-reliefs from the temples of his home had come to life. Thus enraptured, he was unaware that he had stepped out from the cover of his hiding place.
“You there! What is your business here?”
Ahmet awoke from his reverie to see Talia glaring at him. Behind her, Ubu arose to his near seven-foot height, looking every inch the Mongol he was attired as.
“I meant no disrespect, Mistress,” Ahmet replied as he stumbled forward, nearly tripping as his foot caught on the stalagmite.
“Ubu, who is this fool?” Talia asked with disdain.
“He is Ahmet, one of the local cell. He hails from Cairo.”
“Is this what my father’s work has been reduced to?” Talia asked, the ire evident in her tone.
“The fault is mine, Mistress,” Ahmet replied. “I sought only respite from the cold.”
“Your people were desert dwellers, nomads like my father’s people once were,” Talia said with a smile. Ahmet’s face broadened in a smile as well.
“Your people were also strong believers in the afterlife as well, weren’t they?” Ahmet nodded affirmatively, still smiling.
“Pray they were right,” Talia said, turning her back to Ahmet. “Ubu, deal with this one quickly. We have much to discuss, you and I.”
Talia turned to face the Lazarus Pit, her gaze lost in its eddies and ripples, while behind her the sounds of a violent struggle commenced. Undisturbed by the sounds, she continued to observe the currents, almost seeking to divine some meaning from its motions. Behind her, the sounds of struggle gave way to a hoarse gasp, then punctuated by a loud snap, and then a dying gurgle.
“It is done, Mistress, as you commanded.”
“Take me to my chambers, Ubu. There is much work to be done, it seems.”
“As you command, Mistress.”
Talia reclined in the sunken tub as a faint scent of jasmine permeated the air. Ubu, loyal as always, stood by to attend his mistress, careful to keep his eyes averted from her form. Now and then she would gently shift in the water, causing waves to ripple outward, threatening to dissipate the mass of bubbles that obscured her body. Ubu remained passive, as always, causing Talia to frown ever so slightly. She leaned back from the computer console that lay alongside her on the tub’s edge and turned her attention to her loyal guard.
“Isn’t it ironic, Ubu, that both my father and the Darknight Detective are no more?”
“I fail to see the irony, my Mistress,” Ubu replied with his characteristic aloofness.
“Let me explain it to you, then,” Talia responded as she waded through the water to the side of the tub where he stood, the wake of her passage briefly revealing her form before the bubbles closed around her once again. If Ubu witnessed this, he gave no outward sign.
“My father spent many years studying this one, this Dark Knight, observing him from afar. It was child’s play to deduce his identity. Only Bruce Wayne had the financial means to fund his war on crime, and the perfect motivation — the death of his parents, the catalyst for his crusade.” She paused for a moment, but Ubu’s blank stare was enough to prod her to continue.
“My father saw in him a kindred spirit, a single-mindedness of vision, that would have made him the heir my father always wanted. Before Ra’s could approach him, however, the Dark Knight retired and married. Wayne’s concerns became rather parochial after marriage, while my father’s ventures in the world at large kept him preoccupied as well. Ra’s never did get the opportunity to bring the Dark Knight into the fold.” She fell silent for a moment. “Now it falls to me, the Demon’s Daughter, to carry on the legacy of Ra’s al Ghul.”
“It is a proud legacy, mistress,” Ubu affirmed. “We stand ready, as always, to serve you as we served your father.”
“Better than that, I should hope!” she scoffed. “I return to find his empire a shambles, the very name of Ra’s al Ghul nearly forgotten! Would that I had remained lost beneath the Himalayan snows with him!” She turned away from him, ashamed of her outburst, gliding back toward the console. After a few quick keystrokes, a stream of data came up, the screen illuminating Talia’s face in a fluorescent blue. A long time passed before the silence was broken by the sound of laughter. Ubu’s face betrayed his surprise.
“The answer is before us, dear Ubu.” When he did not respond, she continued. “Wayne has successors, does he not? The child who fought beside him is now the Red Robin, the guardian of Gotham. There is another one, the Huntress. She could be Wayne’s daughter; in fact, I would say that it is more than likely.”
“Of what use is this information, Mistress?”
“My dear Ubu, so like your namesake, your father — so loyal, yet so simple!” Talia exclaimed. “As the Dark Knight’s successors, both Red Robin and the Huntress have access to every secret that was the Batman’s to know. The information alone would give us immeasurable leverage in our dealings, both in Gotham and elsewhere. And then there is the Wayne fortune, no small matter in itself. I intend to seize both.”
Her back facing him, Talia did not see Ubu smile at her declaration; he was heartened by her newfound resolve.
“Prepare a plane for Gotham,” Talia commanded. “We leave immediately.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Ubu replied as he exited the room, leaving the Demon’s Daughter to her plans.