Ichigo's Tensa Zangetsu fell to the ground, producing a clattering noise. His eyes were lifeless as he fell to the ground, broken and battered. His bankai clothes vanished in a flash of reiatsu and his zanpaktou returned to its cleaver-shaped Shikai form. The fragments of his Vaizard mask were scattered over his expressionless face as he moved his hand instinctively towards Zangetsu. "If I am to die, it must be holding my most trusted companion". His right hand tightened around Zangetsu and with his last droplets of strength, he grasped the blood-stained wrappings around the sword's hilt. He pulled the blade towards himself, but his strength was all but gone and he settled for simply tightening his grip around the blade's hilt.

"Looks like this is it, Zangetsu-ossan." He coughed blood and took one last look upon the dark sky of Hueco Mundo before his vision faded away.

"Che. Don't worry, kozo, this is only the end of your life as a dog of the Soul Society. Aizen-sama has plans for you". Ulquiorra hoisted the shinigami representative's inert body over his shoulder and

and dissapeared using a form of sonido, leaving the ravaged battlefield behind.

Meanwhile, Captain of the 4th division Retsu Unohana, with the help of Inoue Orihime, finished healing Kuchiki Rukia and Ishida Uryuu. Abarai Renji was pacing around in the vicinity, when he suddenly felt a familiar reiatsu vanish completely. He turned around, meeting his Captain's gaze.

"What happened? Kurosaki-kun's reiatsu just vanished!"the panic apparent in Inoue's voice.

"Ichigo!" Rukia stood up, and was about to flash-step towards the last location of Ichigo's reiatsu when a firm hand appeared on her shoulder. "Nii-sama!"

"There is nothing we can do, Rukia. The boy's reiatsu has vanished completely. He must be dead."

The Kuchiki clan head's voice was as detached as usual, and left no room for argument.

"But taichou! We can't be sure! We should atleast look for him! We owe him atleast that!"

Byakuya Kuchiki flared his reiatsu, forcing Renji to back down. "Renji. You know as well as I do that he is dead. We must report to Soul Society immediately. Kurotsuchi, have you restabilized the Garganta we entered through?"

"Tsch, the calibration device that imbecile Kisuke gave us is functioning perfectly. The Garganta is usable at any time." Kurotsuchi produced a cylinder shaped device and pressed a few buttons. A garganta appeared and Kurotsuchi stepped through, his subordinate Nemu following him, dragging dozens of specimens obtained from Szayel Aporro's laboratory.

Zaraki Kenpachi let out a sigh. "Damn you, Ichigo. Dyin' here like that...thought you were tougher than that..." he mumbled before stepping through. His usually cheerful fukutaichou stepped through after him.

"Ichigo...I promised I would always cover your back...your life for mine...I'm sorry, Ichigo..." Chad stepped throuh the portal, determined to atleast keep his friend's family safe.

"Kurosaki-kun...why did you have to come after me? Why? Look at what happened to you...its all my fault..." Orihime burst into tears as Hanatarou escorted her.

"Ichigo...how could you die like that? I still had so much more to tell you..." Rukia's thoughts were interrupted as the elder Kuchiki put his arm around her sister's shoulder as they moved through the portal. The tear connecting the two worlds dissappeared soon afterwards.

"Aizen-sama, I have brought the boy before you. Shall we prepare him for the Hougyoku?"

Ulquiorra kneeled before his master, setting down the lifeless body of the shinigami representative. Aizen was seated on the throne overlooking the remaining espada.

Aizen glanced between his fourth espada and the lifeless body. His face broke into a grin. The boy would be most useful. Once his memories and identity have been reprogrammed and his shinigami soul further fused with his hollow side, he would become his most powerful asset.

"Please see to it personally, Ulquiorra. He will be most useful to our cause when his transformation is complete. You may go, Ulquiorra." The ex-taichou of the 5th division waved his hand as a sign of dismissal.

"Hai, Aizen-sama. The next time Kurosaki Ichigo awakens, it will be as one of us." Ulquiorra exited the room with the shinigami hoisted over his shoulder. He carried the boy to the room where the hougyuoku was being kept. Inside, he placed the vaizard on a pedestal positioned directly under the glowing orb of distortion.