The group took the DVD out of the projector, walked out of the theatre, and took several deep breaths.
They looked at each other, staring in silence for several long seconds.
“So,” Akira said slowly, “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and I think we all need to stay calm, but…”
“It really was a snuff film all along oh shit we’re all going to prison!” Ann shrieked, her voice reaching such a high pitch the others could feel their bones vibrate. Morgana screamed in pain and covered his ears with his paws. Down the street, something shattered.
“Takamaki, for the love of God, shut up,” Makoto hissed, clamping her hand down on Ann’s mouth. “We didn’t know, all right? They had it on a shelf in Akihabara, for God’s sake, nobody knows. Nobody would ever watch this but us, and that’s only because we’ve been cursed by a tiny demon.”
“None of you appreciate me,” Futaba muttered.
“Futaba, after this, you’ll be very lucky if any of us ever speak to you again, much less appreciate you,” Akira snapped.
“Hey, I’m fighting their evil too now! I don’t like that they killed someone!”
“Two people,” Ryuji said.
“Shyusuke doesn’t count! He died on his own!” Futaba protested. “And… you know, I don’t think that Sharu character killing the dude was in the script. So technically this still isn’t really a snuff film. Nobody paid her to kill someone.”
“A murder occurred on screen, Futaba!” Haru squeaked.
“Would. You. All. Stop. Screaming?!” Makoto hissed, clamping her other hand on Haru’s mouth. “We are outside! We haven’t done anything wrong, but If someone comes up to ask why we’re all shrieking about murder-porn, we are absolutely going to get arrested anyway, and I think you should remember that defense attorneys never win in this country.”
“We sometimes win…” Sae muttered. “I mean, I’ve won a few cases... almost…”
Sojiro patted her on the shoulder. “There, there. When these kids get arrested, I’m sure you’ll almost get one or two of them out of it.”
Akira narrowed his eyes. “Boss, I’m once again questioning why you’re so sure only we are going to jail.”
“Oh, son. You’re like family to me, you know that. But there’s no amount of affection that could ever make me go to prison over this goddamn movie. I would protect you from wild bears and raging floods, but to avoid association with this mess I will throw you under the bus without the slightest hesitation.”
“… You’re kind of a dick sometimes, boss.”
“It’s how ya survive in a harsh world, kid.”
“All right. First of all, we need to get out of the street. Then we need to find Yusuke and break his knees. Then we need to burn this DVD and never speak of it again,” Makoto said.
“… Actually…” Sae said.
“Sis, don’t you fucking dare.”
“… now that we have definite evidence of a murder, we probably should try to see justice done…”
“No. Sis. No. Don’t.”
“… and since I think none of us want to admit we saw any of it or were standing near it, we’ll have to analyze it personally, so…”
“… we really should keep going. Unless you want to turn it in to the police and admit we all saw it.”
Makoto sighed, deflating as her anger was replaced by sorrow and pain. “No. No, I would rather finish watching that admit to anyone I did watch. I think we’re all on that page by now.”
“God, that’s sad,” Ryuji said.
“I long for death,” Ann said.
“Just ask Haru. She apparently eats people,” Morgana said with a shrug.
“S-she didn’t eat him! She just… just ripped his throat out with her teeth!” Haru protested. “That’s……. better…?”
“Everyone, stop!” Futaba snapped. “None of this matters right now, because we’re short one Inari. We have to do this as a group or it doesn’t count.”
“… Why…?” Makoto asked.
“Yo. Makoto. You’re, uh, asking Futaba for logic,” Ryuji said.
“Dammit, you’re right.”
“And you know, I agree with her. If I have to suffer, I want everyone to suffer,” Ann said. “Not just Yusuke. Everyone in the world. I want my pain to rage across the cosmos and burn down civilizations that have not yet been born.”
Haru sighed. “You’re making me miss Old Shann when you talk like that. New Shann just isn’t the same. Or maybe she is, I don’t speak French.”
Futaba cleared her throat to draw attention back to her, and said, “Now, then, I need Sojiro and the sexy lawyer to leave.”
“There had better be another lawyer somewhere that I’m not seeing, you creepy little demon child,” Sae muttered.
