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Cocytus novel Cocytus novel

"Cocytus -Ballerina Under the Moonlight" Episode 2

 

"Cocytus. A river in the underworld of Greek mythology. A frozen hell that spares no traitors."

 

"Cocytus. A river in Greek mythology flowing through the underworld. It refers to the icy hell where traitors are not forgiven."

The next day, Syunka was scheduled to meet with artists. Although it was still at the greeting stage, whether newbies, veterans, or celebrities, they all gathered in an old museum. Having made reservations in advance from Japan, Ayaka had connections even with major art galleries, making the artists eager to meet her.

Some even came trying to pitch themselves together with others.

"I'm fine with a success fee."

"Just a business card would be enough."

"I'll send you images; please take a look."

It was overwhelming.

By the time these encounters ended, although there was still daylight left, she felt exhausted. Francesca apologized, "I didn't expect there would be so many bundled deals."

"Maybe in a few years, they'll become good artists... Ohara-san would say something like that. I'm not as perceptive as her yet."

Syunka couldn't even decide whether to decline.

"What did Lorenzo say?"

"He's glad to have his work shown in Japan. He mentioned that since Japanese contestants excel at the Lausanne competition, he might come to Japan to scout."

"He's quite passionate."

"Well, it was our first meeting, but he's an adorable person."

"Is that so?"

"Yes. Apparently bisexual, and I'm considering him too."

Francesca glanced up and seemed to notice something, subtly gesturing for Syunka not to look in the direction of 1 o'clock.

"What is it?"

"That's one of Krane Gero's guys. Don't make eye contact."

The hotel manager had mentioned them; they were mafia.

In a floral shirt with buttons open to reveal chest hair, Syunka quickly averted her gaze, pretending not to notice.

"How do you know?"

"They collect protection money from the shops around here."

"What?"

"In this city, there are few places not under Krane Gero's influence. Except Hotel Paradiso, most hotels are influenced. If gamblers go to the casino, both sides make money. Hotel Paradiso isn't well-located, so Krane Gero doesn't bother with it."

Suddenly, the presence of the mafia felt close.

It was an unfamiliar world for Syunka.

As Francesca warned, the mafia's influence seemed to lurk throughout the city.

In the cafe she discreetly pointed to, men in white shirts and grey jackets were chatting with the owner. They initially seemed like regular patrons, but Francesca whispered something.

"They're also Krane Gero's men. They've come for protection money. Don't look."

When she surreptitiously looked closer, the owner's smile seemed forced, his gaze fixed on the table throughout.

The mafia men laughed at jokes, but their laughter held a coldness.

The owner tried to join in, but his smile was awkward.

Francesca continued, "Krane Gero's gang is involved with most shops in this city. If you refuse, your shop might be destroyed the next day, or the owner might disappear somewhere. Yet the newspapers don't cover it."

Syunka felt a chill down her spine. The mafia's influence was stronger than she had imagined.

"In this city, it's not wise to go against Krane Gero. It's better not to show yourself too much, Syunka."

"... Tourists with peaceful minds make easy targets, don't they?"

"If they cause a big enough incident, even the police won't stay quiet. As long as we stay inconspicuous, it should be fine. Capo Augusto doesn't deal in drugs, so there aren't any weird characters around. But if anything happens, contact the embassy first."

"Thank you."

Francesca was caring. Syunka sincerely appreciated it and parted ways that day.

Her apartment hotel offered room service, but each could also cook for themselves.

The rooms were small but had a kitchen, just the right size for living alone.

It was indeed poorly located.

Far from the subway, buses came to the nearby bus stop only twice an hour.

Being close to the market might be good infrastructure, but it wasn't suitable for tourism or casino-goers.

However, the view was exceptionally good.

Named "Spiaggia del Bianchini," the sandy beach was so fine that walking barefoot on it wasn't painful. The contrast with the gentle waves hitting the sea was beautiful.

Especially at night, the moon and stars sparkled within the frame of the rocks, resembling a moving painting.

If it's on the first floor, you can step onto the sandy beach right from the balcony, feeling as if you've acquired your own private beach.

There might not be an elevator, which could explain why the first floor was more expensive.

On the way back, I stopped by the market to buy necessary ingredients. I'm sure the seasoning was borrowed.

The restaurant Nathan guided me to yesterday was a wonderful home-cooked food place.

