Cairo, Egypt… five years ago…
It had taken two years to track down Ra’s Al Ghul. This was because one of Tim’s last acts as Red Robin, the act that brought the fury of the demon’s head down upon him, had been too successful. Immediately after Tim’s kidnapping, Dick, Damian, and many other members of their extended network of friends and family had searched the world over for any sign of the League of Assassins, the organization Ra’s headed. Only then did Dick realize the full extent of what Tim had done.
While reluctantly working with Ra’s and the League in order to locate clues to find the missing Bruce Wayne, Tim had used the opportunity within the shadowy organization to bring it down from the inside out. The League’s computer network had been completely dismantled, many of their bases worldwide had been destroyed, and its members were sent into disarray. Tim’s plan had been a spectacular success, but it also made it near impossible for Dick and the others to track down Ra’s through the usual channels when the Red Robin went missing.
Only after Bruce Wayne returned and joined the search was some semblance of progress finally made in tracking down Tim’s kidnapper. The League had been quietly rebuilt, and over several weeks had been starting to take assignments, working even more covertly than they did in the past. Despite their caution, though, rumors concerning their rebirth made their way to Bruce Wayne’s ears. These rumors were the reason Batman and Nightwing were cutting a vicious path through ancient, nearly forgotten catacombs beneath the city of Cairo.
“Where’s Ra’s?” Nightwing growled as he had one of his escrima sticks pressed hard against the adam’s apple of one of the Demon’s Head’s most trusted assistants. “Talk Ubu! Where the hell is your master?” In the dim lighting, the red lenses of his mask, and the new red accents of his uniform gave the enraged vigilante a more menacing, almost demonic expression. When the muscular bald assistant stubbornly refused to answer his questions, Nightwing pulled back his other arm and brought his other escrima stick crashing against his skull. “Where the hell is my brother?”
Batman had to grab Nightwing’s arm on the younger man’s upswing to prevent him from pummeling Ubu into unconsciousness or worse.
“Stop!” he ordered as he held his eldest son’s wrist with a vice-like grip. He tightened it when Nightwing tried to pull it free.
“Let me go!”
Batman’s eyes narrowed. “There’s no need. Ra’s is here, and he’s going to invite us to whatever inner sanctum he’s got himself holed up in-” He looked up and around. “-aren’t you?”
From the communicator hooked to his assistant’s belt, a grim elderly voice with an Arabian accent spoke forth. “Bring the Detective and his son to me, Ubu.”
Ubu stifled a groan as he eased himself gingerly to his feet. “Yes, master.” Though he shot Nightwing a steely glare, he turned on his heel and obediently led the two vigilantes through the maze of halls to a secret doorway.
Before they entered the room, Batman traded a silent look with Nightwing. The younger man felt his jaw tighten as he ground his teeth in frustration. The look he got from his father spoke volumes to him. Batman was going to take the lead in speaking with Ra’s, and Nightwing was going to restrain himself.
“Welcome, Detective,” Ra’s greeted coldly as the two masked men silently walked into his sanctum. The immortal leader of the League of Assassins was standing before a massive fire pit, its blazing flames a virtual barrier between them.
“Cut the formalities,” Batman growled. “Where’s my son?”
“To the point as always,” Ra’s said, the corners of his lips twitching upward almost imperceptibly.
“Where is Timothy?” Nightwing shouted as he tried to storm forward. The flames from the fire pit flared high, preventing him from getting any closer to Ra’s than his father. “What did you do to him?”
Ra’s face hardened. “What makes you think, after all he did to my organization, that he’s even still alive after all this time?” The old man’s eyes narrowed. “I promised Timothy there would be consequences to his actions.”
Nightwing’s heart clenched. “No… He can’t be,” Despite himself, despair etched itself on his face.
“Your brother, your son, is dead,” Ra’s said stoically. “Your family should be no stranger to loss. If you wish to take your revenge, then you are welcome to try at a later date. But leave this place now, or else your family will have two more lost members to grieve.”
The younger vigilante’s vision was blurring from his tears. His tightened fists were trembling. Nightwing wanted nothing more than to leap across the flames and pummel the Demon’s Head into oblivion, his oath to never kill be damned. The only thing that stopped him, that angered him more than Ra’s own words, was the lack of reaction from the man at his side. “Why aren’t you saying anything?” he asked Batman, his voice hoarse from his barely restrained grief. “How can you be so god damned calm? Tim-“
Until this point, Batman had been as still as a statue, his eyes watching ever movement of his most dangerous opponent, his ears catching every nuance of his voice. If anyone knew Ra’s Al Ghul well, beyond his own children, it was the Dark Knight. Ra’s eyes glared daggers at Batman as Nightwing looked at his father in surprise.
Batman’s eyes never left Ra’s. “If he had really killed Tim, after everything your brother accomplished in thwarting his plans, do you honestly think Ra’s would have waited almost a full two years to reveal his fate to us? No. For Tim’s perceived hubris against him, Ra’s would have made it a point to make an example of him, to reassure those who seek the League’s favors that they aren’t so weak that a single, teenage, masked vigilante can dismantle them so utterly from the inside out.”
Nightwing’s attention shifted to Ra’s as his father spoke, and he noted how the immortal man’s face darkened with every word out of Batman’s mouth. Every word spoken struck true, and with every strike a glimmer of hope began to reveal itself.
“He escaped, didn’t he?” Nightwing said quietly, that glimmer brightening as Ra’s scowl deepened.
Batman almost smiled… Almost. “You blinked, and Tim slipped through your grasp somehow, and even you don’t know where to find him.”
“Get out, Detective,” Ra’s snarled, his own rage at being outwitted one last time by the Red Robin clearly evident now. “Go looking for your wayward, impudent child! Let’s see if you can’t find him before my assassins can end him once and for all! Rest assured, though, if I find him first, I won’t keep it to myself.” He glared balefully at the pair of them. “I’ll make sure he’s sent back to you in pieces.”
Later that evening, after making their way back to their hotel in Cairo, Bruce grimly nursed a generous glass of scotch as Dick was taking a lengthy shower in his own room. “Master Bruce,” Alfred said with a concerned tone. “I would’ve thought that learning Timothy is still alive and not within Ra’s Al Ghul’s clutches would have made the two of you happier.”
Bruce sighed. “This… is almost worse,” he admitted darkly while staring deep into his glass.
The man who was as much a son to Alfred as any living blood relation looked up at him with a tortured expression. “We have wasted two years hunting down the League, chasing down shadows, and now we know they haven’t had Tim for God only knows how long. Where do we start looking for him now?”
Before Tim disappeared, he did successfully manage to gut a good portion of the League of Shadows. If you want to read up more on this storyline, take a look at the Red Robin comic book, issues 5 through 12. Tim’s success spurred Ra’s into going after Bruce Wayne’s family, friends, and legacy, which Tim still ultimately thwarted.
Back to the present in the next chapter.