The Night Market – Chapter 3 preview

Preview: Chapter 3 – The Night Market

Naruto moved slowly through clogged streets of the night market. At nearly 1 a.m. it still pulsed with sounds, smells and people. At the edge of the market, down in a seedier set of streets where the warehouse and shopping districts overlapped, Naruto came to a corner where a man was plying knock-off designer handbags on a card table. Nailed to a building behind him was a faded, peeling sign for a tea shop. It was half covered by a poster for band that had played six months before and pointed down a dark lane that looked completely abandoned. But Naruto turned right for it and, crossing quickly into darkness, the noise of the night market fell away.

As Naruto’s eyes adjusted from the glaring neon of the market to the dim lane. Down at the end of a long expanse of a brick warehouse wall was a single street lamp, lighting a dented old metal door and short set of steps.

The silhouettes of two men melted out of the shadows beyond the door. The tip of a cigarette suddenly burned cherry red in the darkness. He’d been seen.

Naruto stepped off the sidewalk and walked down the middle of the empty lane toward a circle of light on the ground. Satisfied, a thick-armed guy moved back to the doorway, followed by the sound of scraping stool legs on the concrete. But the smoker stepped forward.

Cold light reflected off his long ponytail, making his pale hair almost glow white.

Naruto snickered to himself in the darkness. That drama queen. How many times has he stood under that lamp? Basking in the light as if he was some kind of ‘chosen one.’ Like his ego needs that.

The man shoved a hand in his pocket, letting the tailored black suit open just so and tilted his head in a rakish pose. “Took your time, didn’t you?”

Naruto couldn’t stop himself from grinning. Without giving away his movements he slid the jade disk seamlessly from his pocket to the cup of his hand as he walked. In the next step he flipped his wrist, flashing the object he’d worked so hard to get, and closed the distance between them. “Did you ever doubt me, Dei?”

A curl of the lips and the man’s angelic face turned devilishly handsome. His ice blue eyes flickered with amusement. “Never…Little Fox.”

Naruto smirked at the nickname and shook his head once out of habit. Shaggy yellow hair fell forward and tufted out of the edges of the hood, hiding the scars at the edge of his face.

Naruto stepped into the light and with a single handshake the ancient treasure was transferred. It caught the light as it passed from hand to hand, and they paused to look at it with the respect it commanded. The light shining through the disk turned the green areas milky white, and the dragon carvings swirling around the hole in the middle came alive, just like the hook he’d stolen the night before.

“Any trouble this time—“ But before the sleek man could finish he caught sight of the bandage on his forehead. “What the—“

Naruto ducked away from his reach, but he was saved from answering him by the approach of footsteps. The disk disappeared into Dei’s suit pocket. Naruto angled his head to keep the shadow of his hood over his face.

“Deidara,” a deep voice drawled.

Deidara nodded with cool respect at the figure stalking forward out of the dark. “Kisame…..”

At the name, Naruto relaxed a notch and glanced over. A big, broad shouldered man, Kisame nearly filled up the sidewalk. Two curvy women hung on each arm in practiced carelessness, their touch light enough not to leave a wrinkle on his gunmetal grey suit.

“Kyuubi,” he grunted at Naruto. Naruto nodded back, making sure to keep his eyes respectfully locked on Kisame’s cold grey ones, never straying to the edge of his full-body tattoo that peeked from his cuffs or collar, or to the rings that fit like brass knuckles when they came together in a line.

The girls smiled sweetly, and though Naruto actually knew them from the club, he didn’t dare let his eyes stray. Bigger men than him had lost a finger for ogling Kisame’s arm candy.

Kisame grinned at Naruto’s wary behavior. Where Deidara was handsome, Kisame was monstrous. His lips parted to reveal teeth sharpened to vicious points. And when he turned to usher the two girls through the metal door, even the back of him was threatening.

The nose of an enormous shark, nearly the same grey color as his suit, surged out of the back of his collar. The tattooed creature rode an inked wave of blue-green water strewn with torn petals — all white except for the blood-red tips — that curled masterfully up over his skull until it faded into his shaved scalp. From the front, only a few licks of water were visible on his neck. From the back, it looked like the open-mawed beast was going to lift off and devour anyone who had the misfortune to come up behind Kisame unawares.

Naruto could never decide if the shark had just finished tearing through something lower down in the tattoo or if it was preparing to devour Kisame himself. From what he knew of ‘The Enforcer’ and his affinity for sharks, cold-blooded killers who, like Kisame, would destroy their own kind to survive, Naruto thought it could go either way.

The hefty bouncer stood and pulled open the door. Smoky air and loud music spilled out, and the girls sashayed into a crimson interior to a chorus of catcalls. They waved back happily as the door swung closed behind them.

Kisame turned back to Deidara at the foot of the steps. “You coming?”

“Yeah,” Deidara said, then flicked his cigarette into the gutter where it sizzled out.

Kisame’s shark eyes slid to Naruto. “Did you get it?” Somehow he made the question sound like a threat.

Naruto nodded once.

Satisfied, Kisame disappeared into the club, Deidara right behind him. But Deidara turned back on the landing, surprised to see Naruto wasn’t following him.

“The meeting’s about to begin. You can wait inside you know—.”

Naruto shook his head. “I’ll just wait out here.”

“Suit yourself,” Deidara said with a shrug and went up the steps to the metal door. “Don’t go anywhere though. He wants to see you too. I hear he’s got a new gig for you.” He narrowed his eyes at Naruto’s bandage. “And I still want to know what happened to you.”

Naruto rolled his eyes and waved him off. The bouncer shut the door behind him, then dropped back onto the stool. It creaked under the man’s weight, but didn’t give way.

Naruto sunk his hands deep into his hoodie and leaned back against the dark wall, taking Deidara’s spot beside the bouncer. The moths returned to the triangle of light, circling endlessly. Going nowhere fast.

Eight years before Deidara had brought him to this spot, pointed to the very same street light and said, in that dramatic way that still had the power to intimidate the twelve-year-old, that Naruto had a choice. Either come with him, or stay out on the sidewalk and go nowhere. Because there wouldn’t be another chance like the one he was offering.

The thing was, Deidara was right. And as an orphan growing up in Konoha, Naruto knew that better than anyone….