Damocles Overthrown: Chapter 1

June 21, 2015 in Damocles Overthrown, moonrise31 by moonrise31

1. Years and years ago, in a land now remembered fondly only in history, a man lived, and he was named Damocles.

Tiffany strode through the sliding doors of her apartment building, raising a hand to cover her impending yawn. She spared a nod and a smile to the security guard sitting at the desk inside, but otherwise managed little more than a “good evening” before making her way to the elevator. She heard the guard’s amused “more like morning, Tiffany-sshi”, and decided she’d pretend that she hadn’t.

She passed the mailroom and cursed under her breath. But she’d been neglecting her mailbox for the past couple of days, and if it got too stuffed she’d get a notice. She grumbled when she found a stack only half as tall as the inside — seemed like she could’ve waited at least another 24 hours before the situation actually would’ve gotten dire.

Sifting mindlessly through the various envelopes, she stepped into the waiting elevator and hit the button for the eighth floor. She groaned again when she caught sight of an official-looking stamp from the city hall. You have got to be kidding me.

But she wasn’t anything if not a model citizen, so she ripped open the envelope as the elevator doors dinged and slid apart. She reached her apartment just as she finished reading the letter.

Jury duty. Wonderful.

What little motivation she had to sort through the rest of her mail evaporated as she searched her purse for her keys. After a soft click and a turn of the doorknob, she entered her apartment and reached to her left, feeling around for the lights. Once they’d flickered on, she purposefully ignored the clock on her wall.

Her phone beeped as she kicked off her heels and walked over to drop the mess of envelopes onto her kitchen counter. She pulled out the device and squeezed her eyes shut upon reading the notification. The idol group she was managing had a schedule in two hours: a perfectly reasonable time of day if the sun wasn’t already beaming its first morning rays through her half-drawn curtains.

She cursed quietly. “At least I’m not the one actually doing the schedule,” she said out loud, but her brain was having a hard time convincing her drooping eyelids and fatigued muscles otherwise.

Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed a small envelope by her discarded heels. Thinking that she’d dropped it on her way to the counter, Tiffany padded over and picked it up. She frowned at the lack of stamp — had someone slid it under her door?

Cautiously, she slid a finger under the flap and tore the envelope open. She pulled out the note inside and scanned the words.

She gasped, hand flying to cover her mouth.

The dropped letter fluttered gently to the hardwood floor.

“Sir, I’m sorry for the abrupt notice.” Juhyun bowed ninety degrees. “But I’ll have to take leave starting two weeks from now.”

“Oh please.” The principal waved a hand, smile warm. “Jury duty isn’t something you can just brush off. And we’re in the middle of the term right now, so I think the rest of us will survive without you.”

“I know.” Juhyun returned the smile. “Oh, but if Huihoon comes looking for me, just tell him to send me an email. He’s going through a lot of stress right now, and I don’t want switching counselors to add to it.”

After the principal agreed, Seohyun stepped out into the hallway. She smiled and waved at some of the students as they passed, on their way home or to after-school activities.

The bus ride back was uneventful, and her mailbox empty. So was her apartment, as a quick glance around revealed as she took off her shoes and placed them on the rack by the door. She did note the small stack of mail on the counter, which meant that her elusive roommate had actually made it back from the office for at least an hour or two while Juhyun had been at work.

She sighed at the unopened jury duty summons on the counter. She pulled out her phone and dialed the third number on her favorites, unsurprised when she was greeted with a voicemail. She left a message. “Unnie, thanks for getting the mail today. Just wanted to let you know that the very important-looking letter on the counter for you is for jury duty, which is something you actually have to go to, no matter what a waste of time you think it is. I was called too, so I’ll remind you in two weeks, okay?”

Juhyun hung up and turned her attention to the new mail. She looked through the pile, setting aside the bills to be paid later, and stopped at the last two envelopes, identical in every way, from the lack of a return address to the exact same stamp pasted on the opposite corner; the only difference was the addressee name printed in the center. She opened the letter labeled as hers.

