Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in the following work. All recognizable anime characters belong to Tite Kubo. All others characters are adapted from a diverse spread of cultural and mythological lore. I am making no profit from this story.
Author's Note 1: After being (technically) absent for the last two chapters, I hope everyone enjoys the return of Tatsuki. I also hope everyone enjoys Hisagi, because I know I do.
Once again, everyone's favorite—Warnings! Actually, it's hard to give appropriate warnings for this chapter without spoiling it before you read it. So just…be aware that there's some stuff in here that might set off triggers for some more sensitive readers. But I daresay that if you've followed me this far, this ain't gonna faze you. I strongly suspect most of you will get to the end and be like, "Wait, where was the part we were warned about?"
Chapter 20: Shiver
You leave these marks upon my neck
And they're still there, I know (but I still check)
And the thump, thump, the thumping in my chest
As I lose the feeling in my fingertips
When you are close to me, I shiver
by Walk the Moon
Nights Since Orihime's Disappearance: 9 / Soul Society
The girl had missed the look that had passed between himself and Renji before the other Lieutenant had flash-stepped off, he was certain. The one where he silently exhaled and raised his eyebrows to say, 'See, I survived after all.'
Renji had made it a point to forewarn him about her aggressive temper when he'd asked him to speak with her. "Hraust seems pretty certain she's going to recognize you from the lake, and she still bristles like a cat whenever it comes up," he'd said. "Tread wisely."
Blunt honesty had been a gamble on his part, but after everything he'd heard about her through the Seireitei rumor mill (They say she's friends with all the ryoka, but that she didn't even know what a Shinigami was until she became one!) and all that he'd seen on her face when she confronted him, Hisagi Shuhei was willing to take the chance that she was a person who would respect an uncomfortable truth, and the person who told it to her, over bullshit.
And he'd been right. Huzzah.
Although, if her curt answer and subsequent silence was any indication, he might have pushed things a bit far by immediately stating that Renji told him she was afraid of her zanpakuto. "I guess," had been her only reply for over 10 minutes.
That was okay. Truthfully, he hadn't expected her to blurt out all her feelings then and there, anyway.
At a casual pace, he let her remain in her own thoughts until they'd arrived at the edge of a cliff overlooking a relatively narrow valley. Tree branches, still rather heavy with leaves, shook in the breeze along the forest line that occupied the cliff opposite them. Below, narrow streams meandered along the flood plain situated between the two cliffs. But it was along the edge of this cliff that he'd find what he'd brought her here for—the centerpiece of the strategy he'd decided upon for this discussion, which he'd set up in advance.
A pot of hot tea.
She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, but it hadn't been tea. Not that I'm complaining. Pouring the tea, drinking the tea, holding the cup—all these things would be a welcome distraction during the conversation, giving something for her to focus on if she became irritated or uncomfortable. As they both sat down a short distance from the edge of the cliff, a place where the view was beautiful but not dangerous, she reflected that she was going to have to give Hisagi Shuhei more credit for cleverness than any man bearing a tattoo of the number 69 on his face should warrant.
"This must be strange for you," he said as he poured tea into a cup and held it out to her.
She accepted the warm drink, and watched as he poured himself some. She allowed herself a small smile that she was sure probably looked like a grimace. "I wish I didn't have to say this, but you'll have to be more specific."
He chuckled. "I'm sure it's tough getting all this dumped on you in so short a time. And during a cross-dimensional war, no less, when we've got even more weirdoes running around than usual."
Who is a guy with '69' tattooed on his face calling a weirdo? she thought, and was instantly surprised at the defensiveness she felt for Ma'at and Hraust. Forcibly, she shoved her initial spark of emotion down. Stop trying to find an excuse to make this a confrontation, she told herself sternly. I shouldn't take it as a personal affront against them, anyway. He seems like the type of guy that would only say that if he were including everyone, even himself, in that phrase. Though I guess he hasn't behaved particularly weird, so far. Exceedingly polite, even. She was beginning to doubt that the rather obscene tattoo meant what she thought it did—at least to him.
She almost flinched when his voice jolted her out of her internal monologue. "But for what it's worth, you've got a lot of good people looking out for you."
She couldn't keep the skepticism she felt from showing on her face, so she didn't even try to hide it. "You can say that, with a straight face, knowing that one of them literally beat me to death?" Wait, was I actually mentally defending her against the word 'weirdo' a moment ago?
He shrugged a shoulder. "You probably don't know it, but when news about your…situation reached the higher ups, all the captains and lieutenants held a meeting about what to do with you."
Situation. He means my zanpakuto being awake. He was right, she hadn't known about such a meeting. It must have happened while I was recovering. After Hraust had spoken with her, she became unconscious during Captain Unohana's medical treatment, until Renji and the Valkyrie had woken her the next afternoon. Come to think of it, they would have had to meet about it, right? Hraust had said she was going to throw her weight around…and then the next thing she knew, decisions had been made.
Hraust had sounded so certain as she'd laid out her intentions; Tatsuki had never even remotely considered what that process had entailed—or what could have happened to her if the Valkyrie's proposal had not prevailed. She had supposed they would just send her home—defenseless, but home.
"There was some brief talk about letting Captain Kurotsuchi have a look at you," Hisagi continued, his eyes narrowing as he recalled it. "Mostly by Kurotsuchi."
Tatsuki shivered, and took a sip of her tea to cover it. She'd heard the barest whisperings about Captain Kurotsuchi, and even that was enough to make the hairs on the nape of her neck stand on end. This was the first she'd heard that she was even on that creature's radar. Although, doesn't that make sense? The more she thought about it, it seemed to her that her condition was as unique as Ichigo's, even if it was far less useful or powerful. A weak, "Oh?" was all she could manage out loud.
He nodded shallowly, not looking at her, until a smile slowly spread across his face. "I thought Renji was going to have kittens. He'd just volunteered to be your liaison with the Shinigami, and his first task out of the gate was to stand between Captain Kurotsuchi and something he was curious about."
Renji volunteered? Somehow, she'd always just assumed that the redhead had been saddled with her. Not for the first time, she silently wondered if she should make more of an effort to stop giving him such a hard time through her excessive, knee-jerk obstinacy.
"He was firm, though. The way he stood his ground on an 'examination' not being an option, even when Captain Kurotsuchi tried to pull rank, was one of the more memorable events of the meeting."
Even though she already knew how it all turned out, hearing that somehow made her feel relieved. Yeah, I should definitely try to be nicer. "There was more than one memorable event?"
Hisagi laughed. "Hraust almost having kittens was up there, too. Although, let me tell you, it was a lot less funny. When Kurotsuchi failed to acquiesce to Renji's continued objections, she said, rather…sharply that the agreement you made with her when you first arrived put you as much within her obligation as Soul Society's, and that she wouldn't allow him or anyone else in the 12th Division to experiment on you without your consent. Which she assumed would not be forthcoming."
