2. Fight Smarter

As he paced outside of Hoffman’s office door Eddie could feel the last traces of Pi’s molten core washing about within hipbones. Now and again he also picked up a faint whiff of the mixed juices that still coated his wet pubic hair. It had been the best way to wake up to followed by a hurried drive-thru breakfast on the way into town. The college’s president had been gracious in making sure to pencil in a meeting with him this morning despite so many other pressing concerns and there was no way in hell he was going to miss it. Then when the geek arrived the snotty secretary at the front desk informed him that the president was running late but he could wait if he wished. That was a quarter of an hour ago. Eddie sighed and ran a hand through hair again wondering if he should even be doing this? Maybe this was a sign from the God that he was sort of actively working against that it wasn’t a good idea? Eddie scratched at his forehead.

“Well it would seem that something heavy rests on your brow young Mr. Vance.” Hoffman’s jolly voice didn’t really match his lean frame trapped within dark suit. It was well cut to the lines of his body and it was clear he took care of himself. The warlock however could not hide his age. Still there was a spark of vigor in firm brown eyes. “Let us sit and chat over it for a bit. I have to apologize for running late but I am afraid that there was a pressing matter at breakfast that could not wait.”

“Not a problem Mr. Hoffman.” Eddie shook his better’s outstretched hand. “Or do I have to call you President Hoffman or? I never know with English manners and all that you know?”

“Oh I know. Mr. Hoffman will just been find, Edward.” After the customary greeting he patted the geek’s shoulder he worked on unlocking his door. As he opened it wide Hoffman made a gesture for the fellow to head in first. He marveled at how lucky the out of shape Yankee was to land such a hot woman as Eloise. Once Eddie was in he closed the door behind them. “Please, have a seat. Would you like a spot of tea?”

The budding genius turned attention away from the bauble’s dotting the man’s desk back to the president himself and nodded. “Just some water, please.” Then down into one of the really comfortable chairs Eddie folded. “Thanks again for taking the time to see me, I appreciate it.”

“Oh not a problem.” Hoffman raised a finger asking for a moment and called the front desk to place in the order. Once the phone was set down his even more luxurious seat creaked when he sat and leaned back. It was good to be the president. “I hope everything between you and Miss Baker is going well?”

Knowing he was blushing Eddie coughed into curled fingers. “Just how much do you know about that anyway?”

“Ah I understand she is a demon who is working with you on sort of mathematics project.” Plainly that didn’t strike the balding man as anything odd or warranting concern. He grinned like a college kid and leaned forward. “By demon I mean succubus.”

“I see.” Eddie laughed as he flushed deeper. “Yes she’s a succubus and no this doesn’t have anything to do with us. It’s interesting to know that you are in the know, you uh… know?”

Hoffman joined him in laughing and shook his head. The officer door creaked open and the dour receptionist set down their cups before offering a nothing more than polite smile and heading back to her desk. Only the wall clock ticked as the two men enjoyed refreshment. “I know quite a bit young man. There is no way that I could be in charge of the school if I was not a practitioner after all? Not to worry though your cousin’s father and I were good friends when we were your age and still are.” Hoffman winked. “Your secrets are safe with me.”

“Good, good. Well then. I guess I should get right to the point, unless there was something else you wanted to talk about?” Water set aside Eddie shifted in his chair and tried to get comfortable. It wasn’t hard with the very pleasant man on the other side of the desk.

For his part Hoffman just smiled and seemed to think on the student’s question. He made an ah sound and changed to a languid lounging position. The cup of tea remained perched in hand and even in this lazy posture he still held quite a bit of dignity. “A few if you do not mind me probing. I understand that these matters are really between yourself and Eloise but I cannot help if I am a curious man. I have to watch out for the school after all first and foremost and everyone that works within it.”

“It’s okay, really.” Eddie bobbed his head in understanding. “Fire away and I’ll answer what I can?”

“Well is what you and Eloise working on anything dangerous? You are not trying to open a direct portal to hell or anything are you?” Even as the president pursed his lips and those jovial eyes took on a stern that only a lifetime as a teacher could hone. He reached out and curled fingers over the skull at the edge of his desk. Just a simple spell and he’d have hints of this nerd was lying.