Thinking of him made me feel lighter on my feet. Strange.

Returning to Hotel Paradiso, the manager called out to me.

"Welcome back, miss. Your package has arrived."

The manager pointed to something the size of a windowpane, wrapped in newspaper so its contents weren't visible, but I knew right away.

It was Beatrice's painting.

"Oh, it's something I purchased. Thank you."

"That's quite a big purchase."

"It's part of my work. This is a painting."

"I see. So you're an art buyer."

"Yes."

The manager helped carry it up to my room.

It looked even larger inside the room compared to seeing it at the venue.

Unwrapping it revealed soft cloth, packaging material, and the painting.

When all the room's lights were on, the gold leaf shimmered brightly.

With only indirect lighting, the amber hue made the gold shine like yellow gold.

I took photos of both settings and sent them to Ayaka.

Examining the painting closely, I realized there was no signature from the painter.

When I flipped it over, I found something scribbled that seemed like a signature.

(I wonder if such signatures exist.)

Rather than a person's name, it seemed more like a number. Roman letters and digits. A seemingly meaningless string at first glance.

(.....An unusual designation.)

X, q, G, U, jj, 812... A total of 14 characters.

It seemed hastily written, yet the mix of uppercase and lowercase made it a complex designation.

It resembled a password for a computer.

Moreover, despite being an oil painting, the signature seemed handwritten with a ballpoint pen.

"...?"

Syunka tilted her head in confusion.

 

It was my first holiday after arriving in Italy.

Although it was a good day, Francesca's warning lingered in my mind.

If I wandered around as a tourist in high spirits, I might unintentionally stumble into one of Krane Jerro's affiliated establishments.

But I felt like going out since room service was off today.

"Hmm..."

I paced around the room and stepped out onto the balcony, basking in the sunlight reflecting off the sparkling water.

Listening to music while looking out at the sea, maybe enjoying a leisurely sandwich?

That sounded good too.

The market should be fine; the manager assured me the area around the hotel was safe.

Now, as I pulled out jeans from the closet, my phone rang.

Seeing Nathan's number made my heart beat a little faster.

"Good morning. Am I interrupting?"

"No, not at all. I was just a bit free."

"Free? How about going out then?"

"Uh, um, well..."

The jeans slipped from the hanger.

Before me was a white dress. It was simple, adorned with gold buttons.

"...Um, here, there are...mafia, right?"

"Yeah."

"...Where should I walk safely?"

"Right, no casinos or bars. They're well-known, so they might know about them."

"The manager told me."

"It's a good hotel. You made a good choice."

"Francesca told me. Ah, she was with me at the theater."

"That energetic woman. She's a reliable coordinator. Ah, or did she dodge the question? Your habit is showing."

"Huh?"

"When it gets awkward, you bring up someone else."

"Oh, but this is different! Just a conversation."

"Then let's steer back to it. I'll guide you to a safe place. Will you go or not? Just decide."

Syunka pursed her lips for a moment and after three seconds, softly replied, "I'll go."

But what should I do?

Syunka froze.

Jeans, or no, jeans would be out of the question. Why were they even considered?

I brought this dress because I liked it. It wasn't expensive, but its design resembled something a heroine in a classic film might wear on a date with her hero. Long with a flared line, a V-neck collar leading to gold buttons. Simple yet elegant.

If I wore this, heels would be appropriate. Just like a date.

The gardenia blooming in the room would certainly match as a corsage.

"Why am I hesitating?"

On the bed were jeans and a few scattered shirts, and hastily brought out sandals with heels.

I need to hurry, or I'll keep Nathan waiting.

Syunka quickly applied makeup. More meticulously than usual, using her favorite eyeshadow.

Then the earrings.

Checked for anything out of place and opened the closet.

It took courage to wear the white dress.

Syunka played it safe and chose a light green chiffon skirt instead.

 

As I waited at the bus stop, Nathan's car appeared.

He was wearing a high-quality black shirt with the top buttons undone, revealing a white T-shirt underneath.

"You might not be used to it here, it's rural," he said.

The car gleamed in black, and although Syunka wasn't familiar with cars, she could tell it was well-polished at the very least.

Inside, the car was clean with no hint of air freshener.

We drove along the coast, heading north. Gradually, the surroundings became more rural.

Soon, we climbed hills overlooking the sea, and the scenery began to change.