She gulped. You're damn right it wouldn't have been forthcoming. "I had no idea."
"When Captain Mayuri argued she had no standing to allow or disallow a decision reached by a captain of the Gotei 13 within Soul Society, she said that she did not need 'standing' because she had an axe, a spear, and an Ulfbehrt*, and he could take his pick of which of those credentials he wanted her to produce."
Tatsuki knew that Hraust would not have stood a chance against the assembled captains in their own realm, but she also knew that the woman did not make idle threats, either. "I have a hard time believing that was how she said it."
"You're right, I cleaned it up. At least, I think I did. Who knows what some of those Norse words meant," he said, still smiling. "But the best part was when Captain Kurotsuchi told Captain Kuchiki to rein them both in."
Tatsuki remembered the man from when she had obtained Lieutenant Kusajishi's powers. Tall, conceited-looking, and giving off an air that was quintessentially "official authority." It had not seemed like he was at all interested in the outcome of the transfer, except for officially monitoring the process and making sure it was carried out by-the-book. She could not imagine what he would have said.
"He said…wait, let me get this right," Hisagi's voice took on imperious tone that was not his own. "'Hraust-san and Lieutenant Abarai have accepted responsibility for Arisawa Tatsuki, and as such have been tasked with her education and welfare within Soul Society. To impede them in the fulfillment of these duties would be a dereliction of my own, as their direct supervisor."
Tatsuki blinked, impressed in spite of herself. "That is the most long-winded 'Fuck you' I've ever heard."
"Tell me about it. It was the most bizarre united front I'd ever seen. But in the end, and especially with pretty much no support from outside his division, Kurotsuchi gave up."
Tatsuki exhaled. "Wow." That sick freak could have been cracking my skull open and poking at my brain right now. She shivered unconsciously, and the thought struck her that maybe she could act a little more grateful all-around.
"Yeah..." His gaze was once again focused on the cliffs beyond, watching the branches of the distant trees shake in the wind. "Not to go all wise-old-man on you, but I thought sharing that little bit of information might make it a little more obvious that a lot of us really do want to help you, Arisawa. Not give you a hard time."
I know that, she wanted to say. I know that, and yet I still…
When had she become this person, who found it so hard to talk about or even admit her most basic feelings?
When I realized there were people stronger, much stronger, than me in the world, in my town, and in my life.
Speaking about her thoughts and feelings had been easy when she felt confident she could beat the living shit out of 98–99% of the people she talked to, or even just encountered, throughout the day. The concept of being vulnerable, even emotionally—especially emotionally—did not seem as terrifying when you knew you could conquer threats and insults physically. Let a perverted boy or a mean girl say anything they liked, poke at any insecurity they wanted, she would make them eat their words and shit their teeth.
But there was nothing about the aspects of her life that weighed on her now that she could remedy with violence, not truly. And even if it were just about protecting her feelings with her fists, she was surrounded by people who were powerful enough to could kill her on a whim, without even breathing hard. Her vulnerabilities were now true vulnerabilities. And here, she had no other options but to trust people she did not even know existed just over a week ago.
This is your choice, Tatsuki, she said to herself. Bite the bullet and open up a little in front of people you're not entirely sure how deeply to trust yet, or continue to run headfirst into the wall.
The Tatsuki she had been but a few months ago could, would speak her mind fearlessly. Could take a friendly joke at her expense with sarcastic humor, if not grace. I want to be that Tatsuki again.
She took deep breath.
"Sure, I get that," she said lightly, allowing herself a smirk she didn't entirely feel yet. "And others just want to hoot at me during wet sword-fighting contests."
"That too, of course," he smirked as well. "Careful, you didn't win the last round of that particular match."
"Yeah…it's one of the many things I'm working on." She shook her head, and took another sip of tea. Tea was a good idea. "Anyway..."
"Yeah, to come back around to the point," he said. "Renji asked me to talk to you because you are uncomfortable with your zanpakuto."
"I guess so."
"You guess so?"
"Well…" She focused her gaze on a distant point. "It told me that it made me uncomfortable."
"Ah," he said, blinking. "You've got to admire a direct approach." He paused before continuing. "Do you think it's wrong?"
She let the silence stretch for a few moments before she could admit it out loud. "No. It's right. It creeps me out."
"He…this thing is a part of me, right?" she said, talking to a far-away tree. "But its like…it has its own thoughts. When it talks to me, I don't know what it's about to say. But then it's like it'll pull my thoughts from my head. It's like debating with someone who can read your mind, you can't—"
"Win the argument?" he finished for her. He shrugged a shoulder at her curt nod. "Have you ever won an argument with yourself?"
She blinked. Of course not.
"But," she said after a moment. "It still has its own thoughts. How can it be me and have its own thoughts? Isn't that like, a split personality?"
Another shrug. "You've probably had plenty of dreams with people and animals in them that don't exist outside of your brain. And while you were in the dream, you didn't know all their thoughts, did you?"
"I…" she had never thought of it this way before. Am I…am I just being stupid?
"Is there something about its behavior that you don't like?"
Before she could stop herself, she lifted her eyebrows and tilted her head to the side in an irritated 'Uh, yeah!' gesture. Pft. 'Sweetheart.' But when she saw the expectant look on his face, she tried to cover it by taking a drink of tea and giving herself time to really consider the question.
Had her zanpakuto actually done anything to legitimately earn her disapproval? I guess if you don't like oaths of loyalty and solidarity.
Geez, maybe I really do need to improve my all-around gratefulness.
She lowered her tea and shook her head. "No, I guess not."
Hisagi lifted an eyebrow. "That's not what your face said a second ago."
Tatsuki resisted the urge to grind her teeth together. "It was nothing."
His eyebrow remained lifted.
My zanpakuto said the way out of all my 'problems' was talking, she reminded herself. Though, she wasn't sure if this particular problem was applicable.
"I'll tell you, since you won't take 'Forget it' for an answer. But you can't tell anyone," she said, seriously. "It's embarrassing."
He nodded with an equally serious expression, looking her dead in the eyes. "I won't."
"He insists on calling me 'Sweetheart.'"
Hisagi slowly turned his face to the side, and took a long sip of tea as if he was considering the taste carefully.
Tatsuki could feel her cheeks start to heat up at the odd reaction. "What?!"
He shook his head slowly, keeping his 'serious expression' firmly in place. "I know that you'll try to hit me if I smile at how adorable that is."
"It is not adorable."
He did not say anything, or change his expression, but steadily nodded his head as if to say, 'Yes it is.'
She let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. "It's just not…me."
Hisagi frowned, and considered her for a moment. "Did Renji tell you why he asked me to speak with you?"
"No. He was actually really vague about it."
Hisagi nodded, and leaned back a little, propping his arm behind him.