“No! Hell now.” A fresh laugh popped out as Eddie shook his head and took back up the water. “Nothing like that. It’s a mathematical sort of thing from what she says, sir. Nothing that is going to cause harm here but she wants to help me make the next big breakthrough when it comes to mathematics and physics. You know what I mean, like discovering quantum physics or some principle there in. I don’t really know yet though I have…”

Hoffman’s fingers eased away from the human remains. He didn’t need it to tell that Eddie was a trust-worthy fellow even if that was the oddest trait to find in someone that worked with a demon. It made the headmaster wonder what exactly Pi was up to but she had been so very honest as well. “You have what? Again anything I can do to help?”

“I keep having these I guess the best word would be episodes.” While he was a bit uneasy about opening up to a man he hardly knew Eddie figured it was better than bringing this to Pi or Abby and having them worry. He finished off his water in smooth gulps. The cup was run back and forth in his hands. “I get distracted, overwhelmed from all this noise in my head. I don’t mean like sound but it just gets cluttered with fragments of mathematical concepts from I don’t know where. It’s like there’s this rainstorm of numbers.”

“Interesting. Is that how Eloise inspires people? It seems like an odd way to go about it after all.” While stroking at his chin Hoffman considered growing a thin goatee as he observed the Eddie’s pitiful attempt at a beard. Ah to be a young and silly man again.

“I don’t think so? She’s never mentioned it. I just, well when I start thinking about some concepts that I don’t get that might be able to be explain by math they flood in.” Eddie sighed deeply. “The bits and pieces of formula I mean. It’s like I don’t know-“

Hoffman cut him off with a tease. “Divine revelation?”

“Or the opposite I guess.” After shaking his head Eddie pulled a hand through his hair and was glad that he wasn’t bald like the poor man across from him. That really would suck. He took in a light breath. “Should I bring it up to her you think? I mean you have more experience than either Abby or I at this stuff.”

“Eh comes with age really.” Hoffman grinned and made a low sound of thinking. “I would if it gives you some concern. I would think if it is her normal method that she would have told you what to expect. Eloise does seem a rather intelligent woman to match her loveliness.”

“Yeah, she really is.” With a tilt in his seat Eddie smiled in a smitten fashion. The man realized how lucky he was. “I’ll talk to her, thanks.”

“What is you think on when this all happens?” The old man leaned forward and his expression filled with concern. His elbows rested against the edge of the desk and fingers belt a nest for strong chin to rest in.

“Silly things like if there is a heaven and a hell where are they? I mean in a logistical and spatial relationship to the known universe?” Eddie’s tone lilted with musing. Then he realized that the president was just giving him a rather blank look so he waved off the idea of it. “I know science and religion don’t mix.”

“Not very well, no. I would think that such places are outside the preview of science, Mr. Vance.” The old warlock clucked his tongue before taking a sip of tea. “Faith and that sort of thing. They do not need to be explained away.”

“I guess that is why the world grows a bit more atheist every day though.” Eddie offered back gently. “It is easier to turn to things we can prove, we can quantify, that we know exist.”

“Well that I think it is a popular thing to hate religion these days. Not that the God lovers haven’t earned it by doing as they do eh?” The leather chair creaked as Hoffman rose and moved to look over a painting on the side of the room that had to be an old map, or a good imitation of one. Fingers ran over parts unexplored. “The one thing that every holy church no matter the creed or race has never fully realized is that we are human and when you give us power we will abuse it.”

“I guess?” Eddie just shrugged.

“Trust me on this. Perhaps not every man will chose to fulfill their own desires at the expense of others but once they are part of an institution that makes giving into sin all the easier.” Hoffman traced a fingertip along inaccurate shoreline. “The power of being anonymous.”

As his mouth went dry Eddie started to wonder if this was the beginning of a rambling confession. Maybe he had just seen too much crime drama back in the states. “I can see that, sir.”

“Good, it will do you well to remember that.” Hoffman nodded before moving to sit at the edge of his desk and gave an honest smile. “Now what is it I can do for you?”

“Ah.” Eddie cleared his throat and suddenly clammed up. The silence lasted for a good minute or three as he shifted uneasy in chair. Was this the right thing to do? Eyes closed and the nerd took in deep breaths. Yes, yes it was. With any luck he’d make things better for Woody, not worse. “I’ve got a good friend here at the university that’s in a heap of trouble and I’m not sure how to get him out of it without making it much worse. I think you’re the only one with the power to help sort it out.”

