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Chapter 57

I'm an Infinite Regressor, But I've Got Stories to Tell

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Translator/Editor: Ryuu

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◈ I'm an Infinite Regressor, But I've Got Stories to Tell




Chapter 57

──────

Ruler IV


After the trial ended, we went out to eat Sundae stew.


I didn’t particularly feel like going back to the guild building, and besides, my relationship with Dang Seo-rin was no longer just 'guild leader and vice guild leader' but more like 'foodie friends.'


And I couldn’t hold back my question even before the assorted sundae platter arrived.


"Seo-rin, what was that back there?"


"Hmm? What?"


Dang Seo-rin tilted her head with a dumbfounded look. I frowned and handed her a small dish with some gochujang sauce.


“The trial, I mean. Since when did you start using equivalent exchange for judgments? It wasn’t there the last time I visited."


"You just haven’t been around Busan enough to notice. We’ve been doing it for nearly half a year now. Here, try this."


Dang Seo-rin handed me a small dish with a perfect mix of salt, pepper, and chili powder.


"The citizens really love it. These days, it’s counted among Busan’s top three attractions along with the monster dissection shows."


"What the…? Explain a bit more. Sir, can we get some Dongdongju here?"


"Coming right up!"


I took the jug of Dongdongju and mixed it with half a cup of iced water. This was Dang Seo-rin’s favorite ratio. The prestige of having looked after a friend for hundreds of years came from such small gestures.


"What’s there to explain? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I just applied the Code of Hammurabi as it is."


"Hmm."


"When the country was still intact, we could throw everything into prison. But now, there are no prisons, right? Cutting off fingers or choking necks wastes valuable labor… So, I just arrange ‘a revenge that everyone can agree on.’"


"...‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord."


"Huh?"


"It’s from Romans 12:19. For heaven’s sake. You do something ridiculous every time I look away."


"What? Are you picking a fight?"


"My sanity is what’s being picked on. This is really absurd."


The assorted sundae, sundae stew, Dongdongju, and well-fermented kimchi disappeared beyond our chopsticks and bites. The meal was delicious—a proper feast only available in Busan these days.


"I think it was odd that old society tried to handle everything with prison sentences."


Dang Seo-rin raised her chopsticks.


"Think about it. How can theft and murder receive the same punishment? The feeling of losing your belongings versus getting stabbed is vastly different. There’s a qualitative difference, you know, a difference in quality."


"Hmm."


"Theft varies, too. The feeling when today’s food is stolen, when the radio you’ve kept secret from other survivors is taken, or when your kidney is stolen…"


"The last one counts as theft?"


"Of course. Anyway, punishment must vary according to the severity and circumstances, the character of the perpetrator and the victim. For instance, Jesus might turn the other cheek, but Undertaker, you’d probably consider it ‘a fair deal’ only after taking their cheek and a molar. Am I wrong?"


"I understand your point."


"And surprisingly… The greatest witch in history, the unparalleled and unique Dang Seo-rin, can arrange a fair deal for anyone."


At that moment, a little kid approached the restaurant and shyly held out a pointy hat, saying, "Great Witch!" Dang Seo-rin smiled brightly and signed the hat brim.


As soon as the fan service ended, Dang Seo-rin’s face drooped like a sponge soaked in hot water. This happened wherever our idol of Busan went.


"So cute."


"But that fairness is just ‘what you think is fair.’ People can always judge wrongly."


"That’s why equivalent exchange doesn’t work without the other’s consent. If they think the deal isn’t fair, they just don’t agree."


"Who would dare refuse a judgment from Busan’s ruler?"


"In a world like this, they should be grateful I even hold trials. If I don’t pass judgment, it’s a witch hunt. Regardless of the crime, they end up dead. Isn’t this better than death?"


"Hmm."


"If you’re still uneasy, come observe the trial next month."


Dang Seo-rin grumbled.


"By the way, what have you been up to that you’re so hard to see these days?"


"......"


...Honestly, I was a bit lost around this time.


If you’re an astute reader, you might already have figured it out, but the 26th cycle was when the Swordmaster officially declared a ‘vacation.’


When a teammate you believed would stick with you through the end of the world suddenly retires, it’s like FC Barcelona after Lionel Messi’s transfer. My mental state was like that.


I showed some embarrassing behavior as a regressor during this time… Let’s skip the black history.


"Alright. I’ll come again in a month."


"Yeah. Bring some Melona."


Exactly a month later, I arrived at Busan’s ‘execution square’ with homemade Melona ice cream.


"Here you go."


"Oh, thanks… Wow! It looks just like Melona!"


Dang Seo-rin marveled at my culinary skills.


For the record, I could replicate nearly 92% of the taste of pre-apocalypse cup noodles, bagged noodles, and snacks. I got the recipes directly from the headquarters of snack companies, so you can trust me.


What? How else do you think a regressor spends all that time? This is the most productive hobby I could find.


"I reserved a good spot over there."


This time, I could watch the entire trial from a prime seating position.


As I sucked on a Melona—Dang Seo-rin, sitting at the trial bench, was also casually chewing on a Melona—I observed that surprisingly… Busan’s witch trials were quite rational.