"I've got a pretty scary zanpakuto," he said, back to staring at the tree line. "In its shikai form, it is unmistakable as anything but a tool for harvesting life, for robbing whatever enemies cross it of the most basic thing they hold dear. Efficiently. Gleefully."
He absently twirled his empty teacup in his hands, looking at it instead of her. "But that is nothing, nothing compared to the form it takes when we talk."
She waited for him to continue, but he was lost in his thoughts, silent for nearly a full minute before going on. "I don't like it. I don't like that it is a part of myself. Whenever I unsheathe it, a tremor of fear goes through the fingers holding it."
"Then why do you?" she asked, barely above a whisper, not wanting to break the heavy feeling in the air his admission had generated.
"Because someone I deeply respected once told me that a man that doesn't fear his own blade has no business removing it from its sheathe." Instead of going further into detail, he shook his head rather forcefully and turned to her.
"Look, Arisawa, from what you've told me, you don't have that kind of problem. Your zanpakuto might have some irritating quirks, but so far, it's done nothing that's felt threatening, or…wrong, right? You don't actually feel scared of it, right? Not in the actual sense of the word?"
"No," she said, thinking of her zanpakuto and its chaffing sarcasm, more like that of an annoying friend of a friend than a horror-house antagonist. "I don't."
He smiled, "Well, if nothing else, at least we've got that straightened out." He swallowed the last of his tea with one gulp, and produced a small bag from somewhere that he started to slide the now empty teapot into.
"That…seemed rather simple, in the end," she said to him, handing him her cup. "I guess it really was just a matter of perspective."
He stood up, slinging the bag with the tea pot over one shoulder. "Regardless, if it still bothers you, or even if it doesn't, when you're ready for shikai, come find me. I'll be here to help you when you release it," he said. The offer surprised her, and the gratitude she felt for it was nearly overwhelming.
"I appreciate that. Very much." she said, bowing low so that he didn't see the color in her cheeks.
As he started leading her back towards the 11th's compound, somehow polite conversation came around to the meanings of his various tattoos. She found that not only did she not have the heart to tell him what his most meaningful one meant in the living world, she'd at some point decided to strong-arm Asano and Mizuiro into never telling him, either.
Nights Since Orihime's Disappearance: 9 / ?
The pavement was warm beneath her back, and she had to close her eyes against the glare of the sun shining brightly above her.
Where am I?
There was a wooden stick in her mouth, and her teeth were absently chewing it apart, as if searching for any remnants of the sugary popsicle that had been finished long ago.
"You're crazy," a voice was saying. "His fighting technique has barely improved since the last time he lost. He won't even make it into the finals."
Ichigo. He sounded like he always had, the scowl all but audible in his voice. The words had come from somewhere above her, and she glanced to the right to see his long legs stretching past the cement curb at the edge of her vision. We're sitting on the walkway next to the bike path. While she was sprawled on her back,† her jacket somewhere beneath her head, he was sitting up behind her, absently staring at the park beyond as he spoke. What were we talking about? Although the context of his words suggested they were disagreeing about a fighter, for the life of her she could not recall who or what type of fighting.
"Tats?" he said when she did not respond with her half of whatever conversation they'd been having.
"Uh…" She tilted her head backwards, looking at him upside down. He was giving her a measuring look, like he wasn't sure if something was actually wrong or if she was somehow planning to strike him when he least suspected it.
"You alright?" He smirked. "Swallow a splinter? I told you, you shouldn't chew on them like that while lying down." He formed the words around his own gnawed wooden stick.
She sat up, blinking, her back to him. Was I dreaming, just now? Was that all a dream? There had been…people. Lots of strange people, and other things that she had been loathe to admit scared her. And stretched in a taut layer over it all, an overwhelming sense of…weakness. I was dreaming I was weak. She raised her fist and flexed her bicep, feeling the muscle tighten. But it isn't true. This was a world where she was strong enough to solve most of her problems with her fists. This was a world in which she honestly believed in herself.
It was such a comforting and powerful feeling. So why does it feel so wrong?
She put her forehead down into her hand, unsure why she felt like the ground was spinning.
"Tatsuki?" A hand touched her shoulder. He's warm. She herself felt cold, despite the blazing, mid-day summer sun.
She turned to find him looking slightly concerned, but trying to hide it. He doesn't want to irritate me by implying he's worried. Is that what she should feel? Irritated? For some reason she could not explain, it made her embarrassingly happy, and even a little relieved, that he was talking to her or looking at her at all. I'm happy to see concern for me on his face. But that was stupid. She saw him all the time. They talked all the time.
He was frowning now, in that way he did when he was trying to cover it with a scowl. "You look pale. Come over to my place and my old man will take a look at you."
He stood and offered her his hand. She looked up at him in the blinding light, and somewhere in the back of her head, a faint warning was sounding. That's silly. It's just Ichigo. It's just the hand I've taken hundreds, thousands of times.
She started to raise her hand, but instead of waiting, he reached down and grasped it where it was, pulling her to her feet amidst gentle grumbling about slow karatekas.
They started walking along the base of a retention wall that stretched for blocks. Her feet were slow, her mind felt thick, and somewhere between hazily noticing the lack of any cars on the street or people on the sidewalk, she realized he had not let go of her hand. He let her set their slow walking pace, and didn't try to hurry her up, despite the intermittent concerned glances she was sending her way.
What were we doing there? What am I doing here? She kept trying to tell herself that she just felt a little sick. That nothing out of the ordinary other than that was going on. It's not like we haven't held hands before. We used to have to hold hands all the time. It doesn't mean anything. The first year they were allowed to walk to school together without their parents, they had each been forbidden from crossing streets without holding each other's hands. Despite this, the memory of it made her feel more discomfited, not less.
"Hey, Tatsuki…" There was a shift in his posture, and she could tell that something besides getting to his father's clinic was on his mind.
"Uh…I know you're not feeling well, so maybe this isn't a good time, but…well…there was something I wanted to talk to you about today."
"Oh. Yeah?" Even to herself, her voice felt like it was coming from across a distance.
"Yeah…" He was walking a step or two ahead of her now, not looking back as he spoke, as if he was trying to walk away from her without releasing her hand.
She followed him in silence, waiting or him to continue while he seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. All at once he abruptly stopped, and slid the hand not holding hers to the back of his head.
"I…I was wondering if you'd like to…uh…to go out some time. Like, to the movies. Or something."
She was about to say that that had hardly been worth the buildup, since they went places and saw movies together all the time, but then she looked at him. Really looked. At the way his eyes only glanced at her, focusing mostly at a point above her shoulder. At how his grip on her hand had become tense, as if he didn't know whether to hold it tighter or let it go. At the way his other hand wouldn't stop nervously rubbing the back of his head.
He's asking me out.
Her heart skipped one beat, only one, before something like disappointment spread through her thoughts, coating her senses. I'm dreaming, she thought, the odd thickness of her thoughts finally making sense. This isn't real.
