April 268th, 2007.

In a bedroom in a sizable family apartment in reasonably nice part of the McCluresville neighborhood in the Zeroth City of the Loonited States, Net.ropolis...

A lumpy pile of blankets laid on the bed. At five minutes to eight, the dulcet tones of Barenaked Ladies floated through the air. Like a mythical sea beast, an arm emerged from the cozy depths of the blanketpile, catching the alarm clock in its grip and pulling it back into the warm darkness.

The comfortable mountain shuddered tectonically and collapsed in a great eruption of yawning young man. Casey von Aluminumfoil rose, scratching himself under the arm and peering blearily out the window. Yep – the chill of early spring was still in place. This would be Christmas Eve, if April hadn't been going for eight and a half times its normal length.

He blearily trudged to the shower. The hot water made him feel a bit more human (or a bit more mutant, anyway). As he was pulling his pants on, his phone rang. Oh, it was Pulls-Paper-Out-of-Hats Lad. He was easy to talk to – much more relaxed than most members of the Legion.

"Hey, Pete. What's up?" Casey blinked, then stuck a finger in his ear. "Er, sorry, my connection's on the blink – I thought you said I was the leader of the LNH!"

 __    __  __   __   __
|  |  |  \|  | |  | |  |          # 303
|  |  |      | |  |_|  | INFINITE LEADERSHIP CRISIS
|  |_ | |\   | |   _   |       PART TWO HUNDRED
|    || | \  | |  | |  |       AND SIXTY EIGHT
|    || |  | | |  | |  |
|____||_|  |_| |__| |__|   CASEY VON ALUMINUMFOIL
 ____     ____   __  __   __   ____   ____
|    \   /    \ |  \/  | |  | |    \ |    | BY
|  ___\ |  __  ||      | |__| |  ___\|  __|  ANDREW
| |     | |  | || |  | |  __  | |     \ \     PERRON
| |     | |  | || |  | | |  | | |      \ \    
| |___  | |__| || |  | | |  | | |___  __\ \   
|     / |      || |  | | |  | |     /|     | (C) 2013 
|____/  |______||_|\/|_| |__| |____/ |_____|
 _____  _____  ___  _____  ___  __  __  _____  _____
|     ||     ||   ||     ||   ||  \|  ||     ||     |
|  _  ||  _  ||   ||     ||   ||      ||     ||     |
| |_| || |_| ||   ||     ||   ||      ||     ||     |
|     ||     ||   ||     ||   ||      ||     ||     |
|  ___||    / | __||  ___|| __|| |\   ||_   _||  ___|
| |    | || \ ||__  \ \   ||__ | | \  |  | |   \ \
| |    | ||  || __|  \ \  | __|| |  \ |  | |    \ \
| |    | ||  |||__  __\ \ ||__ | |   ||  | |  ___\ \
|_|    |_||__||___||_____||___||_|    |  |_| |______|

Half an hour later, Casey was sitting uncomfortably in the big chair in Ultimate Ninja's office. His parents were on a couch on one side of the room, and Fourth Wall Lass was on the other.

"It's perfectly safe," said Fourth Wall Lass. "But at the end of the day, he'll be gone until the end of April – and we still don't know how long that's going to take."

His mom sucked air through her teeth and looked over at him. "It's your decision."

Casey rubbed the four-dimensional office toy that some other leader had left behind. He chewed on his lip. "I dunno. I think I have to - I mean," and here he clenched his hands, "that's what I'm here for. To help!" He looked into their worried faces. "Besides, y'know... they might figure out what the problem is today. Succeed where the other two-sixty-seven have failed!" He smiled with strained enthusiasm.

His parents looked at each other, and his dad leaned over and squeezed his hand. "Good luck, Casey."

"Give 'em hell!" his mom shouted as they left.

Casey ran his fingers through his hair and gave a deep sigh. "Okay. So who do we have left?"

Fourth Wall Lass took out a printout of the current roster. "We're down to less than half strength, including almost all of the popular characters. We've been calling in reserve members, substitutes, and the Legion of Pet.Heroes." She handed him the printout.

"Hrm. Okay." Casey riffled through it, trying to look thoughtful. "I assume the search for the answer to all this is running by itself."

"With what few research-capable members we have left. I've been trying to help, following up leads, but I can't use my full powers on it, so I'm running secretarial duties."