Dear Seo Juhyun-sshi,
It has come to our attention that you will be serving on the jury that will decide Seo Jisoo’s case on the 26th. It would be in your best interest to rule that she is guilty on all counts. Do so, and we will guarantee your safety, as well as that of your students — Kim Huihoon, in particular, would benefit from less violence in his life.
Thank you for your cooperation.

Juhyun stood, frozen, for two minutes, this suddenly dangerous piece of paper clenched tightly in white-knuckled fingers. She didn’t even have to open her roommate’s letter to guess the contents within.

Her free hand fumbled for her phone, which was still lying on the counter. She tapped at her most recent call and barely made it through the voicemail message before saying, “Unnie, you need to come back. Now.”

Hyoyeon glared at the massive wall of unanswered texts she’d sent, and her phone screen glared right back. The time told her it was, well, way past what any normal person would consider “dinner time”. But here she was, parked on the street outside of her friend’s studio, a box of takeout in one hand and enough change to pay the meter for two hours in the other.

She owes me big time.

The studio sat right above a karaoke bar. Hyoyeon passed the front entrance in favor of a side one that led directly upstairs. She winced as the main door swung open, and what could barely be described as singing blasted her ears, announcing the half-drunken exit of several patrons now stumbling into the street.

Otherwise, she reached the side entrance without a hitch, reaching into her bag for the spare set of keys (heavens forbid her friend actually pick up whenever Hyoyeon was feeling gracious enough to call and provide a break from all the monotony and general hermitism that tortured artists living above horrible-sounding pop tune imitations for “inspiration” submitted themselves to).

Balancing the box of takeout in her free hand while she rooted around her bag with the other proved to be too much, however, and she sighed when the keys slid out of her grasp and dropped at her feet. Hyoyeon bent down and grabbed them. She was halfway standing when she heard something whip over the top of her head.

Thunk.

“For the love of–” she swore as she hit the ground, food flying out of her hand as she covered her head with her bag. Her scalp tingled where she had been grazed.

After several seconds of silence, she chanced a glance upwards. A knife had buried itself up to its hilt in the flimsy wood of the side door, pinning what seemed to be a sheet of paper.

Slowly, she straightened once more, glancing to the side and lamenting the now half empty takeout container; the other half lay scattered liberally across the alleyway. She now stood eye level with the paper. On it, a single declaration was spelled out in red:

THIS IS YOUR FIRST WARNING.

“What the…” The enormity of the past few moments came crashing down.

Hyoyeon quickly scooped up the box and unlocked the door. She dashed up the stairs and barely registered the room number before she began pounding frantically. “Kim Taeyeon! Get your butt over here and let me in right now.”

She waited all of two seconds before taking the time to unlock it herself and barge inside, slamming the door behind her. The studio was dark except for one warmly lit corner, the shadow hunched over the desk now shifting to face her. Taeyeon pulled one earbud out and grinned. “Oh hey, Hyo.”

“Don’t you ‘oh hey’ me,” Hyoyeon growled, jabbing a finger in her friend’s direction as she threw the takeout onto the cluttered coffee table. She started to sit down on the lumpy couch behind it, but then changed her mind and began to pace back and forth instead.

“Woah there.” Taeyeon got up, running a paint-spattered hand through her hair — a motion she’d already done several times previously, if the multi-colored streaks in her bangs said anything. “Sorry I didn’t answer the door. Or,” she glanced at her phone and grimaced at the flood of notifications, “any of your messages. I was just in the zone, you know?”

“I don’t care about that.” Hyoyeon slowed down a little, finally coming to a standstill in front of Taeyeon’s chair. “Forgive me for being a little high strung, but I almost lost my life standing outside your door. Plus like, half your dinner.” She gestured to the takeout, wincing slightly. “Whoops.”

