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Cocytus novel Cocytus novel

"Cocytus -Ballerina Under the Moonlight" Prologue

"Cocytus. A river flowing through the underworld of Greek mythology. It refers to the ice hell that forgives no traitors."

 

What honestly caught her attention was the way she stared at the stage.

Tonight was a rare occasion for private time. Nathan recalled being gifted tickets for a modern ballet from a client and decided to come watch it. The theme was "Dante's Divine Comedy." On stage, a muscular yet slender man in a blue costume portrayed Dante, the only living being in the eerie world, performing a dynamic ballet.

In the dark depths of hell, sinners reached out seeking salvation, while elegantly dancing to protect Dante was a dancer in long ochre-colored robes portraying Virgil.

"Fear is the mark of fallen humanity."

The lines echoed across the stage, delivered calmly and soothingly.

"Do not succumb to misfortune; confront it boldly."

Virgil took Dante's hand and helped him stand. Dante, guided by the pagan Virgil, regarded him as his mentor and received guidance through the underworld.

"Speaking of a journey through hell, an explanation is unnecessary."

Dante, burdened with self-reproach, was a troubled figure who wandered into hell from a dark forest. Virgil guided him and taught him about sin and punishment.

"Everyone carries their own hell."

Virgil's lines were delivered calmly, yet they resonated deeply with the audience.

Nathan recalled his former mentor. He often said that each person walking the streets carries many burdens behind their smiles. That's why they are worth protecting.

Eventually, they reached the ice hell. Satan, half-submerged in a river of ice, crushed the traitors.

"Devils aren't as black as they're painted."

Dante spoke these words. The lowest level of hell, unforgiving of betrayal.

A stark stage. The violin's scratchy notes accentuated the cold.

Trembling, Dante descended Satan's back.

Having endured punishment and atoned for sins in purgatory, he emerged into the light-filled paradise—Paradiso.

Virgil, being a pagan, couldn't enter there. A farewell for eternity to his revered mentor.

Dante, guided by his eternal ideal woman and beloved Beatrice, awaited him and reached Paradiso.

As Virgil watched over them, fading away, he uttered these parting words:

"Nothing surpasses love. Let us surrender ourselves to love."

 

Nathan moved his gaze smoothly, almost instinctively. It wasn’t a conscious decision; he felt something like a breeze and followed it.

And there she was.

Her intense, unwavering gaze was almost fierce, collecting the stage lights and shimmering like flames. She was probably Japanese, as the chances were high if she was a young Asian woman without any apparent cosmetic surgery. Though he had heard that cosmetic surgery was becoming quite common in Japan, it wasn't as prevalent as in neighboring countries. Her face appeared natural, with distinctly almond-shaped eyes typical of Japanese features.

Her black hair, softly wavy and elegantly styled for the evening, reached her shoulders. He had a habit of observing people closely due to his profession.

She wore a dress the color of deep, aged wine. Her legs, visible beneath the dress, were long, slender, and toned, suggesting a hint of muscle. Perhaps she could even be someone who belonged on stage.

This was the only theater in the city, perched on a hill with the sea breeze blowing through, a venerable establishment that had been a theater for over a hundred years. The indoor stage, an old music hall, was meticulously designed with carved walls to enhance sound reverberation.

The seats at the front and near the center were understandably filled, but there were a few empty seats at the back, allowing him to see her profile just three seats away.

On stage, the ballerina portraying Beatrice timidly reached out to touch Dante’s hand, dirty from his journey through hell. He appeared embarrassed by his soiled hand, but his purification was already complete. Without hesitation, Beatrice took his hand.

At that moment, the deep gong of bells echoed throughout the theater, filling it with golden light as if blessing the pair.

Applause erupted as the curtain fell.

The performance ended, and the audience members began to rise from their seats one by one. Nathan lost sight of the woman he had noticed earlier, but he gathered his belongings and stood up, accepting that it couldn't be helped. As the lights brightened all at once, the sense of the extraordinary faded quickly.

The velvet-covered doors that had sealed off the air opened, allowing the lively voices of people to mix and dance more energetically as the outside air flowed in. Everyone had been captivated by the performance on stage. The excitement that Nathan, being alone, lacked, was now palpable among the crowd.