“Ah.” Hoffman nodded. “So let us start off the record?”

“Thanks.” Eddie rubbed at his throat as he took in slow breaths and figured out where to begin. “It’s about the rugby team and how they stay on the eligibility list, well a few of the players anyway. I don’t want to accuse the whole team after all.”

“Let me guess, Chadwick and his cronies.” A long suffering sigh rolled from Hoffman. “What have they done this time? It seems like it’s not the usual after all though as this has to do with the eligibility list.”

“Someone is doing a lot of the homework for them, under duress.” Eddie tensed up. “My friend that I mentioned and I want to make sure they are found out and dealt with but he doesn’t go down with the ship.”

“So they are bullying some poor fellow to do their class work for them? That’s what you’re saying?” With a shake of his head Hoffman again motioned for one moment and picked up his phone. It took two passes of scanning over laminated sheet beside it to find the extension he was looking for.

“Exactly. He doesn’t want to do it but they’ve been roughing him up if he doesn’t. I mean I suppose I could go to the police for assault and all that.” The mathematician nodded. “I just think it’s best if this is handled quietly by the school for everyone’s sake though.”

The comment got the headmaster to smirk. “Something I greatly appreciate that, Mr. Vance. In the end our lifeblood is based on our reputation. I’m not surprised that Chadwick isn’t doing his work. While his mother is as bright as she is evil well, she picked his father for good looks and old money not brains.”

That made Eddie chuckle.

“It’s true you know. Really I am not the person who needs to hear about this, well not by myself at any rate. One moment if you please?” Hoffman sipped quietly and nearly finished off his tea before turning and finally dialing. One could easily guess that he spent far too much of his day connected to the appliance.

“Sure thing.” Eddie dipped his chin and tried to take steady breaths. Hopefully Woody wouldn’t be too pissed off with him. One ankle was rolled with a light crack. So far so good at any rate.

After a quiet but jovial conversation Hoffman nodded and hung up. He offered Eddie a hand up and a smile. “Come along then. We are going to talk to the athletics director here at the school, not to worry he is a fine man. Have you ever met Dr. Galbraith?”

“I’ve heard the name before but that is the best I can do.” Eddie stood and tugged at the bottom of his t-shirt. He tried his best to put a face to that name or any real facts but just couldn’t. It wasn’t like Abby or the Presidents ran in those sorts of circles. Maybe he needed to get out more.

Hoffman patted the young man’s shoulder and moved to the door. “Well he’s expecting us presently.”

“Ah. Is he one of well us?” Saying us didn’t feel quite right so Eddie quickly continued letting words roll over themselves. “I mean is he in the know?”

“He is.” The president nodded with a quiet smile. “Not one of the older bloodlines but from a rather famous family out of London. I suspect that does not mean much to you though, does it?”

“Not really.” The two men shared a grin and slipped out.

The campus was quiet as the pair tracked across it engaging in idle chit chat. The small talk for the most part consisted of Hoffman inquiring about American customs and idioms with amusement for how things were in the colonies. If there was a more consistent running gag between all the English Eddie had met he couldn’t recall it at the moment. The weather was shaping up to be an overall good day with only a few puffy whites in the sky. Eddie’s mood down-shifted as soon as they crossed onto the quad that wasn’t and the feeling of being watched tickled at the back of his senses. On such a clear morning he could see the faces of the five bronze statues spread out equidistant across the yard. It wasn’t like any of them were staring at him with inanimate malice or anything but he still couldn’t shake the impression of intense scrutiny. Hoffman didn’t notice the student’s waxing away from cheerful and continued his questions.

In need of even one scrap of reassurance Eddie turned his head to glance at the library’s windows. He didn’t catch a fleeting glance of Pi but instead the full court press of her curves crushed against the window and her crimson lips curved to a smile. Once the demoness realized that she had been spotted Pi waved excitedly and bounced a bit. Plump breasts barely restrained by crisp white shirt pillowed then rubbed against the glass. By the time Hoffman looked over Hell’s librarian was drawing a heart on the window with one finger. She blushed red and gave the president a fitful wave before disappearing from view.

