Glancing around at the quiet conference room inside the Scottish castle which was the New Council's main headquarters, Willow Rosenberg knew she'd done the right thing. Ever since the usual potential apocalypse in May had been averted several weeks ago, the leaders of this secret organization consisting of Slayers, Watchers, and their support staff were still recovering, both physically and spiritually, from their superhuman efforts to safeguard the world once more. This time, thankfully nobody on their side had died, but there'd been a good number of casualties, some of them serious. Magical healing had fixed up peoples' bodies as well as ever, yet all too many of the others sitting at the conference table had the worrisome thousand-meter stare of those stressed well beyond their souls' limits.
Her friends definitely needed to have some fun. And given how much work a certain red-haired witch had recently put into this, they were damned well going to. Or else.
Clapping her hands several times to attract the attention of all there, Willow then gaily announced, "All right, everyone, I'm sure you're wondering why you've been invited here today! Well, here's the big reason: in a few minutes, you'll all be starting the very first Scooby Scavenger Hunt!"
Willow now paused for what she knew was coming. As expected, from most of those there, an immediate storm of protest, annoyed shouts, and disbelieving comments came forth, resounding throughout the conference room. Just as quickly, all of this expressed irritation turned into utter silence at every single person there receiving a direct look from the famous Resolve Face.
From the far end of the table came a tired chuckle, "Forget it, guys. She's not gonna let us out of this, no matter how dumb it sounds. Okay, Wils, what's the what?"
A quick glance had Willow's heart leaping in joy at seeing the very wry smile now upon Xander's scarred features. This was gladly all too different from the weary expression he'd been showing at large over the last week or so. Sending back a delighted grin at her bestest bud, the witch huffed with mock indignation at him, "I spent a good ten minutes coming up with that name alone!"
Still smiling as she looked around the table, Willow continued in a more serious tone, "When you all came into here, I sent a magical message to your assistants, seconds-in-command, and lower-ranking people, telling them you'll be out of touch for the whole day, until tomorrow morning. If there's a real emergency or anything else they can't handle on their own, it'll be up to me to decide to bring you out of the game. Except for something like that, for the next twenty-four hours, you'll be too busy going through what I created."
Taking a deep, patient breath at seeing how grumpy most of the listeners there still appeared over having to put up with something so ridiculous which she was proposing, Willow now allowed actual concern to creep into her tone. "Listen, people, I'm not doing this simply to mess with you. Can you all honestly tell me you don't need some kind of short break or time off from your latest case of the glooms? At the very least, you'll have a chance to forget or be distracted from your troubles for a little while. Nobody has to do this, but will you just give it a try? For me? Pleeeaaase?" That last drawn-out word ended in a beseeching sniffle, accompanied by the best puppy-dog-eyes gaze Willow could manage around the conference table.
In his own chair, Xander was quietly sniggering to himself. It'd been far too long since his yellow-crayon friend had shown off her inducing-guilt chops, but Wils was doing her Jewish female ancestors proud, judging at the reluctant nods of agreement she was currently getting from the rest of the people in the room. Feeling in a much better mood for the first time in weeks, the one-eyed man eagerly waited for whatever was going to happen next.
Perking up at how everyone was seemingly on board (however grudgingly in some cases), Willow beamed at them all, to then wave her right hand in a careless gesture. This resulted in glowing numbers abruptly appearing over the heads of all there but herself, ranging from 2 to 11. This little display of magic then shifted into something much more prosaic, as the witch's hand then dipped into her dress pocket. Coming out clutching something in her fingers, a quick flick of these sent a pair of dice tumbling across the tabletop.
This was followed by a short comment which abruptly chilled the spines of most of the others there, despite how cheerfully Willow had spoken: "First, we start off by making it more interesting, completely at random!"
Several minutes later, numerous people around the table were regarding each other with various emotions, including dismay, uncertainty, and actual incredulity, as they sized up their newest partners. Due to Willow's casts of the dice, ten men and women were now in five two-person teams. In order, they were:
Rapping a knuckle at the tabletop, Willow drew their attention back to herself, while then pointing at the center of the table. In another flash of magical light, ten objects appeared there from out of thin air. Also paired with each other, these items consisted of five miniature books the width, length, and thickness of Willow's palm. Each of these were side-by-side with five more small video cameras about the same sizes of the books.
Speaking briskly, the witch explained to a bewildered room. "Each team takes a book and a camera, and these have my magic in them to help you play the game. Now, here's the whole purpose of the Scooby Scavenger Hunt: after you start by opening the book, you and your partner will be transported together to another dimension. Once there, either you've got to collect something or do something, and maybe both. Inside the book will be written down short instructions on what to find or do, and also where you are, if this isn't already apparent. Finishing your task takes you to the next dimension, just like finding the prize in your current dimension does, too. But before then, you've got to gently pull apart the book by its covers, which will open it into a small pocket dimension. Put the prize in there - it won't get broken or lost - and push the book's covers back to seal it up and leave for the next task."