Following the red carpet, he reached the theater lounge. There she was. Her modest smile and fair skin did not belong to a Westerner. However, she was taller than he had expected, comparable to the other women around her. Her face, seen from the front, was more intelligent and beautiful than her profile. She appeared to be in her late twenties. Her appearance was modest and cool, with a faintly pure atmosphere, giving off an almost precarious feeling that she was unaware of her own charm.

Yes, the men around were interested in her. Whether she noticed it or not, she stayed close to her female companion. The companion had curly black hair and pronounced features, typical of an Italian woman. They were engrossed in conversation, with the Italian woman typing something into her smartphone as they talked. It looked like an interview.

Eventually, the Italian woman moved away from her side. Nathan immediately approached her.

"Buonasera. I have a question," he greeted in Italian and then switched to Japanese. She looked at him with wide eyes for a moment. Her eyes, seen up close, looked even more mysterious. They were firm, with a dignified light, yet unexpectedly gentle.

"What is it?" she replied in Japanese.

"Are you doing that on purpose?" Nathan asked, touching his neck. She looked surprised and hurriedly followed his example.

"Huh? What?"

"Almost there, right here." As she switched her hand from right to left, he casually brought his hand close to her collar and then withdrew it. He showed her the small piece of thread he had picked off, and her almond-shaped eyes widened even more.

"How long has that been there? Thank you," she said, smiling shyly and looking into Nathan's eyes. Her expression was completely different from the intense look she had while watching the stage. If her previous gaze was like a blazing flame, it now resembled a gentle candlelight.

"You have nice eyes. Don't people say they're like almonds?"

"They often say they're almond-shaped. Sometimes like a rugby ball."

"True."

She laughed softly, narrowing her eyes.

"Your eyes are amber. Your Japanese is very good."

"My mother is Japanese."

"Are you mixed?"

"Yes, my father is American. What about you?"

"I'm completely Japanese."

"You're quite tall for a Japanese person."

"Maybe, but I don't stand out here, and I can wear high heels."

At that moment, the Italian woman returned.

"Hi, Syunka, sorry for leaving you alone. Who's this?" she asked in broken Japanese.

"We just met."

"So, it's a pickup," the Italian woman said bluntly, scanning Nathan from head to toe. Feeling odd under her blatant scrutiny, Nathan crossed his arms and puffed out his chest on purpose. The Italian woman laughed, playfully tapping his arm.

"Funny guy. Aren't you going to deny it?"

"Isn't it usually the case when a man talks to a woman? And you? Are you her bodyguard?"

"No, no, I'm…"

"Let me guess," Nathan interrupted, scrutinizing the Italian woman before nodding in understanding. "You've had online interactions, but this is your first time meeting in person."

"Close! We've been in touch for a while but met just yesterday. How did you know?"

The Italian woman seemed intrigued.

"If you two were out together at night, you must trust each other. But you don't seem to consult each other with your eyes. There's a formality to it. And you seem protective of her, treating her like a guest."

"Correct. She's a guest from Japan."

"Oh. Business-related?"

"Yes," the Italian woman said, eyeing Nathan with renewed curiosity. "We're in the art business."

"I see, that's why you have good taste. Your makeup isn't trendy but suitable for an evening event, with glittery eyeshadow."

"You're knowledgeable. Do you have a girlfriend?"

"No, it's part of my job."

"What do you do?"

"I'm a business consultant."

"Wow," she said, looking even more interested and starting to ask for his business card. Meanwhile, the woman called "Syunka" lowered her gaze, unable to leave the scene.

Nathan called a waiter and brought over some champagne that was being served to the guests. He handed one to Syunka and spoke.

"So, you work in the art field?"

"I'm a buyer. I mediate between people who want to sell their art and those who want to buy it."

"With your makeup skills, I thought you were an artist."

"Well, I have to appear in public, so I learned to do it well."

"That's commendable. It's good manners to present oneself well in public. But that's not all."

As Nathan paused, Syunka's eyes met his, waiting for him to continue.

"The ballet performance earlier, the beautiful display on stage lasts only a few minutes. But behind that, years of hard work and sweat go into making their bodies capable of performing. That's what moves people. There's no result without effort. Your artist clients must have sacrificed something to create their pieces."