Casey nodded. He didn't ask whether it was because her powers had recently been boosted to dangerous, sanity-risking levels by the Rung of Revamp, or because the Writers said so. In the end, it came to the same thing. "Right. So what's going on right now that the leader of the LNH has to take care of?"

"Santa Claus."

"...Santa Claus?"

She opened the door. Outside was a jolly fat man with a big white beard in a red coat. He waved politely. She closed it again. "Santa Claus."

Casey opened his mouth. He raised a finger. He closed his mouth. He lowered his finger. "...okay, so Santa Claus. Very good." He waved a hand. "Show in Santa Claus."

Fourth Wall Lass chuckled. "Yes, sir." She disappeared out, and through the door stepped Merry Old St. Nick.

"So, Santa," said Casey, sitting up straight and steepling his fingers. "Or should I call you Mr. Kringle?"

"Whichever of those is the more comfortable for you, Casey," Santa said, taking Fourth Wall Lass's chair. "I must say, you don't seem too surprised to see me."

"Yes, heh, well. You're not the first person who turned out to be less fictional than I thought." Casey scratched the back of his neck. "Though I am surprised that you look just like the guy from the claymation specials. I'd have expected St. Nicholas to be, y'know, Turkish."

"Sharp thinking! In fact, that's why I needed to talk to the leader of the LNH – one of the few people cleared to know the secret of my organization."

"Your... organization? Like... the elves?"

Santa shook his head. "No. No, I speak of the great and august legion in whose name I work. The Seven Hundred Secret Santas!"

"DUN DUN DUNNNNN!"

"...thank you, Sing-Along Lass," said Casey. S-AL bowed and left the room. "So what you're saying is, there are seven hundred Santa Clauses?"

"Actually, right at the moment there's seven hundred and twenty-seven. Every archetype, you see, that exists in the minds of children, from Pere Noel to Sinterklaas. And that's the problem."

Casey blinked. "Er... I'm afraid I don't quite understand. You have... too... many?" He wished he was a bit better at pretending to know what was going on.

Santa smiled at him. That made him feel curiously better – but there was melancholy at the edges of those old eyes. "The number is not the problem; the problem is... one."

Suddenly it clicked. "Oh... it's everything that exists in the minds of children."

Santa nodded, a heavy sadness settling around his shoulders. "The children for whom Santa means bitterness, means pulling the belt even tighter, means that your mother won't let you see your father or your father resents you for having to spend money on presents that you didn't even want. The bringer of stress and fear and pain. Edgar Sorrow."

Casey sucked air through his teeth. "Awesome. But it's not Christmas... but you're going to tell me that that's also the problem."

"Very sharp indeed. Yes, that's the trick – the great battle to hold back Edgar Sorrow takes place at Christmas."

"You wouldn't think you'd have time for that, with all of the flying around and giving gifts."

"Ah, but the gifts and the battle are one and the same, you see? We are creatures of emotion and happenstance, and we, the seven hundred and twenty-seven, try to bend minds and events towards moments of singular joy that cannot be diminished, whereas Edgar Sorrow rages, clawing at the consciousness of those he can reach, trying to draw them into the darkness from which no joy can be seen. You understand?"

"I... think so?" Casey scratched his scalp. This was getting heady.

"But it doesn't work the same way in April. And his power has been growing, building, seeking release as it does every year. We began a ritual at midnight on the International Date Line to hold him back, but it won't hold forever. Casey..." Santa leaned over the desk, hand clenched. "We have to stop him!"

Casey took a deep breath. He pushed away from the desk (knocking over a stack of LNH Dice) and stood up. "You can count on the Legion of Net.Heroes!"

*****

Casey looked around the table. He'd assembled every specialist in magic and ritual that he could find and brought them together in hopes of stopping this threat to children everywhere.

...unfortunately, this amounted to precisely four people – two LNHers, a specialist they'd called in, and a kiwi. Explain-the-Joke Lass was also there, but only long enough to note that she could not be, as references to LNH20 would be anachronistic at this point in meta-continuity, before poofing in a cloud of transdimensional silliness.

Casey heaved a deep sigh. If only Mala was still here. But she'd been picked back in what would have been August, and he had to work with what he had.

"The thing is," said Library Lad, pulling books about Christmas folkore out of his sack and adding them to the already towering pile, "there isn't much out there that directly mentions Edgar Sorrow. He's not really the kind of thing people like to celebrate."

