"Angry?" Tori's voice wavered. "Belthor, I'm no one's quitter, but I can barely stand. I can't go another round and expect to win."
"We don't have to kill him," Belthor protested. "We have to force him back through the portal. We just need to close it, now."
"He's on this side," Agnete protested. "Killing him in the material world leaves his essence in the material world. And we cannot lure him back through the portal - there's no way he's foolish enough to fall for any trick we can muster."
"How can we force him back through, then?" Belthor demanded.
"There is no way," Agnete said. "We can fight him until we drop from exhaustion, and even when we strike him down, he will reappear in moments where we slew him." She leaned on a tree. "And I do not have a second round in me any more than Tori does."
"Neither of us have staffs any more," Sam pointed out. "We can close the portal with a big enough surge of energy, but only if we can get that energy inside it and tear it open from within - and that's going to be pointless if all we do is destroy our only way to lock Char away."
"But we can't make him go in!" Agnete sucked in air. "This is all my fault. I did this...what was I thinking? Now, because of me, we are stuck facing a foe we cannot defeat-"
"You're forgetting something, Agnete. There is a way."
Belthor turned to regard Walker. The big man stood very still in the cloud of debris, tinted red by the lights in the sky above like everything else.
"What are you talking about?" Belthor asked him. "Agnete's the expert. She said there's no way-"
"No. She said there was." Walker's eyes were dark. "Char likes possessing people. That's what he tried and do to Tori, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Agnete said. Her eyes widened a moment later. "No. You cannot be serious."
"He possesses someone, and you strike that someone down. What happens to Char?" Walker shook his head. "He gets sent back to his room."
"What are you suggesting?" Belthor demanded. "That we give him someone? That we kill this person and-"
"We ain't all leaving this plateau," Walker replied, voice low. "Someone's got to be the bait, son. Someone has to draw him in and let him take over, and then the rest of you've got to finish off that someone and put a fire under closing that door to Hell."
"That's not an option," Belthor insisted.
"It's the only option." Walker shrugged. "I've died before. It ain't so bad. Never with a god in my bones, though, so I figure this one'll be a new adventure."
"But...no!" Belthor stared through wide eyes. "Walker-"
"Just so we're clear, I ain't askin' your permission," the big man said. "If a man wants to die for some crap he don't even believe in, that's his gods-given right, ain't it? And I would know, I think, about dyin' for stupid stuff. I've done it more than you." He cracked a smile. "Killin' me ain't killed me yet."
"Belthor...he's right," Sam murmured. "We can't stop Char any other way."
"Maybe you are right, but you are also wrong!" Agnete shook her head wildly. "This is my mess! I did this, not you! If anyone is sacrificing her soul to save this world, it should be me! Not you, who tried to stop me from getting this far-"
"You ain't gonna come back, though, is you?" Walker asked. "Only logic, Frosty. And besides, you've got that magic mumbo in your veins. What's the god gonna do to Team Stupid over here if he takes you over?" He snorted. "Protec flicked me around like a ragdoll, so I figure even idiots like Belthor, Tori and Sam can probably take care of me if you help 'em out a ton, sweets."
"But..." Agnete stared through wide eyes.
"We'll find another way," Belthor insisted. "I...I'll do it-"
"No. You've got to close the door, ain't you?" Walker asked. "I can't do none of that. And of the people on this bluff, who's got a staff left?"
"...Agnete can use it-"
"How're you going to get that much power in the damn thing, kid?" Walker asked. "You gonna blow bubbles when you're in there? She ain't never been a living battery before. Maybe it's easy, maybe it ain't, but tagging in a rookie when the fate of the world's in the balance never seemed a good half-time strategy change to me."
"Aye." Sam nodded slowly. "He's right again, Bel. The door is us."
"Which means you lovely ladies get to go to town on me," Walker said, glancing to Tori and Agnete. "Fire and ice. There's worse ways to spend a night." He managed a smile that belied his coarse words. "Don't hold back none. Promise me?"
Tori sniffed. "Okay."
Agnete shook her head. "I have to do this. I have to atone-"
"I ain't giving you that option, girl," Walker replied.
"You don't have to do this," Belthor said: his final attempt to wring sense out of the horror his life had become. "Walker-"
"Figure I'm alive for some fool reason," the man said. "If it was so I can actually go to Hell like so many people have suggested...I hear the weather's much warmer than this. I'll send you postcards."
"The instant Char takes him over, we have to take him out," Tori said. "Sam, you and Belthor wait for your moment. Don't interfere. Especially you." She poked Sam hard. "You'll have to give Belthor every volt you have."
"Yes, ma'am." Sam met her eyes levelly.
"But you can't do anything until I'm good and gone," Walker insisted. "Let the ladies finish the job. Then close that damn door and make at least one of my deaths mean something." He glanced at Agnete. "You've got destiny, elf-girl. You may not see it now, but you have destiny. I can see it swirling around your shoulders. The kid over there's gonna get you sorted straight out when this is over, just you wait and see."
Agnete couldn't make a sound. She moved her lips, though, and it only took Belthor a moment to realize what six letters she was mouthing over and over again.
The dark smoke started to pull inward toward the portal. Belthor sucked in breath as it began to spiral back into the miasmic cloud that had assaulted Tori, the glowing pinpricks of Char's hateful eyes looming in the dark.
"Well, then." Walker cracked his neck. "I guess that's the bell." He turned to Belthor. "I'll find you, when I come back. You hear that? This ain't the last you've heard of me."
"I...hope not." Belthor tried very hard not to weep, at least while Walker was looking. He knew he was failing, but the yawning sense of emptiness in his chest defied any attempt to subdue or conceal it.
I failed. He knew no one else would see it that way, but in his eyes...
"Keep out of trouble." Walker gave him and his friends one smile: a genuine, honest smile, without a trace of his trademark glare.
Then he turned, and he took ten deliberate strides toward Char.
"Hey!" he cried. "You takin' on new joiners, Mister Lord of Hell? It's occurring to me that I'd kind of like to live!"
Char's smoke whirled. Walker laughed once.
"I'm right here," he said. "Come and take me."
The darkness enveloped him in a mad rush. Belthor covered his eyes, and Tori and Agnete both winced. Sam set his teeth.
Then the smoke was gone, pouring inward, and all that was left was Walker.
Walker and his new black-glowing eyes.