Author's Note: The movies told us nothing of what had happened to the League of Shadows after their second ambitious plan for destroying Gotham fell flat on its face. Being a longtime fan of the Batman comic books, I prefer to believe that Ra's al Ghul's daughter would be heavily involved in reorganizing the remnants of the League after her daddy was no longer calling the shots. However, what we saw of that secret society in Batman Begins did not exactly make it look like an equal opportunity employer where female members were plentiful and had a fair chance of making it to the top of the hierarchy and giving orders to lots of macho male warrior types—in fact, I'm only taking it on faith that an occasional female (such as Ra's al Ghul's daughter) might actually be permitted to qualify as a member in good standing.

Recently I began stretching my imagination, trying to answer the question of how Talia might nonetheless improve her position in the League after her father's death. To help steer the plot in the correct direction, I made some sweeping assumptions about how the League's internal rules of succession are supposed to work when the old leader drops dead—but hey, I figure my wild guesses are as good as any other fan's! (You won't see much of that guesswork in this first chapter, though, for reasons I explain at the bottom.)

Talia's Tour de Force

Chapter One: Preparing to Engage

Ask an ordinary man: What are weapons?

He may well speak of such classics as the sword, the spear, the bow, and the club. Moving on to more modern innovations, he is likely to mention guns, explosives, poison gas, and bioweapons.

Give him more time to ponder, and he may recall that trained fighters regard their own hands and feet—and in a larger sense their entire bodies—as deadly weapons.

As an afterthought, he may observe that there are other, subtler ways of imposing your will upon your fellow human beings—sometimes leading to physical injury or death—by adroit use of law, economics, theology, and other intangibles.

But anyone trained by the League of Shadows knows that the proper scope of the word "weapon" is easily defined: Anything can be a weapon!

Of course, putting that idea into practice requires that the wielder have three things: The wit to recognize what can be used effectively in the current circumstances; the skill to employ the potential weapon well enough to accomplish something; and most important of them all, the will to use anything available to further your goals in the face of opposition.

The Eurasian-looking woman who had just spent an hour applying makeup to her own delicately-featured face had received all the training the League of Shadows had to offer. She could hold her own with blades, firearms, garrotes, and bare hands. She could improvise with various other items which might be available in time of need—chairs, cleaning chemicals, electrical appliances, broken glass, and so forth. But she was also one of the very few members of the League who undeniably could use personal beauty as a weapon. That last item was likely to be more useful in the next several hours than any of the methods covered in the League's standard curriculum.

Not that she was vain enough to think her beauty alone could carry the day. but every little bit helped. The people she had to impress this time were middle-aged heterosexual males, after all. Classic chauvinists, to boot. What they would tolerate from a very attractive young woman with a well-trained voice was bound to be more than what they would have accepted from a frump with a nasal whine.

Under other circumstances, the young woman might have been willing to shrug philosophically and let the remaining senior officers of the League of Shadows blunder along without the benefit of her unorthodox advice. But the current circumstances were incredibly bad; worse than they had been in many centuries.

It was possible that the League of Shadows had finally bitten off much more than it could chew.

Before its second great operation against Gotham, the League had essentially stayed "under the radar" of the American intelligence community. If the CIA had ever heard of the League, it must have been only as a warrior cult based somewhere in the Himalayas, allegedly telling its prospective recruits that it had secretly shaped turning points in the fates of various empires of olden times. All of which must have sounded as implausible as the grandiose claims made by other "secret societies," such as the Rosicrucians or the Order of Saint Dumas, so why would the CIA care enough to pursue the matter any further?

But that was how things must have stood when the League was not known to have done anything particularly destructive in the modern world. In the post-9/11 environment, a cold-blooded attempt to use psychoactive chemicals with intent to render millions of civilians violently insane in a single night was bound to attract a great deal of unfavorable attention from Uncle Sam.

Actually, even in the Pre-9/11 world, such an attempt would not exactly have been greeted with cheers and smiles by the U.S. government. But after planes crashed into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, new mechanisms were created for responding more quickly and efficiently to any similar large-scale act of terrorism that might transpire on American soil in the future. Until recently, the League's great strength had been that its major operations normally didn't look like deliberately orchestrated acts of terrorism in the first place.

Take the Gotham operation of a generation ago, for instance.

Most Americans had been predisposed to blame the near-collapse of Gotham on a combination of three major factors: corrupt local government; crime running rampant in that metropolitan area and scaring investors away; and the fundamental cluelessness of most of the politicians in Washington, D.C. when it came to "solving" economic problems.

Since each of those points had considerable basis in fact (the third point in particular being a near-constant in human affairs throughout recorded history), it was not terribly surprising that most people had found this tripartite explanation to be satisfactory.

