He was back. Back in the place that once had meant so much to him. Forced to kneel before the man who had changed his life forever. And who now would take that life from him. Of that Malcolm had no doubt. It was only a matter of time. But he wouldn't be dying quickly, he would have to suffer. Until the time came that he welcomed death with open arms.

Malcolm also knew that nothing he could possibly say would make a difference. So he didn't bother. His pride was all he had left. He refused to talk at all while kneeling before Ra's al Ghul. He contended himself with throwing hateful glances towards the man while subtly testing his restraints – damn, they were tight, no way to wriggle out of them - and otherwise tried to let whatever Ra's was saying wash over him. It was not important. They all knew why he was here and what the result would be. But obviously, Ra's felt the need to make an example of him in front of his men. Malcolm just wished he would get it over and done with it.

It was like in an action movie with the bad guy making his impressive final speech. To be honest, Malcolm had done his fair share of gloating at other opportunities. It came with the territory. Funny how your perspective changed when you were on the receiving end. The hard cold stone floor dug mercilessly into his kneecaps and he still felt weak from whatever they had dosed him with. He was getting too old for this shit.

He'd tried to fight them when they came for him, but there were three of them and he was alone. And he didn't have his weapons. Still, he'd managed to kill one with the knife he always hid in his boot. But then he had felt the prick of a dart in his neck. His usual effective moves became sluggish and his punches lacked power. Bastards. Should he feel honored that Ra's had felt the need to send three goons after him, or insulted that it hadn't been five?

He had been only dimly aware how they had dragged him to the helicopter and how he had ended up here.

Here, that was Nanda Parbat.

When Ra's made the mistake of getting down to Malcolm's level to stare right into his eyes while making the most disturbing comment about Thea, Malcolm spat into his face. That earned him a forceful punch to the jaw and he finally passed out.

When he came to, his surroundings had changed. The first thing he noticed was blissful silence. He was alone then. He suddenly jerked fully awake, realizing his hands had been forced into manacles and he was standing on some kind of pedestal, with his arms strung up high in the air. The classic torture pose and one that would become uncomfortable very quickly. Malcolm knew that standing like that for hours would eventually make breathing very difficult and would also put considerable strain on his heart. In the long run, one could die just from that. Yet it was nothing he couldn't handle, at least for a while.

Was this all Ra's al Ghul had got? Doubtful.

As if on cue there was a sudden noise – like a hiss. The darkened room lit up with a warm orange shine. Malcolm tried to peek down to see what was happening. Only then he realized that his jacket was gone, as well as his shoes and socks. And that the hiss he had heard was a fire being lit. Right under his feet. Oh joy!

He should have known. He remembered when he had taught Thea the famous "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional" line in Corto Maltese. Now he was at the hands of the man from whom he had learnt this painful lesson. Unfortunately Ra's knew all his secrets. He and his men had taught Malcolm how to push back the pain, how to lock it away in a box, to separate yourself from it until it didn't matter anymore.

The worst thing you possibly could do was let yourself get caught by the one man in the whole world who knew everything you knew. Who would anticipate your every reaction. Who knew exactly how high your pain threshold was, and who therefore would try to go straight over it.

This man wouldn't bother with trifles. Ra's didn't even want anything from him – there would be no interrogation, no questioning, no secrets to elicit. No noble cause to fight for. He simply wanted Malcolm to suffer. And finally, for him to die. For a split second, Malcolm admitted to himself that this time he was indeed in big trouble. Then he pushed this thought away and concentrated on what was happening.

The metal pedestal he was standing on had warmed up by now and was starting to become uncomfortably hot. Malcolm considered his options. There weren't many. He grabbed the chains he was hanging from harder, and raised his feet into the air. That gave him a brief respite but put even more strain on his shoulders, so after several minutes he had to give in and let go.

Which put his feet right back where they had been. Malcolm hissed involuntarily when they touched the hot metal plate.

Then he changed tactics. No reason for the soles of his feet to get cooked in their entirety. He alternated between standing on his toes and heels, alternated the left foot and the right foot, all to try and minimize the damage. But he could feel the first blisters already beginning to form. If he wanted to make it out of here alive, he should do it before walking became impossible.

In the middle of his breathing through the pain while trying not to stand still for too long, he heard a clap. Ra's al Ghul emerged from the shadows he had hidden in and walked towards him while clapping his hands gleefully. Malcolm swore inwardly. Not alone then. Of course not.

"Very impressive, your nice little dance. I wonder for how long you can keep it up though." The words were accompanied by a malicious grin.

Malcolm stopped moving at once. Lesson number two: Never let the enemy see that you are suffering. Act nonchalantly. Nothing important to see here. Just a man hanging around casually. Move on.

Unfortunately, Ra's didn't think about moving on. The ground was literally getting hot under Malcolm's feet. He also started to see black spots at the edge of his vision. He just hoped he wouldn't pass out in front of Ra's. That would be quite embarrassing.

For a moment that seemed to last forever, the two men just stared at each other. A silent battle of wills. Then Ra's snapped his fingers. The fire dimmed and finally went out. Nice magic trick there. Two men dressed in the typical League outfit marched in and lowered the chains. Malcolm flinched when his arms dropped down after being held up for such a long time. He tried to struggle just out of spite but the men simply grabbed him and marched him over to one of the cells. And to be honest, he really could use a break. He'd get them next time.

He was unceremoniously thrown into the cell. His legs refused to cooperate at all and so he fell down, hard. He dimly heard the others leave and close the door. Then everything went black.

Malcolm awoke with a start and for a moment struggled to orientate himself. The room was dark save for a torch in one corner. Carefully he sat up and leant against the wall. He inspected his cell. Not much to see there – three stone walls and the front was made up with heavy bars.

He knew this cell. His training had also consisted of being put into it when he had been here the last time. Several of the candidates that wanted to join the League of Assassins had been told that only the first three making it out would be chosen. Everyone scrambled around frantically while trying to find a way out and to be cleverer and quicker than the others. A neat trick to set them up against each other when in fact the door only could be opened if all of them worked together, pushing hidden buttons in different places at the same time. It was done to find out if they could work as a team, if they could trust each other. Also to see how they worked under pressure. The day had stretched well into the night before they figured it out, and finally they all stood before Ra's tired, exhausted, but proud that they had made it.

Malcolm had been so proud back then. He had been an eager student who wanted to please his master.

Now he wanted to defeat him. Only the student will have hope of defeating the master.

The ceiling of the cell wasn't even worth mentioning, and the "facilities", to use the term loosely, consisted of a mere hole in the floor. Charming.

Malcolm noticed a plate and a jar on the ground in front of the door. He crawled over and tested the contents of the jar carefully. He'd rather suffer from thirst than being drugged again, but luckily it seemed to be only plain water.

The plate held an indefinable grey mush that neither smelled nor tasted very good. But he forced himself to eat it as he needed to keep his strength. And who knew when he would get another chance.

Then he fell into an exhausted sleep.

To be continued in part 2/2