Spoilers up through manga chapters 351. This is being written at a time before chapter 352 is published, so I expect it will differentiate from the cannon, but I think it’s a plausible outcome of the current storyline (“The Lust”).

“He…won…” Ishida gasped.

It won, he amended mentally. The-thing-stood triumphantly on Ulquiorra’s chest, looking down with what Ishida could only describe as a predatory stance. Ishida knew that this monster was not Ichigo anymore. Fear gripped him in its icy tendrils, and he found himself unable to move, unable to breathe. The pain from his missing arm was gone, replaced by a terror that consumed from within.

He didn’t hear most of what the Espada said next, only “Do it.” with a cold conviction.

And Ichigo obliged.

Orihime screamed as he wrapped his remaining arm around her, shielding her from the blast. The heat from Ichigo’s sonido washed over him, but it could not melt the horror that still gripped his body.

He knew it would come for them next.

“Orihime,” he whispered as the explosion died down. Blood splattered his lips. She finally looked at him, and another part of him, one long dead, wished that the pain and fear he saw there were for him. But he knew it would never be so. “You have to get out of here,” he imagined his own eyes resembled hers, wide with terror, shock, horror and pain.

“Ichigo,” she breathed. His heart might have broken once at hearing the shinigami’s name instead of his.

He quickly turned to look at the monster, its attention now leaving the burning carcass of his foe and focusing on them instead. “Go!” he moaned, pushing her harshly with his good arm. “He’ll kill you!”

“But…” her eyes and cheeks were drenched with tears. She seemed to be pleading with him. He knew she wouldn’t leave. She loved him too much.

“IT’S NOT ICHIGO ANYMORE!” he screamed. But it was drowned out by the wail of the monster behind them. It was coming.

Ichigo saw it disappear, and knew they would be dead in a millisecond. Orihime couldn’t raise her defenses that fast, much less against Ichigo. He had no way to defend himself, injured as he was. But as he prepared for death, he heard a loud crack from above him as a shadow covered him and Orihime. He looked up to see a giant spine. Zabimaru.


Renji was on one knee, sweating profusely, using the sheer size of his bankai to separate the prone humans from the hallow that was once their comrade.

“Honestly,” he gasped. “That’s no way ta treat…your friends…”

“Abarai,” Ishida whispered. The lieutenant offered no greeting. If he was afraid, he didn’t show it. Perhaps he realized what Ishida did-they would all die.

Renji was terrified. He had only managed to move fast enough to block the thing because of the element of surprise. But he did not doubt it would kill him unless he could reach the real Ichigo.

The humans were paralyzed with fear and pain. He had seen the cero and only had a second to spare for the shock of seeing his friend in his current form before his military training took over and he had acted.

Now, he pushed Zabimaru’s bone hilt forward, propelling Ichigo away from the spinal wall.

“Snap out of it!” he yelled. “You’ve protected your friends! You’ve killed Ulquiorra, you’ve done enough! Save-”

But he didn’t have time to finish.

The hollow didn’t even roar this time before it vanished. Renji was then aware of a shattering sound as Zabimaru exploded around him, raining down pieces of bone, accompanied by pain ripping through his abdomen. He screamed as blood sprayed the broken bone, dying them dark crimson, and he collapsed to the ground.

He knew he would die this time. It was worse than when Aizen had cut him. It was deeper, and he could already feel his organs failing. It wasn’t like when the espada had toyed with them. It was complete shut down.

You have been…a worthy partner… Renji couldn’t even reply to his zanpaktou before he felt its spirit leave him completely, like smoke from a snuffed out candle.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the monster that was his friend once again begin closing in on the others.

“Ichigo,” he whispered, his blood leaving his body and mouth, forming a pool around him. “they’re…your friends…”


Something inside him snapped. He crumpled to the ground, the mask melting away, his wounds healing, and his hair shortening. What had happened? He gingerly felt his chest. It was solid. He sat up quickly, absently noticing the icy breeze on his bare skin. His eyes focused on Orihime and Ishida staring at him, terror etched on their faces. They were trembling. “What…” he found himself unable to finish the thought.

They said nothing.

He turned slowly. At first, he didn’t recognize the figure bathed in his own blood, or the crimson shards around him. But then he noticed the darkening uniform. The red hair that was not the color of blood. His heart seemed to stop, and in that instance he knew why they were afraid of him.

He knew what he had done.