Rows of trees, different from before, were planted at regular intervals. Each one bloomed with white flowers.

"What are these?"

"Lemons. The flowers are in full bloom now."

Opening the window, a refreshing, sweet fragrance wafted in on the breeze.

"Nice scent. Is this from lemon flowers?"

"Yeah. There's a lemon orchard. It's open to the public. Even the mafia can't touch this place."

The parking lot had quite a few cars. It seemed to be a place known to those in the know.

Following signs made of wood, we entered and bought tickets that included both the orchard and restaurant discounts.

"Wow, amazing!"

On the slope overlooking the sparkling sea, lemon trees proudly displayed their white flowers.

Taking a deep breath, a richer fragrance tickled my nostrils more intensely than before.

Subtly sweet and fresh citrus scent. It was nature in its pure form, unlike anything I'd experienced in perfumes or city scents. I wished I could bottle it up and take it home.

"I didn't know such flowers bloomed."

The petals were long and slightly fleshy, clearly white, with sturdy stamens.

The fruit trees were maintained at eye level, suitable for both adults like Syunka and enjoyable for children as well.

Indeed, there were families with small children around.

"Do you like it?" Nathan asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Yeah. Thanks, I wouldn't have found it alone. Oh, what's over there?"

Syunka pointed near the restaurant.

"That's the herb garden."

"Can we go see it?"

"Sure."

Syunka briskly climbed the slope, glancing back at Nathan.

"How did you find this place?"

"I enjoy driving. I stumbled upon it randomly."

"Do you know other hidden gems?"

"Yeah. Places even the mafia doesn't know about."

The air was fragrant with rosemary and basil. It seemed they cultivated many herbs used in cooking. The cuisine here must be exquisite.

"Why Italy?"

"It's for work. I've had several overseas assignments because I speak English."

"Have you been to other places?"

"Not too many. I've had short stints in the US and UK... but it's been three years in Italy now."

"Three years? Your family must worry."

"I guess. We've always been apart for long periods."

Nathan spoke matter-of-factly.

"... Let's head to the restaurant. They have amazing gelato here, so let's go light on the main course."

The bungalow-style building prominently displayed a pizza oven for all to see. The kitchen was open, and peeking inside, they were making mozzarella cheese.

They sat by the window and ordered spaghetti with lemon zest, washing it down with honey soda.

"What about you? Your Italian seems quite fluent, but why?"

"I... used to dance ballet."

Syunka felt a twinge in her left leg. It was a phantom pain; it no longer hurt.

"In the past, I was scouted by an Italian ballet company and was with them for about three years... but I've quit since then."

Syunka braced herself, expecting Nathan to ask why she quit, but he softened his gaze and simply said,

"... I see."

 

Nathan indeed didn't accept payment for lunch.

"Do you think I'm being too forward?" Syunka asked.

"You're the one I invited, so why would I?" Nathan replied.

Despite feeling there was a barrier to getting closer, Nathan was quite generous in such matters.

Any woman would be happy to be his girlfriend.

Come to think of it, the gelato was indeed delicious. Also, dining at the Plaza de España is now prohibited.

I'll report to Izumi about the fountain, Syunka decided on her own.

"By the way, is the ancient castle visible from the city a tourist spot?"

Nathan wore sunglasses while driving because the sea reflected the sunset.

"No, that's the place you shouldn't get too close to."

"Why not?"

The castle didn't evoke romantic associations from stories but rather had a strong fortress atmosphere, yet it exuded a sense of history.

I had assumed it was a tourist attraction.

"That ancient castle, Rocca di Luce... There's a rumor that it's the hideout of Crane Gero."

"Crane Gero..."

"Where there's smoke, there's fire, right? They wouldn't operate in a tourist spot."

"With such a big mafia, why doesn't the police take action?"

"It's not that they don't take action... maybe they can't. Their 'business' spans so many areas and is deeply rooted in the city's life."

"Hmm... sounds complicated..."

"As long as you don't attract attention, you'll be fine. But on a professional level, it might be challenging; you might want to consider moving to a different city."

"Why?"

"Things are getting dicey lately."

"Then you..."

"I'm fine. I still have things to do."

Nathan said it firmly.

So was it just my imagination that I heard a warning not to get any more involved?

Syunka looked down.

 

As the sun began to sink halfway into the sea, they arrived at the main street of the city. They planned to shop for dinner.

