The steeds cantered onwards at a leisurely pace. They were moving toward something that was glowing eerily in the horizon, something Sakura couldn't quite identify from their distance.
"What is that?" she wondered aloud curiously, squinting to see more clearly ahead. As the carriage ventured closer, the trodden ground beneath them blended into a new landscape, and her eyes widened at the sight that met them. Stretching out before them was a vast, rolling field, with long, slender, grey-green blades of grass that shone beneath the phantom moonlight and rustled in a gentle, cool breeze. Sakura sucked the air in, delighting in the welcome change it presented from the cold dampness of the inner caverns. Littering the plain were thousands upon thousands of luminous, ghostly white and pale-amethyst hued flowers. Asphodels, Sakura quickly identified, gazing around them in astonishment as the horses slowed further to a gentle trot. But these asphodels were larger and unlike any she had ever seen on the surface.
"The Meadows of Asphodel," Sasuke's voice spoke close behind her, "where ordinary and indifferent souls take rest."
His right hand released its hold on the reins and he reached around, brushing it lightly over Sakura's eyes before drawing it away. She gasped as her vision suddenly began to make out ghostly, semi-transparent figures walking all over endless plain. They seemed to fade in and out of existence. Souls. Their faces were expressionless, their movements unhurried. Mechanical.
"What's wrong with them?" she asked, spotting souls of all ages lumbering around in aimless directions.
Sasuke glanced indifferently down at a cluster of stationary souls, before answering, "All who enter Asphodel leave behind their past identities. They have no memories, nothing to tie them to their previous lives. They exist in neutrality."
"Can't they see each other?" Sakura had noticed the way the insubstantial figures seemed to be completely ignoring one other. "Don't they talk?"
"Each soul has a task it believes it must perform," the Death God stated. "And so it keeps to itself to complete it. But this is also an illusion, to keep them occupied. In reality, they simply wander."
It seemed dreadfully cruel, even with the provided explanation. Sakura felt her eyes sting with pity and compassion as she saw a particularly young boy amble past them. So this was some kind of limbo, the place where people who had committed good and bad deeds in equal measures were sent after they died; to a haunting and hushed, ethereal meadow, made to believe that they had been assigned an important task that required undertaking at once – but were, unknowingly, only imagining that they were performing it in their heads, and in actuality just spent their time strolling around amongst the asphodel flowers.
"They don't eat?" She couldn't quite grasp the concept of wandering without any form of relief.
"Their souls are sustained by these flowers."
"And they never rest?"
"They are already dead."
Sakura shook her head incredulously. How lonely and terrible a fate it seemed! To be bound to such a place – forever.
"But…" she whispered, "that's awful…"
"Their actions in life dictated their fate," Sasuke pointed out.
Sakura didn't know what else to say to that. She fell quiet as the dark horses, which had stopped obediently during their conversation, began to canter forward again. But just as they set off, Sakura suddenly caught sight of a pale face amongst the swarm surrounding them – and sharply caught her breath, twisting around to glance behind her, her heart all at once thumping. The soul altered its course, allowing her to glimpse its features more clearly – and then she was leaning over the side of the chariot, overcome with a profound sense of grief.
"Mr. Arakawa!" she exclaimed in dismay, glancing at Sasuke before gesturing wildly behind them. "That's Mr. Arakawa!"
Her body was moving instinctively. Even when, deep inside, she already knew it was futile – the man's soul could neither hear her nor see her – she still tried to push past Sasuke, to step down onto the field and rush to her patient. Because it was difficult to accept that he was there at all, when she had not even been by his side to see him draw his final breath – when she didn't even know when and how he had passed. Tears were burning in her eyes, but Sasuke's strong arms prevented her from dismounting the chariot.
"No, Sakura." She was too upset to pick up the uncharacteristic gentleness of his tone. "You must not disturb his rest."
"Please!" she pleaded, horrified to find her vision blurring as tears began to spill. Struggling to track the retreating soul's movements, she continued senselessly, "He's my patient – I promised his wife I'd look after him, I promised-"
"He is dead."