"You cut off someone’s leg, so you’ll serve the victim for life. [You’ll follow all the tasks originally performed by both legs as directed by the victim]. You can’t leave the victim’s side without their permission. Do you agree?"


"The only remaining newspaper in Busan falsely accused a citizen, leading to their suicide. Though there’s no family left to seek revenge, the damage to the newspaper’s reputation must be repaired. From now on, all your actions must be recorded in a column of the newspaper. [All your past and future wrongdoings must be published accurately]. This will let everyone in Busan know what kind of person you are. Do you agree?"


"You didn’t pay wages for work done. Labor is an investment of time. [For the exact same amount of time the victim worked, you’ll follow their orders]. Of course, unreasonable orders like suicide aren’t allowed. You’ll eat the same food, sleep in the same bed, wake up, and rest at the same time as the victim. Do you agree?"


If civilization were intact, such judgments would be unthinkable.


Without Dang Seo-rin’s magic, these deals could never be realized.


Her judgments were cruel and harsh― yet they held a strange persuasion, making hundreds of people in the vast square feel ‘convinced.’


Each time a judgment was passed, the blue scales shimmered in the air.


The most impressive trial was for the defendant who had killed someone, a murder trial.


"......"


Dang Seo-rin chewed on the popsicle stick from her finished Melona.


On one side stood the murderer, on the other, the bereaved family. Her dark blue eyes scanned them.


"Do you regret the murder?"


"...Yes."


"Are you genuinely sorry to the bereaved?"


"Yes… I am sorry…."


"Then, [you must endure whatever the bereaved do to you without resisting]. You can’t complain or express your grievances. You just have to accept it."


"......"


"Do you agree?"


"......"


The silence was quite long. Despite the lengthy pause, the moment the defendant nodded was surprisingly short.


"Yes. I agree. Please… please do that, Great Witch."


The scales gleamed.


"You bastard!"


At that moment, a family member jumped the fence and lunged at the defendant. Thud! The sound of a fist shattering bone echoed clearly in my ears.


"How could you! You killed our child! You promised to marry her, how could you! Bastard! Son of a bitch!"


In normal circumstances, someone would’ve intervened. In a pre-apocalypse court, security would have stopped it.


But in the execution square, no one stopped the family. Other relatives who followed began to kick the defendant on the ground.


Busan had clear visibility since most high-rise buildings were demolished. The red sunset reflected off the sea, bouncing back to the city as it always had.


In the execution square, under the blood-red sky, the defendant’s blood drops fell around. Soon, the breathing stopped.


"......"


And in that moment― I was struck by the intense realization that all this might just be an external reflection of Dang Seo-rin’s inner world.


While all spectators watched the bereaved family’s punishment, I alone turned my head to look at Dang Seo-rin.


She was looking at me, too.


Between us, the sunset was deep red.






There’s an epilogue.


I don’t believe I have the right to judge everything in the world.


So, I didn’t stop Dang Seo-rin’s ‘witch trials.’ She had her own rationality and fairness.


Also, to be fair, her rationality and fairness were the best possible in the apocalypse.


Other cities? Private sanctions based on the guild leader's personal gain. And even AI judges weren’t introduced until much later.


Not just in the 26th cycle, but in every cycle I shared the completed ‘equivalent exchange’ spell, Dang Seo-rin consistently held witch trials.


"So… how was it?"


"What do you mean?"


"The trial."


We had returned to the train of the Samcheon guild and were drinking.


Usually, we would visit various places to maintain our friendship.


But if Dang Seo-rin said, "Let’s drink on the train tonight," it meant she wanted to get really drunk.


As the ruler of Busan and the leader of the Korean guild alliance, as well as the progenitor of song magic, the Great Witch couldn’t afford to show herself drunk and stumbling on the streets. Not even in front of guild members.


It took someone like me, who defeated the Ten Legs and recaptured the Han River south of Seoul, or a teacher with many disciples through SG Net, for Dang Seo-rin to not lose her authority when hanging out together.


"I think it’s fine."


"What part is fine?"


"Everything seems fine, just by the fact that you’re asking someone else if it’s okay."


"Fuf."


Dang Seo-rin laughed.


"What’s that? Silly."


But her expression visibly relaxed.


While I endured a drunk friend’s ramblings for a while, Dang Seo-rin suddenly activated the equivalent exchange spell.


"Undertaker, put what you think of me on the scales."


"What? Are you a child…? Are you asking like a parent who asks if you like mom or dad more?"


"Ah, come on. Just put it on. Do you agree?"


I sighed and said, "Alright."


Then, from my chest, a shadowy, radiant snake tail emerged.


Dang Seo-rin twirled her finger. From her heart area, a white thread-like snake crawled and coiled on the other side of the scales.


Screech—


An impossible noise sounded as the scales slowly balanced. Soon, they reached perfect equilibrium.


Dang Seo-rin smirked like a cat.


"Hmm."


"What is that?"


In the night, the scales Dang Seo-rin created glowed faintly like starlight, and the Milky Way shimmered outside the window.


It was a Meteor Shower.


With the rain of stars as a backdrop, Dang Seo-rin smiled brightly.


"A secret."


It was a truly witch-like answer.




Footnotes:





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