“Nope, sorry, you’re the sexy lawyer. Like something from a TV show about torrid affairs in a law office,” Futaba said cheerfully. “And I need you to leave. Begone. Vamoose. Go home with Sojiro and talk about boring things like mugs and rice and stuff.”
“Aren’t you the whole reason I’m here in the first place? Why do you want me to leave now?” Sae asked.
Futaba considered this. “Well, I’m not about to commit a crime, if that’s what you’re wondering.” She then winked, paused for a few seconds, and then winked again.
Sae just sat there, staring at her, before sighing in defeat. “Do you have any more whiskey at your café, Sakura-san? I think I was happier when I was unconscious.”
“Sorry. Just coffee. You’ll be even more awake.”
The two adults (technically several of the team were ‘adults’ at this point in the sense of being 18+, but none of them were feeling terribly proud of that fact since it meant they could legally purchase and watch porn, and all of them now hated porn with a deep, burning passion) walked off, and Futaba grinned wickedly, raising her phone. “Now, I am going to commit a crime.”
Makoto kept her case carefully blank. “Really. Never would have guessed.”
“Oh, I know. I was subtle,” Futaba said cheerfully. “Now! I have a program installed on all your phones that lets me track you…”
“Since when, and for what reason?” Akira asked.
“Since before we met, and in case I ever need to find you for something. Try to keep up,” Futaba said.
“It’s our phones. You could just text or call us to ask where we are.”
“Yeah, sure, if I was cavewoman. This is a digital world, and I’m a digital girl. We can’t all be living in the dark ages like you, my little Neanderthal,” Futaba said, patting him on the shoulder in the manner of someone petting a very stupid puppy. “Now let’s get going. The signal is Northwest, and Inari can’t have gone far, even though he does have stupid long legs for taking big steps. March!”
The group, guided by Futaba’s highly illegal cellphone tracking software, set off through the alleyways and tried not to yell at Sojiro for living in a neighborhood that was basically nothing but alleyways, because it was cramped and smelly. About ten minutes in, Futaba got tired and Akira began carrying her on his back, because he was pretty sure his friends blamed him at least partially for all this and so he would be press-ganged into it anyway. About five seconds after that, she started falling asleep, but it was okay; by then they had started running into people who were wondering why exactly the tall weird pale guy who always yelled about paint had come running by, and more traditional hunting methods took over.
They found Yusuke perched on a roof, furiously sketching something with that slightly off-focus expression he got when doing art. “Ah. He thought of something to draw,” Akira said. “You know he can’t control himself when that happens. We can’t really blame him for leaving.”
“We’re gonna blame him anyway, right?” Ann asked, cracking her knuckles.
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Kit! A! Ga! Wa! YUSUKE!” Makoto snarled, channeling the raw unadulterated power of every mom ever despite being barely a year older than the rest of them. “We all agreed to suffer together, or have you forgotten?! Do you think you can just abandon this team after all we’ve done for you? After all we’ve done together?”
“More importantly, you think we’d actually let you?” Ryuji asked.
“I’m going to peel your face off,” Haru said, her tone sweet and calming. “But not in a mean way.”
“I found it,” Yusuke said, not looking up from his sketchbook.
“The location that travesty of a film was recorded in. I have found it. The scenes that weren’t shot in a prison laundry room, I mean,” Yusuke said. “When I realized it, I had to capture it on canvas. I shall call it ‘The Heart of Despair.’”
The silence was thick. Someone down the street made a noise, and Ann threw a brick at them without looking, because this was the sort of time when they just couldn’t allow anyone outside the core group to disturb the strange serenity that had fallen over the world. Ryuji, also without looking, high-fived her. He understood.
“Yusuke,” Akira said, his tone soft, gentle, soothing. “May I ask you two questions? Just two.”
“Of course, my friend. Indeed, my artistic soul would be only embers without you, quite unlike the blazing inferno which now captures the very essence of pain and suffering. This piece shall be remembered forever.”
“Okay. First of all. How do you know?”