She had stood next to Orihime everyday at school for years now; to those that were looking, the beautiful girl had practically oozed her anxious desire for Ichigo's attention and regard into the atmosphere, in waves so thick she honestly doubted that even a blockhead like him could fail to notice completely. And even if the girl's feelings weren't plainly obvious, her idol-quality beauty and curvaceous figure were. There's no way Ichigo would be asking me on a date when he could go out with her.
And beyond Orihime, there was something else she could feel on the edges of her memory, trying to kick its way into her mind. Some other divide between them she could not seem to recall that set him apart from her, beyond her, making this imagined moment so improbable, it was embarrassing she was even having it.
She looked at his face, still trying to conceal his anxiety with his default scowl, and something in her chest tightened. Ichigo would never make that face over me.
This isn't real.
There was an almost audible •snap• that she felt more than heard, and the eyes of the boy in front of her shifted subtly. They still looked the same, he looked the same, but somehow it would be impossible to confuse the 'before' for the 'after.' The awkwardness in his demeanor vanished, and in its place was confidence and purpose.
The dream is changing. It was more of an understanding than a fully formed thought, but she knew it with a certainty that needed no rationality to back it up.
He advanced towards her, into her personal space, and she reflexively backed up until she could feel the brick of the retaining wall against her shoulders.
Without much of a warning, the hand that had only minutes ago been fidgeting nervously at the back of his head swiftly tilted her chin up, and he kissed her.
It was so startling, her immediate and unconscious response was to pull back, and she bumped her head against the wall behind her. "Ow…" As she hissed out a breath of pain, he slid a hand to the nape of her neck, drawing her forehead to his.
"W-well what?" The hand that had been holding hers had shifted to her hip, his fingers already under the hem of her shirt.
Instead of answering, he kissed her again, more insistently. Not knowing what to do with her own hands, her fingers pressed against the gritty texture of the bricks behind them, scraping for purchase.
This is just a dream, it's not real, she thought, knowing how absurd it was, even as he bit gently on her bottom lip, trying to get her to respond more eagerly to the kiss.
Would it be so wrong to just enjoy it?
A warm hand slid up higher, over her rib cage, and his thumb brushed against the wire rim of her bra. Without any input from her brain, her entire body shivered.
Not wrong, said a voice inside her head, blunt and cold. Just make-believe. Just pathetic. And with that disparaging thought, none of it seemed as enjoyable as it had a moment before.†
Before she was even able to end the kiss, Ichigo paused, as if he had read her thoughts, or she had spoken them out loud; she couldn't decide if that was strange or not, considering that he was a part of her dream. But instead of stepping back, as she thought he would, he pushed her harder against the wall with his hips.
"Ich—Ah!" His mouth had travelled to her ear, and he bit her earlobe. Her whole body tensed against his.
"I want you," he breathed into her ear, his voice more husky than she'd ever heard it, "to tell me about foreign gods currently in Soul Society."
An instant sensation of cold flooded her chest, rapidly spreading to her stomach and fingers.
"I…" his cheek was still pressed against hers, thumb sliding along the underside of her breast. The utterly unrelated nature of his words with everything that had gone before, with everything still happening was made it impossible for her to get her bearings. "W-what?"
"There are gods in Soul Society right now that do not belong there. I know that you have had contact with them. I've seen it in your dreams." He shoved his knee between her legs, parting them. "I've seen a lot of things in your dreams."
The blatant threat crystallized her mind faster than anything else could have. This is not a normal dream. She grit her teeth and growled, "Get off of me."
"No," he said, his voice dripping with malice. "I don't think I will."
She struggled, but it was like he was rooted in place, as solid and permanent as the concrete beneath and behind her. Her arms were unnaturally heavy, the act of lifting them like levering dead weights. She could barely raise them to push at his chest.
He is controlling it, she realized. He is controlling the dream. I can't…
"You have something that I want," he said, voice still in her ear, all the more terrifying because he even sounded like Ichigo. "Rather, you know something that I want to know. You have been surprisingly resistant in my attempts to establish a willing conduit,* but this is a dream, and I am a god of this realm.* I will take what I want, one way or another. Do not doubt it."
This is a dream, she thought. He has said as much. There was something about that idea that seemed desperately important, but she couldn't quite grasp it firmly. This is my dream. Closer. This is my mind.
"I am willing to make this pleasant for you, if you cooperate," Not-Ichigo said, with a firm press of his leg against her. "This is your last chance."
A large hand covered in delicate golden scales was suddenly gripping the creature's wrist, and Tatsuki could hear its bones grinding against each other. "You're not our type," said her zanpakuto. His arm wrenched and twisted as if it were boneless, and the thing wearing Ichigo's body was hauled away from her as its arm was contorted and snapped.
She looked up at her zanpakuto, his long black hair falling over his dark gi. The wall that had been pressed to her back had disappeared, and he had stepped directly beside her, what would have been shoulder-to-shoulder had he not been so much taller than her. Instead of Karakura, they were back in the 'dojo' where they'd first met face-to-face.
He gave her a sidelong glance, never taking his eyes off the creature before them for long, and said, "Took you long enough, Sweetheart." Even though it sounded like an insult, she could hear the relief, and the smirk, in his voice.
She huffed, and smoothed down the front of the Shinigami robes she now wore, trying to hide the slight shaking of her hands. It's not like anyone told me I could do that, she wanted to say. Or, Well excuse me, I guess I'm supposed to be a Shinigami and a master of lucid dreaming without any training whatsoever. Or even, What took you so long?
Instead, she wrangled her impulse to be defensively hostile, and settled on expressing the thought she'd first had the instant she'd seen his glittering scales. "I'm glad that you're here," she said quietly.
She could feel his smile, even though neither of them was looking at the other. "I am always here," he said.
"Yeah," she said, understanding. "I guess you are." And just like that, it felt like something in her chest, beneath her sternum, clicked. She cut her eyes to him, but he did not take his eyes off the creature. He simply raised a hand with its index finger lifted. One down.†
Ichigo—it stood at least 10 meters away, its arm disjointed and mangled to the point that splinters of broken bone were protruding from multiple places in the skin, though it did not seem to notice, or care. It did not even bleed from the wounds—which made the red, wet-looking mark high on its shoulder,† visible beneath the torn sleeve of its shirt, all the more confusing to Tatsuki.
Then it smiled with Ichigo's face, and that was much worse and much stranger than the arm. "I had not heard that you had a zanpakuto, little girl. How very interesting. I wonder what that information will be worth."
Worth? thought Tatsuki. "Who are you?" she demanded.
It did not answer, but slowly began to circle her and the spirit of her sword, who both kept turning together to face it. "It changes nothing, you understand. I will take from you what I want, and more besides."
