The smell of incense permeated the air. The pungent odor of henna mixed with the lavender and chamomile scent of the half-burnt sticks of incense, lying in their own ashes in shallow bowls hung from the ceiling, still smoldering and smoking. A small bowl, filled with ground henna leaves, rested on a small table next to a large, four-poster bed. There was another tiny bowl next to that, this one filled with a mixture of water, oils, and sugar. On the huge bed, behind the translucent canopy hanging from the posts, covers pulled up to protect the inside sheets, lounged a white-skinned Rattataki female, a clear, flexible tube in her hand, poised over her foot. Brown paste spilled out of the tube onto the white skin, the tiny nozzle of the tube delivering the paste in micro-thin lines to create a detailed tattoo. The intricate lines were a tradition of Rattataki-they meant something in the strange language of the peoples that live there. And Count Dooku was positively baffled by it.
The Count leaned against the doorframe, watching his latest apprentice use her downtime. He had to say, he had never seen a henna tattoo, let alone an artist at work. The process both confounded him and interested him. Ventress spoke as she worked:
"The art of henna tattooing is one we got from a galaxy a few thousand light-years from our own, the recipe transmitted to us by hologram. It was just that far away that they couldn't get back in time to transfer it to us themselves. Takes a lifetime to get there and back. But they sent us some leaves in a self-guided rocket. Our planet was the first to use this henna, and we began using it first as a ceremonial thing, but then it just became something fun to do on the weekends. These tattoos last about four weeks, and the designs have become symbolic."
"Symbolic of what?" Dooku questioned. His brow furrowed in curiosity, and he moved closer to Ventress, observing the lines she was tracing. They looked to be ancient runes of some sort, and they traced over all five sets of bones running down her foot from her ankle. Around the ankle itself was what seemed to be a stylized version of a chain.
"This, around my ankle, means that I have been captured," Ventress said, motioning to the chain-like design. "These, here, along the bones, mean that I have endured torture." Ventress then began a new design: around each toe, was what looked like a ring of flames. "And this means that I endured it silently. The number of these rings symbolizes the amount of time I was tortured."
"And?" Dooku pressed. By now, he was quite intrigued: the designs looked tribal in origin, and almost looked as if they would come to life if he stared hard enough. Dooku now stood next to Ventress's bed, watching her with intent eyes. "How long?"
Ventress glanced up for a moment, blue eyes flashing with something like anger. "Ten days."
Dooku was impressed. "And…you were silent?"
Ventress laughed, but did not take her eyes off the design she was weaving over her skin. "Oh, silence is not a good word," she said. "Although, it is my fault, as I referred to it earlier as 'silent.' Oh, no, I screamed loud enough to shatter glass. And I did-two floors up. But I didn't talk as to the cause. Not a word, but more screaming than you can imagine." Dooku was almost frightened now-in Ventress's eyes was new glow, one that looked almost sadistic. Her blue pools of ice glistened with a cold fury, turned into sick pleasure, and Dooku could almost see the blood on her hands. But still, Ventress's hand remained steady as she traced the last of the flames around her toes, and finally began tracing a new design. This appeared to be the last: it took up her entire other foot, and appeared to be a chain of barbed wire, or woven thorns.
"And so, I killed them. The second they turned their back, I killed them with their own weapons. They cut me with knives, I sliced their throats open with the same. They stung my skin with wire, opening the flow of my blood-I strangled them with it. They beat me with burning metal-I impaled them upon it. Oh, yes, their deaths were quite gruesome." Ventress's laughed echoed out again, and Dooku feared he would have to leave the room. Ventress had a vicious side! Her anger ran deeper than even Dooku had seen, and now, she was sharing that anger. Her eyes danced with the same bloodlust as what must have been in her hearts when she killed her captors, but her hand remained steady as she completed the design.
"Revenge tasted too sweet to sacrifice."
Dooku shook his head once, trying to shake off the image. Ventress, covered in blood, burns, and bruises, brutally slaughtering those who dared to lay their hands on her. She had drawn ten thorns on the woven chain-
"Ten were responsible; ten whom I killed."
Dooku was now thoroughly freaked out. Ventress had always been a scary individual, even sending shivers down his spine sometimes. He could best her in a lightsaber duel and a Force contest, but when it came to everything else-hand-to-hand combat, sneaking around, spying, and pyrotechnics, Ventress had him outclassed. Devotion and loyalty, as well-he didn't possess much of that anymore. Never had, but less than in the past. Still, he tried to shake it off: "it's never just a game of cards with you, is it?"
Ventress's smile only seemed to grow. "Never," she swore. "I'm too exciting for that. And, yourself? Have you ever endured capture and torture for any amount of time?"
Dooku snorted in laughter. "I'm too cautious to get captured," he said smugly, pricking at Ventress's pride with a proverbial thorn. Ventress glared at him, eyes flashing dangerously.
"It was on a mission you sent me on," she growled. "You sent me right into a Jedi trap, and you knew it! Shaak Ti was waiting for me, and she captured me and handed me over to one of her friends for interrogation. Said it was against the Jedi code for her to do it herself. Fool! She's a Council member, she can even outduel Lord Sidious-!"