“While watching the movie, I was studying the…” he shuddered, “… ‘set construction,’ to use that term very loosely. During the scene with Shkamoshida, there was a clock in the corner of the set stating it was four PM. Using that information and studying the location of the sun in the amateurish outdoor shots they used to save money rather than constructing any sort of quality set, I was able to determine that it was located within four square kilometers from a small park where I often go to ponder ducks.”
“’Ponder ducks’?” Haru asked.
“They are magnificent creatures. Pure grace in motion. No artist should go a week without pondering ducks.”
“In any event, once I had recognized the general location, I was able to determine the location of the building by observing where the ducks were not. Ducks have a highly developed sense for pure despair, you see, and would refuse to fly toward such a dedicated source of evil.”
“That doesn’t sound real at all,” Ann said.
“Many things do not, and yet the world of art continues on! Even now, great painters watch ducks and weasels and from them, learn the secrets of our world!” Yusuke proclaimed.
“You know, Yusuke,” Akira said. “I’ve always been half-convinced that you’re not really an artist, just a lunatic. I can say very truthfully at this moment that I no longer have any doubts.”
Yusuke wiped away a tear of joy. “Thank you, sir! I am pleased beyond measure that my actions have proven to you the true shape of my soul.”
“Is he really that oblivious?” Futaba whispered into his ear.
“You would know oblivious,” Akira said.
“Well, duh. I’m really smart,” she said proudly, climbing down from Akira’s shoulders and yawning. “Now, Inari, you’re wrong and never found anything. I, however, have managed to locate one of the deadly film’s treacherous filming spots! It’s right over there, that spot that Inari was painting randomly. Come, we investigate!”
“… Is she really that oblivious?” Yusuke asked.
“You would know oblivious,” Akira said.
“I’m not sure what we expect to find here. Isn’t it just a building they rented and shot some scenes out front?” Ann asked as the team crossed the street toward a non-descript building that both of their weirdest members claimed was important, and which might honestly be someone’s drug den for all they knew. Luckily, Makoto could kill a man with her bare hands and she was in a bad mood, so nobody felt too scared. “Or, more realistically, a building they didn’t rent and just used without asking anyone, because they were horrible criminals?”
“It wasn’t a snuff film if they didn’t plan the murder!” Futaba declared.
“See, I didn’t even say ‘snuff film’ but your mind still jumped there. That’s a bad sign, Futaba.”
“SILENCE, WE ARE SEEKING OUT EVIL!” Futaba shrieked.
“So, I know we ain’t really gonna kill her and leave her in a ditch, but does anybody kinda want to anyway?” Ryuji muttered. Several hands went up, and their owners shall remain anonymous.
“All right,” Futaba said, taking off her backpack. “I’mma plug into the building’s wifi, give them a virus to give me admin rights, and download all the files of anyone who’s ever connected to it. Then, when I determine which one is a filthy fake porn company, I’ll go on the dark web and hire some Nigerian mercenaries to cut off their-”
“Or we could knock on the door and see if anyone’s inside and ask them about a group of shady people who rented their building in the last few months,” Akira said.
“…. Boring, but practical! That’s why we make a good team, buddy.”
Trying really hard not to think of good ditches to leave Futaba in, the team walked up to the building the weirdoes had pointed out and knocked on the door once. A middle-aged man in glasses opened it, smiling down at them. “Ah, are you the kids here answering the ad to rent the third-floor apartment? I should warn you it still smells bad, but there’s plenty of space since those bastards knocked the walls down without asking, and the price is right considering how big it is now. I’ll even throw in the off-brand film equipment for free, because I kind of don’t want to touch anything in there. There’s a lot of… ooze.”
Yusuke smiled somewhat smugly. “Ducks never lie.”
“So here we are. The belly of the beast. The heart of darkness. The monster’s bloody core. The den of evil. The-”
“Futaba, shut the Hell up and start looking around.”
“You guys are no fun!”
As the landlord had said, the third floor had clearly been the site of either a major war or a truly awful porn filming. The walls had been knocked down (poorly, there were still pieces of jagged drywall poking out of the floor and ceiling), the floors were stained with… things… and Makoto had to run for the bathroom to throw up upon recognizing the stained bed in the northern corner as the one that Shmakoto and Shsae had held their seventeenth anal scene in. The entire thing smelled of some combination of sweat, industrial lubricant, and a sack of dead wasps, and the large Shsony brand camera near the door was sparking despite not being plugged in.