"I'm only going to say this one more time," she thundered, livid that it had threatened her. Infuriated that it'd touched her, and in the assumed body of someone close to her, besides. "Tell me who you are!"
"And who do you think you are, to demand such things of me?" As it talked, blackened blood started dripping from its mouth, between teeth that persisted in a maniacal smile. "I am older than you, and more powerful than you could ever hope to be, even with that trinket of a weapon. Before your grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was a mewling child, mine was a name uttered amidst bitter wailings and gnashing of teeth. And least you forget, we stand in my domain. An insolent whelp like you does not have the weight, does not have the right to demand anything of me."
She glanced at her sword, hoping he somehow had a better grasp of how the playing field was leveled, despite the fact that he was part of her and she certainly didn't know. Is that thing telling the truth? Nobody prepared me for psychic attacks in my dreams. I don't know what it really is. I don't know how to tell, either."
"Don't worry," her zanpakuto said quietly, his customary smirk absent. "We have one thing that he doesn't."
"Oh?" she replied, trying to sound as confident as she could. "Which is?"
He opened his mouth, and a bell tone came forth, in a register so deep it made the floor under everyone vibrate. It was all Tatsuki could do to keep her feet. And just under the noise, she could hear the fierce, disgusting growl of the thing still wearing Ichigo's form. It's angry, she knew. And it's afraid too.
The vibrating sound had barely begun to die away when an immense object plummeted from the sky to crash into the ground—ground that had shifted from a dojo floor and into the grass and earth of a forest by night, complete with a huge, nearly-full moon bathing everything in light. Dirt showered her and her zanpakuto, and she was forced to put up her hands to shield her eyes, despite the fact that she did not want to lose sight of the thing wearing Ichigo's face.
As absurd as Ichigo initiating a make-out session between them had been, what had answered the call of her zanpakuto was even stranger. It was a man, with pale skin and dark hair curling to his shoulders, mounted on the back of what was none other than an enormous griffin.* Its golden, felid body was the size of a draft-horse, and its dark, shuddering wings spread at least a dozen feet on either side of it in the moments they fully extended. Taloned forefeet were convulsively gouging deep holes in the rocky soil beneath it, as easily as a hot knife through butter.
The hand that the man had not dug into the feathery neck of the griffin to keep his seat on the animal held a long, wickedly sharpened spear, the steel tip throwing moonlight in flashes. He pointed it at the creature, a gesture without need of explanation.
The creature was laughing, an abhorrent sound that felt slimy in Tatsuki's ears. "Not one, not two, but three Oneiroi,*" it said. "What friends you have indeed, little girl."
The griffin was positively screeching, rending the earth beneath its feet. The man on the griffin did not speak, but man and beast and weapon shifted closer to the Ichigo-creature as one, and Tatsuki felt the weight of their intent almost as if they had been words.
As she watched, the skin of the creature became loose, its body misshapen, as if it were breaking apart and collapsing in on itself. Then, still laughing, it said in a murky, squishy voice that was not Ichigo's, "We will see each other again, Tatsuki." Then a sudden wind blew upon the crumbling pieces of its body, and the powdery remnants were swept away into the night.
The man on the griffin dismounted, and let out a loud, derisive snort that could only mean. No, you won't.
He approached her until he stood only a few feet away. ~To know…us?~ His voice was rich and pleasant in her mind, though his words made no sense.
She looked at her zanpakuto, who was narrowing his eyes in concentration. "He is trying to communicate with you by invoking thoughts in your mind, but it is difficult for some reason. There is some technicality allowing them to be here." He shook his head, and glanced at her. "He wants to know if we know who they are."
The man was bare-chested, clothed in a garment wrapped around his hips that so white it was nearly blinding, even in the moonlight. Beyond that, he wore minimalist sandals that tied all the way up to his knees, and not much else. Thick curls of dark hair fell to his shoulders, framing a rather handsome face that could belong to a man anywhere from 17 to 40. The clothes suggested a deity of Greek or Roman origin, but she had never really paid attention to mythological aspects of cultures in history class.
"I'm sorry, I don't," she said.
He smiled roguishly, and pointed to his own chest. "Morpheus,"* he said aloud.
He pointed the same finger at the griffin, which was ruffling its feathers. When it saw him point, it inclined its head in a startlingly human gesture. "Phobetor."*
Finally, he planted the butt-end of the spear on the ground, and said firmly, "Phantasos."*
Oh, thought Tatsuki, surprised. The spear is a god too, huh. So that is what that thing meant by "three."
"Thank you," she said to them all, bowing at the waist. "May I ask…" she paused until she could feel their attentiveness on the surface of her skin. "What was…that?"
"Inguma,"* said the man. ~Foul...unconcious…unknown. Rage."
Her zanpakuto looked like someone trying to hear a single, soft-spoken person across a crowded room. "He's some kind of nearly forgotten dream-god. And he really isn't happy about the 'forgotten' part."
~To require…splinter…magic.~ Her zanpakuto was quiet for nearly 30 seconds, brow furrowed. "Inguma did something to keep you in the dream…" he shook his head, "Morpheus must undo it for you to return to consciousness."
Tatsuki nodded. "I understand."
Morpheus drove the tip of the spear—Phantasos—into the ground, and stepped forward. He reached out a hand that brushed behind her ear and to the back of her head, drawing her closer, not unlike what Ichi—Inguma had done. Her body tensed when she thought he might kiss her too, but instead he just slid his face near hers, his lips next to the shell of her ear.
"Arisawa Tatsuki," he breathed into her ear, and a tremor went through her as the sound of her own name rippled across her skin. "WakE uP."
She awoke with a decidedly embarrassing gasp, which she would have been fervently denied had there not been witnesses.
The first thing she registered was that there was an unfamiliar face directly above hers, her nose but a few inches from theirs. Before she'd had time to evaluate what reason it could possibly have had for being there, or register the blush that had spread across it when her eyes shot open, she'd pushed it back from her with her left had and landed a right hook with the other. The face and the person it was attached to collapsed backwards, away from the cot she was still in, and she sat up quickly enough to get nauseatingly dizzy.
After that, the room filled with the noise of raucous laughter. Where have I heard it before?
Captain Zaraki was laughing so loud and so hard she thought her teeth would start rattling. Yachiru, clinging to his shoulder, was belting out a little-girl laugh that somehow complemented his. What are they doing here?
The crumpled form that rose up from the floor proved to be a slight, dark-haired boy that she had never met before. His hand was lifted to a face that was rapidly swelling on one side.
"That's what you get for crowding her, Yamada," said Zaraki, his laughter finally dying.
"Yamada Hanataro was evaluating your state of unconsciousness by monitoring your eye movements,"* said a woman's voice.
Tatsuki turned to see Hraust sitting on the floor next to the door, with her back against the wall. One of her hands was resting on a sake jug she had balanced on one knee, while her other was on the bottom of a long spear she had leant against the wall beside her. The narrow head of the spear was nearly twice as long as Tatsuki's forearm, and was engraved on either side of its midline with intricate knot work.