“Oh, nice.” Taeyeon grinned and stood up at the mention of food. “I’d almost forgotten.” She picked up the container and opened it, inhaling deeply. “Kim Hyoyeon, you’re a saint.” She rooted through the coffee tabletop clutter until she found an unopened pair of disposable chopsticks.

Hyoyeon collapsed onto the sofa. “Normally, I’d order you to shower me with more compliments, but first, would you tell me exactly who you pissed off in order to have death threats delivered via knife over my head?”

Taeyeon frowned, her friend’s earlier words finally registering. “Wait, what?”

Hyoyeon waved a tired hand. “Go see for yourself. I’m never leaving this couch again, ever.” Then she groaned, covering her face with her hands. “My parking runs out at like 1:30 though.”

“No one ever checks.” Taeyeon put the container down and sat beside the other woman. “But let me get this straight: someone threw a knife at you? Like, a real one? Sharp and everything?” Hyoyeon nodded once. “Why?”

“For some reason, I didn’t stop to ask,” Hyoyeon mumbled through her fingers. “Silly me.”

“Um, okay.” Hyoyeon felt the couch cushion lift up as Taeyeon stood. She heard some clattering to her left and then, “Okay, I’m going to check it out. If I’m not back in three minutes, send someone intimidating to come collect my body. And I expect you to say wonderful things about how brave I was at my funeral.”

Hyoyeon peeked at her friend through her fingers and suppressed a snicker. “Are you seriously going out with a baseball bat?”

Taeyeon pointed the bat at her, which would have been a lot more threatening if not for the former’s mock scowl framed by a few yellow smears painting her cheeks. “Are you sure you want those to be your last words to me?”

Hyoyeon shrugged.

“Okay. Don’t tell my ghost that you regret it later, ‘cause I’ll just laugh and probably try to give you a spiritual wedgie.”

“Super mature, Kim Taengoo,” Hyoyeon called after her. She waited three more seconds before cursing under her breath and getting up to follow.

The door to the alleyway was open (now that she was on the other side, she could see the knife tip had penetrated all the way through and was now glinting in the moonlight; she shuddered), and she found Taeyeon thoughtfully examining the note still pinned firmly in place.

“You okay there?”

“Hm? Yeah.” Taeyeon nodded. “I was wondering if this red might be what I’m missing–”

“Are you being serious right now.”

“Of course.” Taeyeon turned to meet Hyoyeon’s stare. “That was my second thought, though. My first was that this is probably a follow-up to the death threat that came with the jury duty summons.”

“What?” Hyoyeon frowned. “Death threat? For jury duty?”

Taeyeon rolled her eyes. “I see that skiing all day has done wonders for your mail-checking abilities.”

“Hey now.” Hyoyeon crossed her arms. “My lack of mail-checking abilities is the reason you were fed tonight.”

“Okay, okay.” Taeyeon held her hands up. “But you told me you had jury duty too, right? And this morning I got a pretty threatening letter with all sorts of hints that they know everything about my life and will most likely end it if I don’t rule some Seo Jisoo guilty on the 26th.”

“Hm.” Hyoyeon vaguely remembered an envelope by her shoes before she’d stepped out to pick up dinner an hour earlier, but she hadn’t stopped to consider it further than that.

Taeyeon glanced around before tugging her sleeve over her hand and, after some effort, managed to pull the knife free. She bent down and picked up the warning note from where it had fluttered to the ground.

“You’re pretty unconcerned about this,” Hyoyeon said, raising her eyebrows as Taeyeon ushered her back inside.

Taeyeon shook her head. “Oh believe me — I’m freaking out in here.” She tapped her temple. “But outward freaking out can wait ‘til after dinner.”

“Right, okay.” Hyoyeon paused. “Should we maybe like, call the police or something though?”

“More eating. Less talking.” Taeyeon used her free hand to push Hyoyeon back into the building.

Hyoyeon laughed, rolling her eyes. “Right. Glad that someone here has their priorities straight.”