What else could Hoffman do but laugh and give the young man beside him a nudge. “She seems smitten with you, Mr. Vance.”

“She does?” It wasn’t as much a question as Eddie wanted it to be. He shrugged hoping to let the query fall by the wayside. Hoffman was apparently content to let it lay there and after another nudge pointed out the small building off the side of cricket field where one class or another was at play. The pair veered off in that direction but not after Eddie checked over his shoulder. It wasn’t when Pi hid embarrassed that the feeling of being watched stopped but instead the moment the mathematician stepped off of the quad. Sketching around the edge of the field Hoffman shot out a smile and wave to some of the players who called to him but forwent offers to join in the game.

At the door the balding gent only knocked as he was opening it. “Alastair?”

“Yes, Alfie come on in would you.” The voice that called from deeper within the building was chipper but followed up by a grunt. “And roll up those sleeves you old bugger. I could use a bit of help sorting these things.”

Hoffman rolled his eyes after giving Eddie an amused look and slipped in. The president didn’t have to worry because Eddie wasn’t going to be calling him Alfie any time soon. The interior of the athletics building really didn’t match the rest of St. Agatha’s. The lobby on the other side was no doubt richly decorated in cedar and dark hues that spoke of tradition and old money. If one took the back entrance there was rack after rack of sports equipment fastidiously stored so players could access them as needed. The walls were littered with calendars of seasons long past and of team photos ranging from this year’s to one where even the great grandchildren of the men involved were departed. Along the central pillar was yet another carving of the school’s spiritual patron gripping at withered hand and eyes turned upward in suffering. Eddie shuffled his feet.

“Oh no you’re helping too lad!” Alastair Galbraith waved him over while gesturing at the lacrosse sticks that needed to be taken out of box and hung up for Hoffman to take care of. The two men shared a chuckle and a shrug before the president got to work despite of his fine suit. Eddie grinned small and nodded. On his way over to be of some assistance he took time to drink in this Galbraith fellow.

First and foremost the man wasn’t built like nor had the same aura of most jocks Eddie had known. Oh Alastair was certainly athletic but in a tall and refined manner without any hint of an ounce of clumsiness in his form. He couldn’t be a day under forty but clearly would be able to keep up with man half his age and had more style to boot. Short blonde hair was arranged in a distinct metro way and even though he was in a track suit bearing the school’s logo and colors it was arranged with flare. A whistle hung around his neck on a chord of knotted leather and Eddie quickly realized that the man’s inquisitive emerald green eyes were doing the same thing – sizing him up.

“So Vance is it?” The doctor raised his chin before offering out a hand with a few sticks held in place by its forearm and a dazzling smile. There was something at the edges of the man’s mannerisms that Eddie couldn’t quite put a finger on yet. They were fluid and graceful for a man. “Doctor Alastair Galbraith, pleasure. Alfie here tells me you’ve got some dirt on our bad boys of rugby eh?”

“I take it you’re not too fond of them either then?” Eddie did his part to help and was glad he didn’t have run twenty laps with these two or anything else more strenuous than help clean up. PE had never really been his strong suit.

Galbraith was quick to grin and wink. His face had a thin beard that was incredibly maintained and traced the edge of jaw line with artistic perfection. The man settled weight all on one leg. “No more fond than a man would be of a rock in his shoe, Mr. Vance. So tell me what the little buggers have been up to this time please?”

“Inflating their grades by having others do the work.” For a moment Hoffman piped up before taking the sticks from his colleague. Clearly the men enjoyed a friendly relationship then again it was hard to imagine the president not getting along with most people.

“I was asking the lad here, Alfie. Stop trying to hog all the cute ones for yourself.” The sweats clad man gave his boss a tease who in turn gave him a strong nudge with the side of a lacrosse stick. Galbraith ignored the poke and batted it away before resting back on a pillar and folding his arms. His gaze waxed back to Eddie. “Well?”

For a moment the nerd just blinked. Well that cleared up the ‘is he British is or is he gay question’. Eddie rocked on his feet as hands went deep into jeans pockets. “My friend has been bullied into doing class work and cheat sheets for Richard Chadwick and a few of his friends on the team. I’ve seen them intimidate him with my own eyes and well, something has to be done. I just don’t want to get my friend in trouble.”