"That's why they're beautiful," Syunka continued. Their eyes met.

"Do you know a lot about art? Or ballet? You have good posture."

"I've learned to mimic top clients. They say they can't work with someone who can't manage themselves. You have a beautiful back. It's picturesque, even from behind."

"Oh, come on."

"A person's life shows in their back. You may not realize it, but it tells me you're sincere."

"You're quite the consultant, observing people so well. Oh, Syunka, I'll call a taxi for you. Take your time," the Italian woman said, leaving in a hurry.

"She's energetic."

"Isn't she cute? Is she your type?"

"A woman's face isn't just one thing, so I can't decide here. By the way, do you often bring up others to hide yourself?"

When Nathan looked into her eyes, she opened her mouth slightly, then looked down.

"I'm not criticizing."

"You're right. But I tend to do that. I don't mean any harm, but I don't know what to do when people show interest in me."

"I see. At first glance, you're tall and intelligent. You speak foreign languages. People might have mistaken you for being sociable and an honor student. But you're actually quite shy, aren't you?"

Syunka blushed and looked down but didn't seem discouraged.

"I was a bookworm who loved looking at paintings. People thought I was quite gloomy."

"But it led to your current job."

"Yes."

Their eyes met again. Japanese eyes are dark brown, and the pupils are hard to see, but her expression was relaxed and smiling.

(Nice smile)

Nathan thought genuinely, staring at her until she averted her gaze but didn't leave.

They talked about trivial things like their hometowns, and as she became more relaxed, the Italian woman returned, signaling that the taxi had arrived. This was a theater, after all.

"Well then…" Nathan began to take his leave, and Syunka briefly opened her mouth, looking somewhat reluctant.

"Um…"

"Syunka, it's late and dangerous. It's safe here, but…"

"There are mafias in this town," Nathan added, making Syunka's eyes widen. Japan is a peaceful country, but Italy, with its many tourist spots, also has dangerous areas.

"Nathan," he began, "I'd like to talk again if possible. It's a rare connection."

"Um…" Syunka hesitated, then looked at Nathan and made up her mind.

"My name is Syunka Aono. This is my business card… if you don't mind…"

The business card she handed over was made of thick washi paper, printed with a sophisticated design of white flowers outlined in silver.

"What's your name?" She was probably asking a man this for the first time. Her cheeks turned red again.

"Nathan Blackmore," Nathan said, quickly writing his private contact information on the back of the card and handing it to her. Syunka accepted it with both hands, looking proud like a child who had completed their first errand.

"Thank you, Mister…"

"Just Nathan. It was nice talking in my native language after a long time. Thank you."

After seeing Shunka and the others off, Nathan stepped out of the theater. The sea breeze fluttered the hem of his jacket. The May night wind still held a bit of chill, but it was pleasantly refreshing to his alcohol-warmed body. He took out his smartphone, which had been buzzing noisily in his chest pocket.

"Hello?"

"What happened afterward?"

It was an abrupt question, but Nathan knew exactly what it was about.

"He was killed."

"What?"

"They must have noticed."

He answered briefly and concisely. Hearing the other's sigh, Nathan continued.

"This isn't the end. We still have moves to make. He left a parting gift."

"What is it?"

"I'll report back once I have concrete evidence."

Nathan hung up. Breathing out, he looked back at the theater and saw a poster of Dante reaching out to Beatrice. This was Monte Luce, an old town in western Italy. Nathan had been here for three years now.

He was the only one he could converse with in Japanese, but then, out of the blue, the woman from earlier—Shunka—appeared. It's rare for tourists from Japan to come here. If there were any, they were usually men attracted to the casinos, a novelty in Japan. Even if accompanied by women, they mostly shopped and moved on to the more bustling cities, never having the chance to talk with Nathan.

But, yes, this town had a renowned auction house, making it an attractive place for artists, art buyers, and art directors. It wasn’t unusual for someone like her, an art buyer, to visit. However, the encounter with Shunka had brought Nathan an inexplicable sense of peace and a long-forgotten sense of excitement.

 

"To be continued"→"Cocytus -Ballerina Under the Moonlight" Episode 1

 

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