Unfortunately, such protective camouflage didn't apply to the League's latest approach to the Gotham problem. Financial troubles can be (and usually are) the cumulative effect of many people spending years doing dishonest and/or foolish things for self-centered, short-sighted reasons without quite realizing what will result . . . no conspiracy theory is required to untangle that sort of mess. But it is extremely hard to persuade anyone that a modern city's entire water supply has been contaminated with tons of a powerful psychoactive drug, which was then activated as drug-laced steam started saturating the local air thanks to a powerful stolen microwave emitter . . . all by sheer accident!

Not that anyone had even tried to sell that version to the public. The young woman had not been part of the detailed planning for the Gotham operation; she had only made sure the money from Swiss accounts flowed wherever her father said it was needed. She'd trusted him to know what he was doing with the resources he had gathered in that city. But when she read the newspaper coverage in the days after the plan was foiled and Ra's al Ghul was killed in a fall, she had found herself stunned by the blatancy of this attack. There was no way the FBI, the CIA, and all those other alphabet-soup agencies were going to believe this had been an accident, a natural disaster, or even the action of a couple of home-grown American nutcases such as the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

Garden-variety terrorism was the obvious assumption, but it seemed her father had made no efforts whatsoever to plant clues blaming this one on Al-Qaeda . . . or another faction of Islamic extremists . . . or anybody at all!

When she was overseeing the financing of the thing from afar, she had assumed some of the money would be spent on such details. Perhaps round up a couple of Al-Qaeda operatives, somewhere, transport them to Gotham, kill them, and leave them where the police would find and identify them in due course? Or the whole thing could have been false-flagged—find a way to convince a few such men that they had been selected for a real Al-Qaeda operation, let them be captured alive, and then what they told the authorities would be exactly what law enforcement personnel were predisposed to believe!

There was no sign that any such deception had even been attempted in Gotham—although her father had been there, personally directing the final stages of the operation. Had each of his loyal warriors assumed that someone else was assigned to set up the appropriate smoke screens? Had her father been losing his grip without anyone noticing, to try anything so brazen while expecting the League of Shadows to walk away from it unscathed? Even though he failed to provide false trails to a convenient group of fall guys?

It seemed as if Henri Ducard had forgotten why his beloved organization was called the League of Shadows; not the League of Show-Offs.

Although members of the League were brave and well-disciplined, they were not conditioned to commit suicide at the drop of a hat if capture seemed likely. In this case, some had been taken alive and were quickly identified as perpetrators of the recent terrorist attack. An assistant D.A. named Rachel Dawes had been particularly astute in sorting out the wolves from the sheep, advising agents of the FBI and other agencies as to which prisoners merited extra attention.

(If you were in the know, it was not hard to guess who had been coaching Ms. Dawes behind the scenes, perhaps even identifying certain faces remembered from a former training facility in the Himalayas.)

Among those prisoners, at least one must have been . . . persuaded . . . to tell enough to confirm Ms. Dawes's assertions regarding who had orchestrated the near-collapse of Gotham.

After this, the League of Shadows was marked by Uncle Sam for the same warm and sympathetic treatment accorded to such fun-loving organizations as Al-Qaeda. Just saying "League of Shadows" in a phone call was likely to attract the attention of supercomputers at Fort Meade, and your chances of keeping a low profile would rapidly go downhill from there. Many of the League had now been captured in odd parts of the world; many other members were believed to have gone to ground when they saw the writing on the wall, severing all communications with branch offices until the situation had settled down and it was easier to determine who could safely be contacted.

Now, for the first time in several months, remaining senior officers of the League were gathering to discuss the future of their organization.

Being the Treasurer who controlled most of the remaining accounts, Talia had taken the initiative in organizing the meeting and sending out invitations, but it was far from certain that she could persuade the other attendees to start refocusing the League's efforts according to her ideas. She would have to stake it all on a line of argument which might seem ludicrous at first glance, but nonetheless had some basis in historical precedent and the League's long-standing by-laws.

She opened the outer door of her suite and started down the corridor to the conference room which the hotel had also provided for her. It was important that she already be seated at the table when the first guest arrived. The men she was expecting would have cheerfully awaited the convenience of Ra's al Ghul before starting their meeting, but they would not feel obligated to wait for Talia Ducard.

Author's Note: Originally, much of what's in this chapter was going to be presented in dialogue going back and forth between different members of the League in the meeting which Talia is about to attend. But I finally realized I was in dire peril of falling into the "As You Know, Bob" Syndrome, where characters lecture each other at length on matters which everyone in the room should already know all about. In such "conversations," the author is having his characters insult each other's intelligence just so they can pretend to be lecturing each other when they are really lecturing the reader!

So I decided to bite the bullet and reorganize my story. Instead of going with my rough draft, in which this was supposed to be a single-chapter story centered around a meeting about who will run the League of Shadows from now on, I made it two chapters, with the first one a sort of prologue which frankly outlines the post-Batman Begins situation as it is perceived by Talia, daughter of Ra's al Ghul, in the privacy of her own mind. The actual meeting, with dialogue and power plays and some rather convoluted lawyering, will occur in the next chapter.