On the other side of the spear, Captain Kuchiki was standing in a rigid manner that somehow suggested he'd rather be leaning against the wall himself, but was too proud to ever actually do so. He had a narrow gash along one of his cheekbones, and clearly couldn't have been bothered to wipe it properly. There was a long, tattered tear in the right leg of his hakama as well, though Tatsuki couldn't see if it led to a wound.
Tatsuki's eyes went back to Hraust, and she realized for the first time that the woman was absolutely covered in small cuts, from her limbs to her neck to her face. She, too, seemed to have forgone proper treatment for them, and some of the deeper ones were starting to appear irritated and red.
"What happened?" asked Tatsuki.
"Something attacked you in your sleep," said Hraust.
"I know that," said Tatsuki, biting off the end of that sentence, which was, I was there, wasn't I? "I meant…how did you know that?"
"I told them, Tat-tat!" exclaimed Yachiru exuberantly.
Tatsuki stared at her blankly. "I'm grateful, Lieutenant Kusajishi, truly. But that still doesn't explain how you knew."
Yachiru lifted one finger in a childishly adorable 'I am about to explain' pose. "You've still got my power, Tat-tat. You're linked with me through Hakudatsu.† When you got into trouble in your dream, your zanpakuto told Hakudatsu, who told me, and I told Ken-chan!"
'Ken-chan' shrugged. "I didn't exactly know how to kick something's ass when it's in someone else's dream, so I interrupted the Ice Queen's training session with Kuchiki so she could deal with it." He snorted. "Waste of a training session anyway. The only hit you landed on Kuchiki was the one you scored when I startled him by bursting onto the training grounds," he said to Hraust.
Captain Kuchiki's shoulders stiffened ever so slightly at the implication that he had been "startled." Hraust said in an irritated voice, "As I told you when you first gave your unsolicited and loud opinions, I was not practicing my sword work. I was trying to reclaim the galdr.* My kido, or whatever it is you call it here."
"Like I said, waste of fucking time."†
"If we could return to the matter at hand," Captain Kuchiki cut in, his tone somehow both flat and sharp in disapproval.
"I am not a dream walker," Hraust continued, after a gulp of sake, "so I took the matter to Ma'at-sama."
"She is a…dream walker?" said Tatsuki. For all intents and purposes, she'd seen the goddess do the next best thing to stopping time. She wouldn't blink if you told her Ma'at could change the rotation of the Earth.
Hraust was shaking her head. "Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures have historical ties,* and so do their gods. Ma'at-sama was able to get in touch with some deities much more comfortable in the dream realms."
"Pft," said Zaraki. "Just say 'She knew a guy.'"
"Three," said Tatsuki. "There were three of them." Tatsuki looked around. "Where is she?"
"Matty-sama went to check on something. She left Taro here to make sure you were okay when you woke up!" said Yachiru.
Tatsuki turned back to Yamada, who still had a hand against his face. "Uh…sorry," she said, rather lamely. "It was…kind of a really bad nightmare, and I was just really shocked and confused when I woke up. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Unbelievably, the boy smiled through his swollen face. "No worries, Arisawa-san. I shouldn't have been so close, but I was trying to assess if you'd left the dream cycle." If she didn't know any better, she'd think a faint blush dusted the boy's cheeks. Why is his blushing?
"Do you know who attacked you?" said Kuchiki, bluntly determined to keep everyone on track.
Tatsuki ran her hand through her hair, shuddering as she recalled the dream. "Something named Inguma. One of the guys who saved me, Morpheus, told me he was an obscure, but rather nasty, dream god."
Kuchiki's hand moved to the hilt of his sword, an absent, unconscious movement. "Recite the dream in its entirety." Although his tone was level, it was clearly a command and not a request.
Panic erupted in Tatsuki's chest. I can't tell them everything. Bad enough she was attacked by something that wanted to prey on her psyche in the most intrusive and personal manner, but did she now have to tell everyone about it? Especially these people, three callous warriors, a nervous boy, and a child?
Kuchiki's eyebrows drew together infinitesimally when he saw her clear discomfort. "We will need to know the context of what happened during the attack in order to make sure it is not repeated."
"That will not be necessary," said Ma'at-sama, tall and regal, as she swept into the room on bare, silent feet. Tatsuki exhaled a breath it felt like she'd been holding on to for a billion years. "The Oneiroi that answered by request have related to me the nature of the attack, the tactics of which we can discuss in detail with the rest of the senior command, momentarily.
"But before that," she turned to Tatsuki, "I want to explain to this one what has occurred."
"Yeah," grunted Zaraki, "I want ta know what this is all about, too."
"When humans sleep in the living world, a…pathway is opened between themselves and the land of dreams. If so inclined, it is possible for the gods of the pantheon they are associated with—and the denizens of that pantheon as well—to visit them in their dreams using that path." Tatsuki shivered at the revelation. "Usually, such direct visitations are infrequent, and limited to the gods of Dream, or Sleep, or Nightmares, but not always. And the rule that you can only be visited by deities of your own association is also a little more lax on this plane, though they generally still hold.
"Conversely, the inhabitants of Soul Society, and other such realms, do not dream the same way, on the same level. Dreams of those already dead are usually confined to shuffled and reshuffled memories from all their previous lives, to the point that they are unrecognizable." Quite a few of the occupants in the room blinked. So they didn't know that either. Maybe they'll look at their dreams differently from now on, too. "There is almost never any input into their unconscious minds from outside sources on the astral plane. This, in a way, is its own protection against inter-pantheon conflict; a hollow, for example, cannot invade the dreams of a Shinigami, or vice versa.
"It was assumed, because you were in Soul Society, that your dreams would also be thus protected. However, this was not the case. Because such attacks as the one you just experienced where not reported by the previous group of humans to reside here temporarily, no one knew to anticipate it this time, and we did not prepare a defense for you."
"So, even though I'm not in my body, because I'm technically still living, my sleeping and dreaming while in Soul Society opened a pathway to an astral plane that left me open for attack," said Tatsuki.
"Correct," Ma'at frowned. "But Inguma should still not have been able to affect you so directly and so substantially, seeing as his pantheon has no influence over your reiatsu. Usually, the path is only opened to the dream realm of the gods you yourself are associated with. It is easier for other gods to breach this barrier than others, as it is by its nature temporary and fleeting, but their contact in this manner would be…stunted. Incomplete. Even the three Oneiroi, which were receiving help from both Soul Society and myself, had much difficulty." Tatsuki thought about stilted manner of communication Morpheus and herself, which even on a telepathic level was barely understandable.
"Whatever means of cross-dimensional travel Aizen has concocted, it is clear that Inguma made use of it," said Captain Kuchiki.
