Mei’s contract specified she would only get paid if both the bride and groom, along with at least fifty percent of the guests, survived the wedding. Against her recommendation, the happy couple chose not to hold the ceremony in the game’s chapel district, which would have made it harder for trolls to grief the wedding. Instead, the bride wanted it held in the castle she’d taken from her ex-boyfriend.
Mei had been working as an online wedding planner for under a year. The marriage of Prince Whitemoon and Sharon44 was her most important contract yet. Every troll who wanted to make a name for themselves was probably on their way to the castle, along with the Grrm Reapers, whose sole purpose was to ensure every wedding ended in a massacre.
The throne room was decorated in as tasteful a manner as you could hope for from someone who had spent a dragon hoard’s worth of gold on rainbow sparkle spells. Her security ogres verified the invitations as each guest entered the chamber. The ex-boyfriend, TheOrcAbides, had boasted he’d hired an assassin to kill the bride. Mei had wanted to ban weapons at the wedding, but the bride insisted it would be rude to force her friends to disarm.
Prince Whitemoon strode down the aisle, resplendent in his shining armor and a golden shield animated with music video clips. Whitemoon’s player was a Korean pop idol who auctioned the right to marry his game character. The first time Mei had organized a wedding she’d underestimated the number of guests, and the bandwidth problems had forced her to plead with people to disable the animations on their clothing. This time she’d lodged a dedicated server request with the game company.
The hobgoblin bride charged down the aisle astride an undead fire pony and took her place beside Whitemoon.
“We are gathered in the sight of the gods and the NSA,” the officiating priestess began.
Mei’s character — a half-panda, half-dragon wizard knight — stood on a balcony overlooking the ceremony. So many things could potentially go wrong, but Mei had a secret weapon in reserve.
Mei sat at her computer in her parents’ apartment in Shanghai. Her mother sat across from her, slurping noodles and watching Korean dramas. “Are you ready?” she asked her mom.
Mom grunted in reply. Before she was married, Mei’s mother had worked as a gold farmer, leveling up characters and selling them to players who didn’t want to spend a lifetime grinding XP. Some of Mei’s happiest childhood memories were of questing alongside her mother in China’s longest-running online game. Mei’s mother had one of the game’s most powerful characters, a 574th-level dinosaur barbarian thief. (“I focus less on the stealth and backstabbing and more on the limb-ripping and corpse-looting.”)
Sharon44 had written the vows, and they went on and on. Mei received regular reports that the castle was under siege by a horde of Grrm Reapers, but the defenses were holding.
A dwarf near the front of the audience leaped to his feet and dashed for the stage. Two ogres tried to intercept him, but he cut them down with his flaming battle axe.
Mei leaped off the balcony and attacked with her greatsword. The dwarf counterattacked, and damage stats filled her screen.
Mei lost a limb, but with the help of her ogres, she finally killed the dwarf. He would respawn in another location within five minutes, but without his equipment. Crisis averted.
The throne room floor burst apart and a gigantic spider crawled through the hole.
No! This shouldn’t be happening. The assassins must have somehow gained control of a boss monster, a spider deity designed to challenge dozens of high-level characters.
The bride screamed obscenities and unleashed hellfire at the spider, while Prince Whitemoon watched, looking bemused.
“Take the prince to the panic room,” Mei instructed an ogre.
The spider breathed a jet of fire, incinerating a dozen ogres.
Mei hated fire-breathing spiders. “Mom! I need your help.”
“You’re buying dinner tonight?”
“Yes! Just deal with the spider!”
The dinosaur barbarian thief leaped from the balcony onto the spider’s back and started ripping and biting.
The spider incinerated the front row of wedding guests.
Mei cast battle rage on her wizard knight.
After an epic battle that would become the stuff of legend, the spider finally crashed to the floor, mortally wounded.
Mei wasn’t going to get paid. Most of the guests had perished, and the bride had been reduced to ashes. They would respawn later, of course, but the bride had insisted she didn’t want to suffer the loss of face of being killed at her own wedding. Mei wanted to tell her that she should have agreed to tighter security conditions, but it was too late now.
The bloody but triumphant dinosaur raised a claw in victory.
What was that ring on the dinosaur’s claw? Mei cast identify. It was a unique artifact. The Ring of Ultimate Spider Control.
Mei turned to stare at her mother. “Mom! How could you?”
“You don’t get to level 574 without the occasional betrayal,” her mom replied. “But don’t worry, you can’t buy this kind of publicity, sweetheart. Everyone will want to have a wedding as famous as this one is going to be.”
The wounded dinosaur limped toward the panic room. “Make yourself useful and find a priest that isn’t dead. There’s a prince in need of marrying.”