Shadows lengthened, and a precarious atmosphere that seemed to be swallowed by the night hung in the air.

While looking at the vegetables lined up in the market, several men started running.

Before Syunka could turn around, Nathan grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the wall, shielding her from the men.

"Don't look."

His voice dropped to a whisper, and his rugged hand covered her eyes.

In the background, she heard unpleasant sounds of someone hitting and groaning.

The sound of dragging footsteps gradually faded away, replaced by the sirens of a patrol car.

Syunka could feel Nathan's warmth, but her own body felt frozen.

She had never been involved in such a situation before.

"...There's been a betrayal in Crane Gero. That's why everyone's on edge."

When Nathan removed his hand, Syunka looked up. Nathan's amber eyes were watching where the men had gone with a stern gaze.

As light entered her view, she noticed numerous scars on Nathan's arms.

"Nathan... what's this? You're hurt..."

"...Oh, this? Got these when I was young."

"Is that so...?"

When she instinctively reached out, Nathan pulled his arm back as if he had touched fire.

"Ah, sorry..."

"No, I just startled you..."

Silence fell, and Syunka lowered her gaze.

Nathan removed his sunglasses and lightly touched Syunka's shoulder.

"I'll take you home soon."

"Whoa, the mafia? They really exist."

Izumi furrowed her brow.

"What about moving to another city? Isn't it dangerous?"

"I've heard this area is safe... but I'm not sure what to do..."

"Move quietly while you can. Anyway, you've already had two dates?"

"Dates... I wonder."

"Can't two people of opposite genders meet without it being a date?"

"There are male and female friends, right?"

"Oh, really? So, are you just friends?"

"..."

They weren't just friends. But were they acquaintances? Despite the closeness, it felt distant.

"...What do you think?"

"Why ask me? Come on, Syunka, get it together. You've been eagerly accepting his invitations, so it's time to prepare yourself."

"Prepare?"

"Geez, you're so naive!"

"You mean... like ulterior motives?"

"Yeah, that."

"Isn't that shocking?"

Izumi pointed out, and Syunka drooped.

It was true. Maybe he didn't find her attractive as a woman but just enjoyed her as a conversational partner.

That's why sometimes she felt an oddly thick wall between them. It made sense when she thought about it.

"...Does he like me?"

When she murmured that, Izumi answered matter-of-factly.

"Of course. Successful people really value their time. They wouldn't waste it with just anyone."

With that said, her vision cleared. When Syunka raised her head, Izumi smirked.

"But it'd be embarrassing if I were the only one getting excited."

"Yeah, that's true. But since you don't know how he feels, why not just not care? If it makes Syunka happy."

"I might be a bother... like earlier..."

"At that moment, that's all it was. You can just step back. If you worry too much, you won't grasp anything. By the way, what kind of car was it?"

"I'm not sure. It's probably an Italian car. I think it had a trident-like symbol, like Poseidon's spear."

"That sounds like a Maserati. Consulting with a Maserati. Quite the successful person."

"I see... there's a lot to learn from."

"Did he wear a watch?"

He should have. A large dial, something men like. But I'm more concerned about the scars. What could have caused those scars?

"Hmm... he was wearing it, but I don't remember."

"I see. Well, that's fine. You must be gaining a lot from being together, right? Even an adventure is fine."

"Adventure!"

Syunka's voice echoed in the room.

When she looked at Izumi, she seemed to hear it too, and her face twisted sourly.

"Hmm..."

"Sorry, Izumi..."

"Hehehe... Would that surprise you?"

"Of course it would! 'Adventure'... I've never even thought about it."

"Really? Life is short, and the time we spend as women is even shorter. You have to enjoy it."

"Adventure..."

"Since no one knows how long we'll live or who we'll end up with, why not enjoy the moment without expectations?"

Syunka remembered the motorcycle. Yes, no one knew what would happen next. In fact, there were many who were younger than them who had already gone.

"There... that's true."

"Yeah... watch out for burns."

"I'll be careful... about everything."

She turned off the computer and took a bath.

She repeatedly dipped her toes in and out of the bathtub for no reason.

"Do you like him? Or not?"

Does he like me?

Do I like him?

I don't know. But being with him feels comfortable. Even not knowing feels enjoyable.

It felt like being wrapped in wings.

 

"To be continued"→"Cocytus -Ballerina Under the Moonlight" Episode3

 

 

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