"So, what about the next time I go to sleep?" asked Tatsuki. "Won't that just re-open the door to any dream-god that's fallen in with Aizen?" Am I finally so much of a liability that they're going to stop trying to help me? It seemed like eons ago Urahara had told her that Soul Society had bigger things to deal with than her. Now gods from more than four dimensions had had to step in just to keep her moving forward. The only thing easing Tatsuki's mind on that particular note was that she'd probably be even more of a liability if they dumped her back in the human world now.
Ma'at smiled. "Several gods and goddesses of dreams have agreed to take turns assist us in safe-guarding that particular door to Soul Society. Since there wasn't really any other way they could fulfill the Oath in this conflict, they were happy to lend a hand."
Great, so now I'm going to have to be baby-sat while I sleep, too. Kojima and Asano as wel—
Before she even completed the thought, she leapt out of her cot and raced out the door, nearly tripping on her blankets as she kicked them away. Barefoot, she pounded down the hall to the door of the room she knew housed Asano and Kojima.
Oh god, what if they're going through the same thing I did?! What if Inguma already snaked his way into their minds, how do we get him out?! What if we can't?! Behind her, someone was calling her name, but in her panicked state she did not process what they were saying.
"WAKE UP!" she shouted as she burst through the door of the room.
Both boys shot up into a sitting position in their cots, Mizuiro with a stifled gasp, Keigo with a high-pitch squeak.
"What?! What is it?!" Keigo was yelling. "Arisawa what's—" He stopped dead in his tracks, and stared.
"Uh…Arisawa?" said Mizuiro in a small, cautious voice.
On a chair between both cots, Renji had been reclining with his arms crossed over his chest, and had leapt to his feet, hand on the hilt of his sword, when she crashed into the room.
"Tatsuki?" he said, an incredulous look on his face. "What are you doing?"
Panting from both her sprint, and the panic that had caused her heart to race, she said, "I was dreaming…and there was a monster, a dream god…" she shook her head, trying to slow her breathing. "I was worried that it would attack them too, now that I was awake…I had to wake them up!"
Asano and Kojima let out surprised, worried noises, but Renji's expression didn't even change.
"I know about what attacked you, Tatsuki," Renji said, slowly. "Ma'at-sama already made sure the guys here weren't in any danger. She left me here to watch them, just in case, when she went back to your room."
Tatsuki let out a deep, relieved breath.
"I…uh…was actually asking why you aren't wearing clothes."
Tatsuki looked at him blankly, before looking down at herself, to find she was standing in Keigo and Mizuiro's room in only her undergarments. For all that it was October, in Soul Society, it had been stiflingly warm that evening, and she had stripped down to her bra and panties to sleep, thinking that since she was fortunate enough to have her own tiny room it wouldn't be a problem. With all the bullshit that just happened I wasn't thinking about it, she thought, furious with her own stupidity. And it's still so warm I didn't even feel a chill. No wonder that kid was blushing!
Renji was still looking at her, expecting an answer. She felt her face turn bright red as she stared back, speechless.
"You can't blame us for this!" Keigo was yelling, his hands over his eyes. "This time, it's not our fault!"
She turned around to bolt out of the room, And maybe drown myself in that pond, onlyto find Hraust leaning against the doorframe and blocking her path, her spear in one hand and her sake in the other. Smiling in a manner that conveyed amusement, and inexplicably, a bit of triumph.
There was a rustling sound, and she tensed as she heard Renji's steps behind her.
"I'm not exactly sure what to do about your exhibitionist tendencies, Tatsuki," he sighed, managing to keep his tone light. Black material enveloped her as he dropped his own, much larger kosode† onto her shoulders. "I mean, I'm running out of clothes to put on you."
Author's Note 2: Although it might be a little slap-stick, I wanted to end the chapter on a humorous note, considering how Serious Business the last few chapters have been. I hope it was enjoyable interlude in all the gut-punching angst.
A couple of things:
1) Art, anyone? Are there any artists out there reading this story who'd be interested in trading art (for this story or any of my other ones) for fic? I want to put up thumbnail images for my stories (the bleach ones at the very least), but I am a not-haver of talent in visual artistic pursuits. I am also a not-haver of money, so I can't commission anything with actual currency, but I'd be willing to trade with short-ish fics (length, characters, fandom, and prompt negotiable). PM me if this sounds even remotely interesting to you.
2) Please vote! So, there is totally another Bleach fic out their named "Psychopomp," and even a few more with titles that are close, all of them older than mine. I've been wondering if I should change the name of this fic to something more distinctive (like, Psychopomp: something something something). But them I'm like, "It's been 20 chapters. This is how people know this story. Why change it now?" I put up a poll so I could gauge what you all thought. You can find the link to vote on my profile page. (Please also feel free to PM me suggestions and/or tell me I've lost my mind). I'll make the final decision before I post the next chapter.
Thank you! to Manic Dogma, Ero-kun, Shinkansen, Sage of wind Dragons, InfiniteDragon, necro-wulf, simaetha, dragonlayer, D-man23, HighTreason25, hector4lyfe, StrangerInAStrangeWorld, BiblioMatsuri, Nameless Flame Wielder, Tsuki No Uragawa, SaikaHan, agoodcupoftea, Arngeirr, everyone who has favorited or followed, this story, and you—yes you—the reader of this sentence. I also wanted to say that, while recently searching for some new Tatsuki fanfiction, I came across rec links on other sites back to my own fic, and it made me dance a rather embarrassing little happy dance. A special thank you to those of you out there that found all these rambling words good enough to suggest to others! As always, please feel free to comment or PM me all critiques, criticisms, and praise.
Edit notes: "Captain Mayuri" changed to "Captain Kurotsuchi," because apparently I forgot that Mayuri is his first name, not his last name, when I wrote this the first time.
Ulfbehrt: A particular type of Viking sword that utilized an extremely high quality of steel—which is sort of a mystery because no one knows how they were able to smelt it, given that Europe wouldn't have the technology to do it again for nearly 1,000 years (i.e., until the Industrial Revolution). The grade of steel contained a higher carbon content and a lower amount of slag. It is basically the Viking equivalent of Damascus steel—a similarly mysterious high-grade steel that was used for Middle Eastern swordmaking. I figured that no Valkyrie (or even Einherjar) would have a second-rate sword.
Willing conduit: Okay, so if Inguma could just take the information from Tatsuki while she was in a dream state, why bother with creating this dreamscape and pretending to be dream Ichigo? The answer is because he was trying to establish a link between them—one that she permitted, albeit unknowingly—to gain access to information and possibly other aspects of her psyche/powers more stealthily, and on a more continuous basis. It's the difference between robbing a bank by pretending to be a bank employee, making off with the cash long before anyone realizes a crime has occurred, and busting down the bank door in a ski mask during business hours. The establishment of this connection would have been made on a symbolic level (which is key, because dreams can be all about symbols) had Tatsuki accepted "Ichigo's" advances, the first being more emotional, the second attempt being sexual in nature. When both failed (ironically, purely on the grounds of Tatsuki's insecurities), he had no choice but option 3: big-boot the door down, and take what intelligence he could still get.
