Before Heirs: Unwritten Rules

Before Heirs banner

(Originally posted 16 Feb 2014 on tumblr)

Hyo-shin arrives at school early the next morning despite his headache. (He sought his mother out early for his medication, and she, surprised, complied.) The grounds are quiet and empty, but he still feels too hemmed in by the landscaping and the architecture.

He drops his backpack in his locker, grabs a packet of red ginseng, and heads for the roof. The sky opens up there, at least a little more than most places in Seoul. The school grounds shove the city’s skyscrapers toward the horizon just enough that he can’t tell what the billboards are advertising. He plants his elbows on the wall and tries to breathe in the open space.

It doesn’t help to clear his head.

There are many unwritten rules about attending Jeguk High, and one of the most important is that students don’t interfere with others who are outside their year. Even the seniors don’t boss their juniors around much, and mostly then only as it relates to club duties. Almost every student here is an heir to businesses or riches or prestige that is too important to let lingering schoolyard pettiness interfere later in life, when the stakes will be higher. It’s why there are so few actual friendships inside these walls—childhood friendships can’t be allowed to affect future judgment, either.

So while some people might quietly disapprove of Young-do’s behavior, no one will stop it.

Hyo-shin has never bothered himself to think much of it other than to marvel at Young-do’s shortsighted behavior. The social welfare students are not picked at random; none of them would have been given admission if it weren’t for financial backers who saw potential in them. A better use for them than being punching bags would be to recruit them now, to make them indebted to you so that you would have use of them later, once they had amassed something worth exploiting.

The quality and strength of an empire, after all, depends on more than just its king or queen.

He shoves the empty ginseng packet into his pocket and pulls out his phone to send a message to Tan:

Who do you think is worse? The person who inflicts harm intentionally, the person who has the power to stop it and doesn’t, or the person who stops it only when he cares about who is getting hurt?

Tan writes back almost immediately, and his answer is one Hyo-shin did not expect:

The first person. It will always be the first person. What’s going on?

“You’re wrong,” Hyo-shin says aloud to the empty roof. “The third person is the worst of the lot, because he only cares about what is right when it suits him.”

A prosecutor’s son should care about the law and justice and ensuring that society continues to function. Hyo-shin doesn’t even really care about Chan-young becoming Young-do’s target.

The person he cares about in this potential situation is Bo-na.

Nothing you need to worry about, Hyo-shin writes back.


He takes notes in his classes as always, but whenever the teacher has to pause to answer easy questions, Hyo-shin finds himself doodling in the margins. Normally he sketches out storyboards or jots down bits of dialogue that have been floating around in his head. Today he sketches more body outlines.

Hyo-shin draws them in all sorts of poses, amuses himself by concocting elaborate scenarios about what tragedies befell these imaginary people that they ended up dying in these bizarre positions. He knows that investigators don’t draw outlines anymore because it contaminates the crime scene, but that doesn’t stop him from doing it anyway.

It doesn’t stop him from labeling one Jumper.


“What do you do to relieve stress?” Jae-sung asks him near the midpoint of their third session.

Hyo-shin interlaces his fingers together so he doesn’t curl them into fists. “I used to make short films.”

“When was the last time you worked on one?”

“February.”

It is a half-truth at best, as he’s still not quite sure what he was going to do with the footage from Young-do’s balcony, and he doesn’t have access to that anymore anyway. He deleted it from his phone once he had transferred it to his computer, and it is now as far out of his reach as the moon. All he has left is the new footage he recorded on Saturday and no way to edit it other than to take stills.

Jae-sung considers him for a moment, but instead of asking why he hasn’t made a film since then, Jae-sung asks a question that gives Hyo-shin pause. “So what do you do now?”

“I’m the president of the broadcasting club at school.”

“And does that responsibility make your life easier?”

“Sometimes it’s the only thing I look forward to at school,” Hyo-shin says, because that is easier than admitting that on some days reminding himself that Bo-na is not yet ready to take over the club is the only thing that gets him out of bed. On some days, it is the only thing that reminds him he needs to keep fighting to breathe.

“What else do you do?”

“Nothing, really.”

“Is the broadcasting club enough to let you blow off steam?”

Hyo-shin’s smile is tight. “I manage.”


Young-do still hasn’t made anyone sit in the cafeteria chair by the end of the week, but even Hyo-shin has heard that some of the first years are taking bets on who he’ll pick for his new victim. There are only a handful of social welfare kids left in the first year, and most of those are girls.

(Hyo-shin doesn’t understand why Young-do—or Tan, back in middle school—decides to spare the girls his attention as they are still every bit as beneath him as the boys are.)

He notes the chatter in the halls—how the social welfare students should know when they’re not wanted, how they ought to know their place—and how it always dies whenever Bo-na walks by, her arm linked in Chan-young’s.

He notes that the chatter never dies when Chan-young is on his own.

That afternoon he excuses himself from the broadcasting club for a few minutes by pretending he needs to call his mother, and leaves the club in Bo-na’s hands. It doesn’t take him long to track down Chan-young in the library. All of the other chairs at his table are empty.

“You have a second?” Hyo-shin asks, and he doesn’t wait for confirmation before he takes the seat next to him.

Chan-young twitches in his seat but lets out a breath when their eyes meet. “Sure. What do you need, sunbae?”

Hyo-shin lowers his voice, even though there is no one else in the immediate vicinity. “Are you still in the running?”

“I don’t know.” Chan-young drags his hand over his face, wiping away every last bit of his usual cheery demeanor. He can’t hide the desperation lurking in his eyes. “Young-do hasn’t messed with me personally, but his friends have a couple times. Nothing big. Bo-na caught them once and told them off. She’s stuck closer to me since then. I’ve been bringing homemade lunches for her this week and having picnics with her outside so we don’t have to go in to the cafeteria. But there’s a storm that’s supposed to come in on Sunday night and last until Tuesday.”

“So what’s your plan for Monday?”

Chan-young dredges up an anemic smile. “Hope that Bo-na is enough of a deterrent for Young-do.”


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4 thoughts on “Before Heirs: Unwritten Rules

  1. What an intriguing exploration on the social class politics of Jeguk High. Schoolmates are above all else potential assets to their future. Who and how they choose to interact can affect their success. Even friendship can become a hindrance.

    No wonder there’s no one big enough to deter Youngdo in school but they come after him during his biggest crisis. Gotta love that karma! Lol

    • Audrey says:

      I always wished the show had done more with the stratification of the different “classes” of heirs at Jeguk. I’ve taken it a bit more cut-throat and cold, but that’s what makes it interesting.

      Yes, YD is scary, but when he’s vulnerable, that’s when everyone pounces. 🙂

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