"Outrageous! Scandalous! Unforgiveable!" Di Xin raged through clenched teeth, stamping his foot through the splintering floorboards. His voice echoed throughout Youdu. "I demand an explanation for this treatment! Don't you know in whose presence you stand, you insignificant little insect?"
A scrawny demon looked about for assistance, but none was forthcoming from his peers. They all had their own tasks or do, or pretended to find one after witnessing their new guest's eruption. They did, however, make certain not to find work that was too far away. This was going to be interesting ... He coughed. "Well, um, sire, you see, due to your, ah, evil deeds-"
"Evil? Evil?! I, Di Xin, am the Son of Heaven! Was not my rule secured by the decree of Heaven itself? Tell me, how can one in the service of Heaven do wrong?"
"You see, technically, you lost the Mandate of Heaven. That is why you were over ... thrown..." His voice evaporated before the molten glare of Di Xin.
"I. Was. Betrayed, you ignorant worm. Am I to simply offer my throat to any vassal with delusions of grandeur?" he asked, his finger inches from the unlucky demon's face. "I must defend my realm from traitors and villains. When the kingdom is divided, war is frequent. When war is frequent, the kingdom suffers. It is my responsibility to prevent that, and so when some upstart princeling attempts to wrest my rightful crown from me, it is my duty to stop him.
"I have earned my deification. I absolutely refuse to accept punishment for my deeds, as though I'm a common peasant. Tell me one thing I did to deserve this treatment!"
The demon reached into his robes and removed a rather large scroll. He unfurled it and began to read, mumbling his way through the records of Di Xin's sins, following along with his fingertip. "Ah, there were the tortures, to start with. Quite a few of them, according to our records. Very ... inventive ones..." he said, cringing at the descriptions
"Is it a crime now to punish criminals? If so, you have no right to punish me. If not, then I was acting with justice, and you have no right to punish me. Those men deserved their fate."
"You cut out Bi Gan's heart simply to satisfy the curiosity of your consort..."
"He was a wicked minister, seeking to bring about my ruin, in which he succeeded. He ceaselessly argued against me. In opposing me, he opposed the Son of Heaven. A common soldier does not argue against his general, a citizen does not argue against his governor. He deserved death, and if I at the same time satisfied curiosity, then his death's profit was twofold. I am merely efficient. Would you punish a merchant for making a twentyfold profit instead of a tenfold profit?"
The paper scritched as the demon sought another charge, grating his teeth. "Your wine pool and meat forest, then!"
"Yes. What of it?"
"Well, it's extremely decadent, sire. A waste of finances that were intended for the benefit of the state. You spent what was intended for all on merely yourself."
"Wine and meat are the pleasures of all men. Is there anyone who would not partake of both if he had only an extra bronze coin to spend? How, then, should I be punished for a deed everyone would commit, simply because I had the ability and they had only their fantasies?
"But you argue that I was an evil man. If so, then it profited the world for my powers to be lessened. By spending money on my lake and forest, I took money away from my armies and torturers. Ergo, they became less efficacious and did less damage. Ergo, if you are right that I am evil, the lake is a boon, and I am undeserving of punishment.
"But since I am, of course, a paragon of virtue," continued Du Xin, "I shall make another argument. My amusements were a charity, and I should be rewarded for its construction."
The demon blinked. This wasn't going at all as he had expected. He looked longingly at the other souls, being quietly led to their final punishments and rewards. He had thought it was going to be such a good day. The new tool had just been constructed, right on time, despite the sudden urgency of the situation. He wasn't even supposed to be here today...
Du Xin's eyes narrowed at the inattentive demon. How dare this rebellious little maggot not play his accorded role. Very well, then. "Yes, a charity!" he explained. "Every year, butchers and vintners have excess products. By purchasing their unused wine and meats, I encourage their businesses and help keep their product affordable to the common man. By having my slaves swim through wine and run through meat forests, I am granting them a rare treat, one that few men can ever be said to enjoy. Is that not generous of me?"
"The debauchery! The orgies! The gomorrahmy!" tried the demon.
"Procreation is a necessary task. Without children, a people has no future. Sex is necessary for procreation. What is necessary cannot be evil. If in the course of procreation, I made others feel good, as well, does that not simply make a good deed greater?"
"The ... acts you performed were incapable of procreation, sire..." the demon reminded him.
"Well, I am shocked, shocked, to learn that, I must tell you. You see what awful ministers I had? Why, not one of them even bothered to tell me I was doing it wrong. I don't think you can blame me for ignorance, though, can you? Surely innocence isn't a crime worthy of punishment in the afterlife?"
"Innocence?! You should see the records we have on you! Chuang Mu has a copy delivered to her daily for inspiration! We can't even let the younger demons read it! We have to blindfold the courier just to make sure it arrives on time."
" ... Could I see that, too?" requested Di Xin. "Might make for some pleasant reading..."
"But the taxes, the crushing taxes you had to raise to afford it! Those are definitely a sign of tyranny! Off to your punishment now, come along," hoped the demon.
Di Xin scoffed. "Taxes don't vanish into thin air once they leave the peasants' hands. What comes from the peasantry returns to the peasantry after passing through many hands. Without taxes, the peasant keeps his crop. With taxes, he pays the king. The king pays the officials. The officials pay the craftsmen. The craftsmen pay the peasants. Whoever possesses food will always be able to sell his wares.