As Ra's al Ghul watched the blond, pale skinned soldiers load the pitiful few shells remaining into their tanks, he once again regretted his alliance with the Fascists. When they first came, it was all he could hope for; not only did they seek drive the hated British out of North Africa, but they had few interests in the local populace save obesiance. The British, on the other hand, were - how did they say it in their own barbarian tongue? - busybodies. They were always looking into things, digging up long-buried tombs, imposing their own ideas upon the Faithful.
Not that *he* was particularly devout, of course, careful though he was to maintain appearances publicly. But it interfered. He had watched in horror when an archeological dig started only a few hundred meters from the location of his Lazarus Pit, and in fury when the English governors refused his petition to stop it. Despite his vast power and wealth, he was still seen as just one more 'native', and treated accordingly. He fought it with laws, with words, with gold, and eventually with daggers and poison, but the Royal Academy project went on and on, right up to the day the Italians attacked.
What a fool I was, he thought, to throw my lot in with them. He'd seen what they'd done to the south, ten years before, throwing tanks and bombs against frightened villagers and the few mercenaries the Abbysinians could hire. Wasteful, but dramatic. He had assumed that anyone fierce enough to do that would face the Royal Army suitably prepared. But no, the 'new Roman Legions' had embarassed themselves time and again, and barely held on to their colony in Tripoli before their Teutonic allies saved them.
The Germans were a different sort, ready to take the battle to the English - but they were, if anything, even more willing to interfere with things than the British were, even more disdainful of the local religion and culture, even more smug in their superiority. Still, they seemed to hate the desert worse than the inhabitants of that distant, fog-shrouded island did. He'd hoped that, once victorious, they would simply leave the Prophet's lands to the idiot in Rome who had wanted them so badly.
But now, more than a year later, victory seemed very, very far away.
"Herr Ghul, there is someone I wish you to meet."
He shook out of his thoughts to look down at the face of Oberhauptmann Grosse, the liason that the Germans assigned him. He said, "What is it you need this time, captain?", with a distinctly weary note in his voice. "We've gone over all of the intelligence I've collected for you enough for one day, I would think."
"There has been a change of plans." That caught his attention. The Germans didn't change plans lightly. "A new operative has arrived, and he wishes an immediate briefing on the local conditions. You follow me and I shall introduce you."
With a frown on his face - why do these damn Germans need to be so punctual? - he followed, entering the former mosque that had served as a provisional HQ for first the Italians, then the English, and now the Germans. He there he found a hulking brute of a man studying the maps on the walls with great intensity.
"Standartenfuhrer von Gotha? Herr Ghul is here to speak to you."
Von Gotha? Ra's al Ghul thought. Could it be...
The giant was clearly as disturbed by the overcaptain's interruption as he was, for he grabbed the smaller man by the collar and slammed him against a wall. "I told you I would need time to study the maps! No get out of here!" The stunned soldier, realising he was lucky to be alive, beat a hasty retreat out a side door.
Yes, Ra's thought, this was him. He'd known of this man for nearly as long as he had lived, and had at times sought him out in hopes of learning the ancient secrets he held. At times an enemy, at times an ally, he had never before seen him face to face. But it was clearly him.
His hair was cut in short, stiff black bristles, and his goatee was sharp as the razor that trimmed it - concessions, no doubt, to his scrupulously clean-shaven allies. He was powerfully muscled all over his body, and his face was a mask of unimaginable cruelty. His eyes were blacker than the pits of Hell, and there was no mercy to be found in them.
This is perhaps the greatest monster of all human history standing before me, Ra's thought. And, very likely, the one man in all the world who possesses what I desire more than anything else.
He let a tight smile cross his lips, and then said, "So, at long last, we meet, Vandal Savage."
The giant said nothing, but grinned like death incarnate. And glint of recognition came out of those terrible eyes.