"I've only heard the name in whispers," said Trevor Blount, the Shoeceror, tapping his chin thoughtfully with a pointy elf boot. "Bad juju – able to channel the worst of not just your past, but everyone's who's ever believed in Santa."

"This 'Christmas'," said the Crimson @venger. "It is a solstice festival, yes?"

"Kiwi!" said Gertrude the Kiwi.

He could feel a headache coming on, he was sure of it. "Yes, Carmine."

"Kiwi, kiwi kiwi," said Gertrude, tapping her foot meaningfully on a book.

"I agree," said Library Lad. "We should concentrate on what we do know."

"Indeed," said the Crimson @venger, fingering her amulet and leaning back. "Conceptual beings, anthropomorphic incarnations, those who are conduits of emotion – what is most effective 'gainst them?"

"Cutting off the supply of emotions?" guessed Casey.

"Not going to be effective here, unless we can cheer up every sad kid in the world," said Trevor.

"Other way, then," said Library Lad, leaning in. "Overload him."

"But then t'will spill out into the psyches of children he's connected to," said the Crimson @venger.

"Kiwi kiwi?" said Gertrude.

"No, Gamer Boy got picked last week," said Library Lad.

They sat back, thinking furiously. Casey tapped his toes thoughtfully. Hmmmm. "Trevor, do you know of any types of shoe that affect emotional energy?"

Trevor considered for a moment. Flexing his fingers, he formed the Sigil of the Sundered Sole and plucked a pair of leather-and-brass boots out of the air. "The Boots of Rhythmic Reflection. They absorb emotional energy from the people around you – terrific for dancing to the beat."

"Kiwi!" shouted Gertrude, hopping up on the table. "Kiwi kiwi kiwi!"

"Really!" said Library Lad. "What's that?"

"Kiwi, kiwi kiwi. Kiwi!" She fluttered her wings. "Kiwi!"

"Y'know," said Trevor, "that's just crazy enough to work!"

"Hmmm! But how would we make such a thing happen in so short a time?" wondered the Crimson @venger.

Casey snapped his fingers. "I know just who to call!"

*****

A few hours later, the auditorium of the LNHQ was packed with people. Long tables had been set up with a smorgasbord of party food, and some Christmas classics were playing over the PA. Older ladies and gents played with small children. Around a table in the corner, people from sixteen to sixty were engrossed in a board game, and in the back, three old buddies were catching up.

Casey was just outside, talking into a cellphone. "Yeah— yeah, Aunt Heather, you can just come over in what you're wearing. No, don't worry, it's not potluck. Okay, cool, see you in a minute."

Down the hall, the teleport engines hummed, and Aunt Heather appeared in shimmering light. After a hug and an embarassing kiss on the cheek, she joined the others.

"Whew." Casey leaned against the wall. Staring off into the shindig, he saw his parents walking over. He waved wearily.

"Hey, Casey," said his mom. "Nice job on the family reunion!"

"Yeah," said his dad. "But you're sure everybody's gonna be safe?"

Casey stood, stretching and cracking his back. "Well, as far as we know, Edgar Sorrow can only attack your emotions – he can't physically hurt you. And the summoning circle Carmine's drawing could hold back a Greater Baron of Net.Hell." He shrugged. "But..."

His dad leaned over and hugged him. "Sokay. We trust you."

His mom put her hands on her hips and smiled. "Heading in yet?"

Casey's phone started playing 'Elf's Lament'. "Just a minute – gotta take this." His parents headed in and he answered the call. "Santa. What's up?"

"We can't hold him much longer," said Jolly St. Nick over a howling wind. "I hope you're ready to put your plan into action!"

"Well, I was hoping to get Uncle Graham – he really lights up a party." Casey looked into the festive auditorium. "But this should work. Let him rip!"

*****

Thirty-five hundred miles away, Santa shouted to Santa, Santa, and all the other Santas, "Okay, boys! It's a go!"

The festive holiday chanting ended, and the mile-wide wreath of holly shook with rage, cracking into thousands of woody splinters as a spirit of darkness rose up.

*****

Casey hurried over to the clear area in the middle of the floor where the Crimson @venger and Trevor Blount were channeling energy into a complex circle, runes drawn in coal dust. A plate of burnt cookies and a glass of sour milk were set in the center, along with the Boots of Rhythmic Reflection. "It's time!" he whispered, and they nodded.