“Well, it certainly does look like the den of a murderer,” Haru admitted. “I can’t imagine they would have left anything of value behind, though.”
“They left all their cameras and props!” Ryuji said.
“And like I said: nothing of value,” Haru retorted, poking the camera lightly. It made a kind of hissing noise and released a green, foul-smelling smoke. She then knelt beside one of the filthy mattresses, poked it as well, and it did the exact same thing. “Unless you count the demons that I assume live inside these things.”
“Actually, I think we can work with this,” Futaba said. “This is a digital camera… or, no, wait, it actually says ‘shdigital,’ but I assume that means something similar. I should be able to recover all the original footage from it!”
“Will that… help…?”
“It means we can watch the raw unedited version!” Futaba squealed. “Can you even imagine?! I mean, immoral production values or no, this is an amazing movie. You gotta admit the quality is on point.”
“Two people have died!” Makoto snapped.
“Not on purpose. You can’t be held responsible for accidental deaths that you cause, right?”
“Yes! You can! It’s called ‘manslaughter’!”
“I try not to pay attention to laws whenever possible,” Futaba said cheerfully, turning on the camera and beginning the transfer of data to her laptop. “Gather around, everyone! We have a movie to finish.”
“Are we totally sure we can’t leave her in a ditch?” Makoto muttered.
“Now then, where did we leave off?"
“HOLY SHIT SHE FUCKING MURDERED HIM!” Shryuji screamed.
Ryuji winced. “That sounds like the spot.”
“Oh god, oh god, we’re all going to prison, we’re all going to prison again, there’s two corpses in the studio now! Two!” Shsae whimpered. “I can’t go back to prison! The last time nearly broke me!”
“Wait, you were in prison? For what?” Shmakoto asked.
“I went to juvie for three months when I stole a blouse! I bet they’ll send us almost twice as long for this!” she moaned. “God, why did I take this job?! Every time I play an incestuous lawyer my life gets worse!”
“Everyone calm down! I mean… yes… there was a murder, and… Sharu appears to have escaped. However, since we aren’t going to report any of this, we should be fine,” Shmorgana’s voice said, while the goat in question chewed on Shokumura’s outfit. To be fair, he wasn’t using it anymore. “Now then. Sharu appears to be hiding in the vents, hissing at people who walk near her, but we do not believe she is a threat to anyone else.”
“How can you know?!” Shakira asked.
“We moved a bookshelf in front of the vent opening, so she probably can’t get out.”
“I’M NOT SURE I FEEL SAFE!” Shryuji declared.
“Look, she has very slender arms, right? She probably can’t move it.”
“YOU ARE SAYING ‘PROBABLY’ A LOT CONSIDERING THERE’S A SERIAL KILLER IN THE WALLS!”
“Hey! We don’t know she’s a serial killer.”
“AND YOU KNOW, THAT’S NOT A VERY REASSURING DISTINCTION!”
“…. Okay, you know what, Negative Nancy? I think we all liked you better when all you did was scream about sucking dicks.”
“HEY! JUST BECAUSE I AM THE BEST DAMN COCKSUCKER IN THE ENTIRE PORN INDUSTRY DOESN’T MEAN I CAN’T BE A WONDERFUL CRITICAL THINKER TOO! DID YOU KNOW I HAVE A PHILOSOPHY DEGREE FROM TOKYO UNIVERSITY?”
“Philosophy major? Well, that certainly explains why you’re doing porn,” Shakira said.
“DID YOU SERIOUSLY JUST MAKE FUN OF MY DEGREE? YOU CAN’T EVEN FUCKING READ.”
“WHY MUST YOU CONTINUOUSLY INTELLECT-SHAME ME?!” Shakira wailed, running off the set.