"Just don't let him hear that. Feed his ego, and stay alive," Dooku said dryly. Ventress huffed angrily.
"Bottom line, your fault," she snapped. "Hence, the tattoos. What, you didn't wonder why I was away for so long?"
"I did," Dooku said, sounding almost thoughtful at the moment. "But I figured you were skillful enough to get yourself out of it."
Ventress huffed angrily again, and the returned to her drawing-or body art. Dooku peered more closely at the design, and noticed that Ventress was adding another design around her ankle, above the chain. It looked to be a tiny sun-blaze-like design, wrapping around the bone on the inside of her ankle. "And what does that mean?"
"This means I was betrayed, and that's how I ended up in this situation."
Dooku almost felt bad, all of a sudden. He had known that there would be Jedi masters waiting for Ventress when he sent her in, but it was cruel of him not to so much as warn her. She finally finished her design, and set the tube of henna down next to the mixture of paste in the bowls.
"Have any lemons?"
To say Dooku was dumbfounded now would be an understatement. For a moment, he was struggling with himself, trying to find the right words. He wasn't even sure he had heard her right. She had asked for lemons, right? "A…a what?" he finally stammered.
"A lemon," Ventress repeated plainly. "Their juice helps the henna stay moist for longer, and darkens the color."
Dooku, now having the clarification, shook his head. "No, I don't," he said slowly, trying to recover. "My apologies."
Ventress shook her head. "Whatever. Just asking Ya never know."
And, with that, she picked up the henna again and began tracing a design onto her hand, right in the middle of the back. The tattoo, Dooku noticed, was in the shape of a traditional poppy, and had vines extending from it both up Ventress's middle finger and down onto her wrist. "And this means?"
"This is just my own creativity showing through."
Dooku was curious more than ever by now. He could see other tattoos on Ventress's body, the more he looked: on the underside of her arm, a tribal symbol. All over her entire other hand, and all the way up her arm, an intricate paisley design, ending with the symbol for the Separatist army. Tracing up her neck, the symbol for a general. On the side of her lower left leg, a rose, its thorns and branches wrapping around her entire leg. On her skull, the tribal markings of the Rattataki. "Did you do all of these yourself?' he asked incredulously, now seeing the designs and their detail. "It must have been painstaking…"
"The ones on my skull were done by me," Ventress said slowly, working on her hand. "And the ones on my feet and hands are still done by me. The only one someone else ever did was the set of two markings on the right side of my skull, and the three teardrops under my eye. These five are for the five warlords I killed on my home planet. They are all done in blue, and no other tattoo on my body is blue. That way, people know that they mean the same thing."
Dooku could hear the sudden, sharp edge Ventress's voice took on at that point. Clearly, these were not happy memories. "You really had a rough time with life, didn't you?" he said softly, sitting down on the edge of the bed, watching out for Ventress's henna-soaked feet. Ventress shot him a heavy glare, and finished up the poppy on her hand.
"What's it to you?" she snapped. "Since when do you care?"
Dooku shrugged. "Just curious. It sounds like there's a story here. And really, I'd rather listen to your life's story than suggest the game of Craps."
Ventress allowed a small, genuine smile to curve her lips upwards the smallest degree. "It's a real sob-story," she said, unscrewing the nozzle from the tube of henna and putting the cap back on. She set the tube aside, and then cleaned off the nozzle with a tissue. "But, if I tell you, you owe me your story afterwards." Ventress was taking advantage of time: she couldn't walk while the henna on her feet was still moist, anyway. And so, she told Dooku her dramatic story, of how she was discovered by a rogue Jedi master on her home planet when he crash-landed and was attacked by the locals. She was trained as a Jedi, but when her master was killed by several of the warlords, she had gone on a downward spiral of depression. She believed that the Jedi had abandoned her master, exiling him from the Order and leaving him to die at the hands of the Rattataki. Ventress had fallen to her rage, and that was when Dooku found her. Ventress asked for Dooku's story: Dooku told her about his history in the Jedi Order, and how he had left and joined the Separatists. By the time they were both done with their stories, they had managed to kill an hour between them.
Ventress sighed and stretched her hands up and over her head, her spine cracking as she did so. "Man, that brought back memories," she muttered, swinging her feet over the side of her bed and standing up. The henna on her feet, dry by now, cracked a bit, but did not begin to flake off. Dooku, too, stood up, and neither a moment too soon. A holotransmitter somewhere in the lair beeped for attention, signaling an incoming transmission. Ventress sighed, and went to answer it. Dooku left the room, following Ventress a few minutes later to receive the transmission. It was from Grievous.
The war at present, Dooku thought, was even more foolish than the war fought years ago, on Rattatak: the war that orphaned Ventress.
But, it couldn't be that bad: it delivered her to him.
A/N: This will not be continued. This was just a little drabble I felt like writing. I've recently become quite interested in Ventress, for some reason…I dunno. Just looks like a fun character to roleplay, I guess. : ) Reviews are much appreciated, and will help end the war on Rattatak. Listen to Ventress's sob story and donate. Not supposed to be romance, just kind of a father-daughter-bonding-type…thing…yeah…