Glancing around the table, an amused Willow noted the rather glazed expressions everyone now had over hearing the words 'another dimension.' Really, did they think she was going to do something so trivial like having them search through the entire castle in a completely ordinary scavenger hunt? Nope, not a chance. This was going to be a Scooby Scavenger Hunt, which meant it had to be totally unique, weird to the max, and having the mischievous prospect of some hilarious mishap being inflicted upon the players. In fact, it was almost certain the latter would occur to someone…
Biting her tongue to prevent a witch's genuinely evil cackle from escaping, a straight-faced Willow started talking again. "Now, the camera's for recording when you're told to do something. Either of you can use the book or camera, which will always stay with you, and both of these give you the same magical protections. First, wherever you appear, you'll be taken for granted and look like you belong there, to a certain extent. Sometimes you'll have to sneak around and stay hidden, and of course, if you screw up or otherwise behave too oddly, you'll get noticed. If that happens, you can start all over. Either of you, just say the words, 'Do-over,' and you begin right from the first time you appeared there, so you can try again."
All there were now listening intently. Whatever their startled feelings about the surprise of where they were going, the New Council members could always put this aside when it came to the really important stuff. At least Willow's instructions were a lot more understandable than the last couple of prophecies they'd been involved with over the years, so the teams continued to pay rapt attention to the scarlet-tressed witch still speaking.
"However, this leads to the main part of the game. You won't know how many tasks you have to complete, or how the others are doing. There's just one thing which'll be known to everyone: the game's time. All the books and cameras will have on them a synchronized magical countdown from twenty-four hours to zero. During then, you need to perform as many tasks as possible. Whoever's done the most tasks at the end of the game wins. Which means you'll have to start strategizing right away about time. A certain task might take too long, or if you need to do it over again, it'll still use up more time. At any point of this, you can say, 'Skip to the next task,' and you'll go on to the next dimension. You won't have done that task, so it won't count for you at the end of the game. There's also no guarantee your newest task can be done in less time than the previous one to make up for the time you lost. You'll just have to decide for yourself. Oh, by the way, if you skip more than three tasks, you forfeit the game and wind up back here." At those final words, Willow indicated with a tilt of her head the conference room.
After a few more moments of the witch smiling around the table but not otherwise opening her mouth, the rest there now took the chance of asking their own questions, in an overlapping babble from numerous people. Among these were:
From Andrew Wells looking worried, "Is it safe?"
An irascible Buffy grumbled, "Just where are we going, anyway? It better have a bathroom, 'cause I'm not gonna hold it all day!"
Giving his glasses a good polishing, Giles agreed, "About that rather tactless point, you haven't mentioned any other, er, bodily needs, such as rest, food, and drink, Willow."
Raising her voice over the others, Vi impatiently snapped, "I've got work to do! Can we quit anytime we want?"
During all this, the witch just stared back in silence at her interrogators, a wide grin upon her face. When the others paused at seeing that, a man's sardonic voice slipped into this hiatus.
"Wils," called out Xander, going on when he knew his fellow Sunnydale survivor was aware of him, "Is that all you're gonna say?"
Her grin now reaching from nearly ear-to-ear, Willow happily nodded.
Giving an half-exasperated sigh, Xander allowed his own lips to twitch in faint amusement. He then abruptly stood up, to reach across the table and collect in both hands, apparently at random, a book and a video camera resting there. During this, a wary look had been sent by Xander towards the other end of the table, where Willow was brightly eyeing him, but otherwise remaining mute. Straightening up, the man with a black patch across his face then glanced at what he was holding. In small glowing white numbers, on both his book and camera, there showed 23:59:55.
"C'mon, Kennedy," called out Xander, tossing the camera across the table to the startled Slayer seated there, who unthinkingly caught it. Staring with astonishment at her team partner, the young woman heard him gleefully say, "Looks like the game's starting! Let's beat the others!"
Before Kennedy could actually respond to this, Xander now opened the book, and without any fuss or bother, both he and Willow's girlfriend vanished into thin air from the room.
There was a moment's shock which caused everyone else to freeze motionless in their own chairs, until the competitive instincts common to all there kicked into high gear. Hasty lunges across the table resulted in eight other people collecting their own books and cameras, and without further ado, Willow Rosenberg was completely alone in the conference room.
At that point, she finally allowed herself a good, long belly-laugh, continuing this even when her stomach started hurting.