And why Ichigo? Well, he said it himself. He's seen her dreams.
God of this realm: Inguma is referring to the "dream" realm in general. Not Soul Society. Just in case anyone thought that was weird.
Griffin: Griffins have the body of a lion and the head, wings, and front feet of a bird of prey (usually an eagle). Because lions and eagles are a Big Deals among the other animals and birds, respectively, griffins are considered to be particularly regal creatures—which is why they're so often seen in heraldry. They are most commonly associated with Greek mythology, but some suggest that they might have their mythological origins in Egypt or Persia. See "Phobetor" below for a bit of an explanation of why I chose this form for his appearance.
Oneiroi: In greek mythology, Oneiroi is the collective term for a bunch of gods that are either the children of the Nyx (Goddess of Night) and Erebus (God of Darkness), or the children of Hypnos/Somnus (God of Sleep). They are generally personifications of dream states (or closely related concepts). There are supposedly over a thousand of them, but the most popular/well known are the ones that appear in this story (Morpheus being the most popular and well known of all).
Inguma: The god of dreams in Basque mythology. He was seen as a malevolent nightmare god that could kill people in their sleep. For those that don't know (as I didn't, until researching it) Basque Country is an area in the western Pyrenees Mountains that encompasses parts of the both France and Spain. The Basque religion, of which a limited amount is known, was practiced by the people of his region from about the 4th century to the 12th century, A.D.
Morpheus: The principle Greek god of dreams. Morpheus can take any human form in a dream, so if his physical description isn't what you're used to (e.g., he doesn't have wings, etc.) it's because he's just taken on a random, vaguely greek-ish appearance. He wanted to appear non-threatening (handsome, of course, but non-threatening), given that he was there to stop an attack by yet another god of dreams that Tatsuki had never heard of. Although Morpheus is the most well-known of the Oneiroi, I wanted them to appear sort of as a unit. Given that they each have a propensity to appear as a totally different "thing" (see below), a classic man-mount-weapon combo seemed like a good idea to mesh all this together.
Phobetor: (also known as Ikelos) the Greek god of nightmares. He's not necessarily an evil or even unpleasant god, though he generally appears in dreams as animals and monsters. Because he was taking part in a Big Damn Heroes moment, I wanted to chose a "monster" that had Greek origins—allowing him to represent his pantheon—but also one that had a bit of a heroic/majestic appearance. Further, because I wanted the appearance of the three Oneiroi to be cohesive, I also wanted it to be an animal large enough to be used as a mount but bad-ass enough to be threatening on its own account. A griffin seemed perfectly suited to the task.
Phantasos: the Greek god of apparitions. Phantasos appears in dreams as inanimate objects. Because his brothers were already a guy and a beast, it seemed like "weapon" was the way to go with Phantasos, not only for cohesion, but also to make a clear symbolic statement of his own power and opposition against the threat they were sent to handle. I chose a spear instead of a sword because Greek/Roman swords were actually pretty short (relatively to, for example, a long sword), and a spear seemed like it would cut a more impressive figure from the back of a freaking griffin.
Eye movements: There are three stages of sleep, and during the deepest of these, your eyes rapidly move back and forth beneath your eyelids. This stage, unsurprisingly, is called Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or REM sleep. This is the stage during which dreaming occurs. Hanataro was trying to see if Tatsuki's eyes were moving—if they weren't, it would mean she'd moved out of REM sleep and was no longer dreaming, and likely that the attack had ceased.
Galdr: Norse "spells" or incantations. There are 18 specific galdr that Odin is said to have learned while hanging from the world tree. As Freyja and the Valkyries are also practitioners of magic, there's no reason not to assume they'd be versed in these 18 as well. In this story, they are the Norse pantheon equivalent of kido. Although there are much fewer of them in number (there's like, almost a hundred kido, aren't there? Or more?), they seem to be a little more diverse in their applications. I'll tell you what all 18 of them are over the course of the story, provided you don't get impatient and look them up. Hraust had to permanently give up her ability to cast 6 of them (i.e., 1/3) to come to Soul Society. She's trying to relearn how to use the ones left to her in the new realm. (Also, despite her valid protests to Zaraki, Kuchiki beat her pretty handily. She still has a ways to go to optimize herself in the Seireitei).
Historical ties: Ridiculously long story short, the Greek Alexander the Great overtook Egypt around 330 BC, and all the pharaohs afterwards had Greek blood of the Ptolemy line (Ptolemy I having been a General serving under Alexander—look up, 'Ptolemaic Dynasty' on the interwebs). This lasted until the death of Cleopatra (who was actually a Greek and a Ptolemy, surprise!) and the Roman conquest in 30 BC. The mingling of culture and mythology between these peoples for hundreds of years is, I think, substantial enough reason to justify the ability of Ma'at to call in a few favors in this story.
Sprawled on her back: She's dreaming about the scene depicted on the title page of chapter 53 (page 8) of the manga. You can see it here at [ wiki/Tatsuki_Arisawa/Image_Gallery?file=Ch_053_ ] (remove the 'dot's' and put in periods, obviously). Incidentally, I always thought it was strange that Kubo decided to feature Ichigo and Tatsuki friendship time on the cover of a chapter that had nothing even remotely to do with Tatsuki. Not that I'm complaining, mind you—she got a short end of the stick to begin with, I guess unrelated feature art is better than none. Just curious.
As it had a moment before: To be clear, it isn't her zanpakuto or anyone 'else' suggesting giving into a dream would be pathetic, just her own self-disparaging thoughts, fed by her insecurities. In fact, if it actually were a dream and not a psychic attack, her zanpakuto would probably have had teasing-but-serious words with her over the fact that a superficially pleasant dream is prompting her to put herself down.
One down: I know it's been a while since we've visited Tatsuki, so let me remind you that she's got three problems she has to work on before she can hear her zanpakuto's name, that she actually must confront, not just acknowledge. Her acceptance of the presence of a sentient piece of her soul, to the degree that she felt she could rely on it when in danger and was able to do so, completes the first challenge. Two more to go.
Red, wet-looking mark: This is consistent with Orihime's description of Szayel's rejection method, as last seen on Coyote's shoulder in chapters 12 and 13. Inguma joined up with Aizen, received the same treatment, and is using it to traipse around dream realms that he has no business in.
Waste of time: Zaraki doesn't hold a high regard for kido or kido-based zanpakutos. That goes for galdr too, and they're all, essentially, magic-based methods.
Kosode: The top part of the Shinigami uniform. Renji literally gave her the shirt off his back, nice guy that he is.