“Everyone shut up! Just focus on your paychecks, and remember your contracts are air tight. You filthy degenerates are basically my slaves until this movie is finished!” Shmorgana snarled. “Now, it’s time to start the next scene. Where’s the actor we hired to play that stupid detective? … WHY IS THE CAMERA STILL ROLLING?!”
“I told ya, boss, I dunno how to turn it off! There ain’t no buttons, and if ya unplug it the insides start ta catch fire!” said a voice that none of them had heard before, presumably because it was just not classy enough for off-market illegal porn. “Yer just gonna have ta edit it later. Told ya you shouldn’ta got a ‘Shsony,’ that ain’t a real brand.”
“Dammit, you know we’re on a budget! I needed the savings!”
“Ya only saved like five-hundred yen, though. I told ya, my cousin coulda got you a pretty good deal on a real camera, but ya kept insistin’ on buying from that guy in the alley who kept laughin’ at ya under his breath…”
“Stop questioning my vision, camera monkey!” Shmorgana shrieked.
Haru giggled. “I like the cameraman. I want to see a movie about him.”
“This is a hard business! He shouldn’t be questioning the artist behind the project before it’s even done!” Futaba protested.
“You know, Futaba, the more you defend ‘Shmorgana’ the more I start to assume you’re going to end up in prison when you’re older.”
“You’re just now starting to assume this? I had her pegged for twenty-five-to-life three weeks after we met her,” Ann said.
“You guys just don’t understand how important pornography is to our society,” Futaba muttered, sinking down into the slump that can only be experienced by someone whose friends are convinced they are going to die in prison.
“Now then,” Shmorgana said, taking several deep breaths to calm himself after what he probably thought was a perfectly logical reaction. “We’re gonna have to leave this set. Did we leave any evidence we were here?”
“Our prints are everywhere,” Shmakoto said.
“There’s video of everything we’ve done, and I’m sure lots of people saw us going off to film in the prison laundry room too!” Shakira said.
“ABOUT A GALLON OF OUR DNA SCATTERED ALL OVER! AND NOT JUST CUM, THERE’S BLOOD FROM ALL THE DEATHS AND DOG-MAULINGS!” Shryuji offered.
“A corpse, and a witness, and we really can’t sneak all our stuff out since ya broke the walls without askin’ an’ they’ll be pissed,” the cameraman said. “Oh, and the guy who was supposed to play Shgoro Shakechi never showed up.”
“Oh, that little fuck! I’ll kill his children! I’ll eat his heart on a…. WHY ARE YOU STILL FILMING?!”
“We covered that, boss.”
“FINE! Since I’m the only competent one in this shit, I’m going to save us all. All the tech stuff has the serial numbers filed off and none of your DNA is on file anywhere since you’re all illegal immigrants…”
“I think that’s just Shann.”
“Cette folle a tué quelqu'un. Pourquoi personne ne s'inquiète? Il y a du sang sur le sol. Cela va tacher. Je ne le nettoie pas."
“Did I give you permission to speak, slaves?! Leave everything except the video files and the corpses, we’re moving to my uncle’s house in the countryside. He’s off in England on a cheese tour, we’ll break a window and finish filming in his bedroom.”
“… Why are we bringing the corpses?” Shsae asked.
“Don’t question me, porn monkey! We should travel separately, and we’ll need to disguise the corpses with sunglasses and hats, so remember the address: 644 Takawa Boulevard, in the village of… WHY ARE YOU STILL FILMING THIS?!”
“It doesn’t! Shut! O-“
A crunching sound and blackness followed, as the file cut off there. Futaba sighed. “Dammit. All we got is a street that could be in any city in the whole country. That’s not enough to find them with…”
“Wait, if they smashed the camera at the end there, why is it still here?” Haru asked.
“And if they took the files with them, why could you still download it? Shouldn’t they have taken the data storage out of the camera? They obviously have them still, or they couldn’t have published the full movie!” Ann added.
Futaba grinned smugly. “Oh, you silly idiots. Anyone who’s anyone in the hacking community can explain that, and so I will, in detail that clearly shows it all makes perfect sense! Obviously, they must have-“
And that was when Sharu, a dead rat clamped in her teeth and murder in her eyes, burst out of the wall with an inhuman shriek and rushed toward them.