He turned to face the crowd. "Good afternoon, everybody! Hope you're enjoying yourselves. In a bit, we'll be starting the prize raffle, but first, for your entertainment and not-quite-holiday cheer, we present a one-act play entitled 'The Vanquishing of Edgar Sorrow, Christmas in April Edition'." He turned to Trevor and the @venger. "Roll it!"

The PA system switched over to 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town', played backwards in a minor key. The two mages began singing along. Within the circle, black smoke swirled 'round and 'round. The crowd oohed and ahhhed, caught up in the spectacle of the moment.

A misty humanoid form began to coalesce, legs fading into view within the boots. Then with a dramatic WHUMPH, he was there – a sickly-pale wizened figure in a ragged coat and a moldy gray-brown beard, eyes burning like fireplace embers. With a ravenous howl he began to devour the spoiled food.

Casey brought his hand down, and the music stopped. He raised it, and another song began. 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' – the original Judy Garland version. With a big grin, he turned back to his audience. "Now we need your help! Everybody, sing along!"

His mom piped up. "Have yourself a merry little Christmas..."

His dad joined in. "Let your heart be light..."

The family picked it up, one by one. "Next year all our troubles will be out of sight..."

Edgar Sorrow gulped down the last of the awful cookies and glanced up. He sniffed the air, a puzzled expression on his creased, creaking face.

Casey took up the melody. "Have yourself a merry little Christmas! Make the yuletide gay!" He glanced to the circle. Was it working? "Next year all our troubles will be miles away!"

The bestial anti-Santa growled. He clawed at the invisible circle that surrounded him, long pointed fingernails striking sparks in midair. But it held.

Trevor and the @venger were harmonizing nicely with the crowd – he'd briefed Carmine on the lyrics beforehand. Good. Casey focused his telepathic powers on the circle. "Once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us, will be near to us once more!"

Edgar Sorrow howled, but it was muted, as if from far away. He grabbed the boots, trying to tug them off, but they held, metal glowing from within. It was working!

One last verse. Casey belted it out, a warm feeling suffusing his body. "Some day soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow." He looked around at his family. "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow!"

Edgar Sorrow's body began to crack, warm golden light pouring out of the breaks. He threw his head back and raged, but no sound came out, only pure light.

"So have yourself a merry little Christmas..." Casey took a deep breath. "Noooooooooooow!"

In a silent explosion, the figure of Edgar Sorrow shattered, and a wave of light flooded the room, passing through the walls, out of the building, the city, going 'round the world entire. When it cleared, he was gone, wisps of steam all that was left.

Casey let out his breath and took a bow. The crowd broke into wild applause! "Thank you, thank you... try the falafel... I'm gonna... sit down. Whew."

*****

That night, after everyone else had been teleported back home, Casey stood in his office. His parents, Fourth Wall Lass, the Crimson @venger, Library Lad, Trevor and Gertrude were all there.

"I gotta say, that was a nice plan," said FWLass.

Casey waved her off. "The plan was all Gertrude's. Channeling positive emotions through Edgar dispersed his form and sent off a wave of happiness that, Santa tells me, touched everyone he'd been connected to."

"A bit of yuletide contentment for all," mused the Crimson @venger.

"Kiwi!" said Gertrude, hopping from foot to foot.

"Five minutes to midnight," noted Library Lad.

"Casey..." said his dad. He squeezed his hand. "Good job."

His mom ruffled his hair. "Bet you're at least in the top five leaders."

Casey smiled. "Thanks." He squeezed both their hands. "You know I'm gonna be all right, right?"

His mom just smiled, melancholy but proud. His dad said, "Yeah, but we're still gonna miss you."

Casey winked. "I'll be back again someday."

*****

Author's Note: Whew! Well, I've been wanting to do ILC issues for the Digital JUMP! crew for a while, and I've been wanting to do another Christmas special, so! One of the fun parts of working during Infinite April is that you've got a reduced roster, allowing you to highlight obscure characters. Hopefully this was sappy enough for all of you. <3

Andrew "NO .SIG MAN" "Juan" Perron, tidings of comfort and joy~

< Men's Courses Will Foreshadow... Classic Legion of Net.Heroes