“Telling the truth and wanting to protect a mate? I dare say those are two rather fine goals there Mr. Vance.” The metrosexual pushed off of column and waved him on toward a side office with a sigh. “Unfortunately I can’t do much with just hearsay as much as I’d like to see those buffoons out of my hair. You can’t imagine how much trouble they cause me this last year. Still their couches stand by them as do the boosters. It’s a pain in the ass.”

“That’s too bad to hear. So what do I need to do?” Eddie blinked and followed. Hoffman on the other hand just grumbled and continued to do work beneath him. Alastair’s office was sparsely populated: he had a pair of clean filing cabinets with a few perfectly stacked books on top, an immaculate desk and pair of chairs. Over the room’s only window with its bamboo blinds was a fencing blade surrounded by plaques and mounted trophies.

Alastair didn’t rest on his laurels but went right to the drawer he needed and pulled out a form before tilting over his desk on one foot and snatching a pen. Both were offered over to the geek. “Easy. Just fill out this official complaint so I can out it in my records. You don’t need to mention your friend by name on here but I need to know. If they’re forcing him to do this sort of thing I’m sure I can get Alfie to cut him some slack. Really President Hoffman is a bit softy.”

“Okay then, thanks. Um.” After shifting about from foot to foot Eddie moved to the nearest chair. There he started to do as told. The form wasn’t anything more than a few basic questions on photocopied sheets and hardly looked to be anything official. For now it would have to do. “Woodrow Munn. That’s the man they’re getting to do this for them.”

“Oh the anime kid.” Alastair took time to lounge against one of the filing cabinets and fold arms across his chest. He mulled on one back tooth. “Nice enough fellow, he was in one of my fencing classes actually but couldn’t get into the proper mindset. He was too taken with hacking and slashing to understand the grace and restraint. It was plain though that his mind was as sharp as any blade. I’m sorry to hear he’s gotten into so much trouble.”

“Me too. I’d say he’s smarter than this but I’ve got a feeling Woody’s been picked on for most of his life and just sort of relents to any bullying.” Eddie’s shoulders slumped. Otherwise he continued writing and wondered if he should refer to Miss Baker being there or not. His lips twitched.

“A rough time that. Does he still doodle? Well I shouldn’t say doodle I suppose because some of the stuff I did see was far better than I could ever hope to be.” The personable jock smiled. “A piece of advice though, just be there for him but don’t push eh? Likewise watch out for any lady or gent he hooks up with. Far too often folks like Woodrow seek out bullies in their personal life too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks again.” Eddie nodded and stopped writing. The internal debate about how much information to give was still raging. “So you’ve dealt with bullies a lot then?”

“Eh. I wasn’t always the most athletic kid. When I was younger my mother had a bit of a complex when it came to things being clean and as a result I was sick more often than not.” Galbraith sighed but in a good-natured way and shook his head. Infernalist families were apparently like any other. “So until I took up football and later fencing I had my fair share of being pushed around. I know a thing or two.”

A small ‘ah’ popped out of Eddie as he set the pen down and blew out a long breath. “I see. Is it alright if I fill this out at home later? I have a few questions for others that were around at the time. I don’t know if they want to get involved or not.”

“Well it does seem that you were in a bit of a row over it?” The fencer sported a smirk then taped at the side of his own lip.

The nerd’s tongue subconsciously brushed at the wound. He quickly coughed to cover it up. Eddie’s eyes wandered back up to the foil and trophies beside them. One looked suspiciously like an Olympic medal. “Not over that but yes Richard and I had words. He trounced me pretty easily afterwards.”

“Ah well he is built to hurt people and has that sort of mindset.” There wasn’t any question forthcoming if Eddie was really just out looking for revenge by reporting this. As far as Alastair was concerned if that was the case it just didn’t matter. Any chance to take the Chadwicks down a notch after all was a delight. “So just be careful and don’t get on the wrong side of his fists again.”

“I don’t intend to. So what are you going to do then?” Curiosity flitted across the nerd’s verdant gaze.

First and foremost the athletic director thought on the question. Down he sank to lean against his desk and glanced at the paper. Then another pen was picked up as well as a post it note in case any ideas struck him. “Well it is just an informal complaint at this point to go into the file so there is not much that I can do. However I will have a word with the teachers that Richard and Woodrow share as well as take a peek to see what he might be doing too well at. From there it’s just a matter of making sure Richard’s work is monitored and that he knows about it, just to make his life miserable.”

“You really don’t like him very much do you?” As far as Eddie felt the question didn’t really need to be asked. It slipped from his lips anyway.

“I don’t fancy him, his mother or the rest of his inbreed clan.” With a huff Dr. Galbraith tipped to his feet. “Let us just say that their attitude when it comes to those of us with an alternative lifestyle is absolutely backward and barbaric. They also have no problem using epithets related there in at the drop of a hat.”

Eddie made a face. “Oh, sorry to hear that. I’ll make sure not to slip up there either okay? American slang’s full of it though.”

“I know. I did a stint over there back in my younger days.” The swordsman snorted. “Believe me I know. Well if there’s not anything else? Oh is there a number I can contact you at?”

That was something that Eddie was pleased to provide and jotted it down on a scrap of paper for the well kept man. Then it was idle chit chat all the way back to where Hoffman waited. The president’s piercing gaze roamed over an old photo with him adrift in a sea of teammates that had all moved on now. Memories were a powerful thing.

“All sorted out then?” Hoffman asked.

“Getting there Alfie, getting there.” With a shrug the fit fellow gave Eddie a gesture of chin toward the door. “Well I’m sure that you’ve got things to get back to there Mr. Vance and it’s been a pleasure to talk with you. I’ll get that form soon I hope but the President and I have things to discuss.”

“Okay. Well thank you very much for your time.” The president was offered a handshake first before the brown haired lad did the same for Dr. Galbraith. Smiles and goodbyes were passed around and then off Eddie went. He wasn’t sure if everything would work out in the end but this was a start.

Once the latent whiz kid was out of sight Alastair turned to his friend and leveled a serious look at him. Hands went to almost boyish hips and plucked eyebrows formed a straight line.

“What?” Hoffman’s tone wasn’t exactly honest. “He’s got some pretty interesting people working with him. People it would be wise to get on the good side of.”

“What sort of people would those be, Alfie?” The lean man hopped up to sit on a table edge with as much spry skill as any teen athlete. Clearly he was interested to know all there was to know and ready to aid his president in any way he was able. Even if they both served Hell they had never fallen prey to the fratricide so many others had. That was a loser’s game, not the way of their Circle.

“Demons, Alastair, Demons. He’s got a succubus watching over him and I had another’s imp stop by this morning at breakfast to try and get her Mistress a temporary position here on campus.” Plainly Hoffman didn’t know of he should be bemused or amused.

“Demons? Really?” Alastair let his brow furrow deeper. “This is going to be a mild spot of trouble you do realize? Where ever they gather others are sure to follow.”

“The Host.” A slow nod punctuated Hoffman’s unease.

“Well it shall at the very last make our lives a bit more interesting. What do the other covens know?” The sports fitness expert’s brows relaxed then perked. “If Chadwick and her society suspect anything they are going to make a grand mess of it.”

“I know. Trust me I know.” Hoffman sighed deeply and gave an uneasy look back toward the center of campus. “Besides the Scarlet Sisters because his cousin has returned to their fold I do not think the information is that wide spread. Do you think it a wise idea to let our allies know of these developments now and rally the troops?”

“Better now than have to scramble later. We’ll just have to be cautious in doing so.” The deep sigh was joined and both men set into thinking deep. “Is Mr. Vance a warlock?”

“No. He does math.” Wryness bored its way through Hoffman’s apprehension.

Outside Eddie gave the quad that wasn’t a wide berth for fear of feeling that odd sensation once more. It wasn’t a sensation he wanted to dwell on. The paper was folded up and set away in pocket but still the nerd’s stomach washed with nervous energy. It wasn’t like he had classes today either so slipping off to do some shopping or heading home to play a video game were both clear choices. His eyes traced to the library window Pi had been pressed up against. It would be best to talk to her about all this no matter how much more agitated that made his gut.
Forced to steel himself Eddie headed off in that direction while the thing in the pentagram watched and plotted. A crackle of golden energy licked at the base of each bronze statue before quickly dissipating.

To be concluded

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