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To Preserve and Reach Back

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In retrospect, because centuries of 20/20 vision always brought the most clarity, Alucard simply should have requested that Sypha temporarily unlock the castle and move it perhaps a few hundred yards away from the Belmont Hold, then lock it down again. But at the time there was too much aftermath to process and the stress of gravity on a structure held up by wooden beams and dirt was only useful as a quip to alleviate a tense and terrifying moment. The years after were no better - there were immediate repairs to make, like new castle doors, fixing holes in the roof, and repairing every toppled bookshelf, clearing all the destroyed glass, and all the sundry damage that took under an hour to create; then there was the damage to the Belmont Hold which required a new staircase and a lot of creative ways to get rid of massive amounts of blood. Three lifetimes worth of repairs done all alone, because what else could this place be to the common man but a cursed tomb?

Now, lack of long term planning meant paying a price. Specifically, too much time reading up on the best historic preservation strategies, practical engineering solutions for basements with great stressors atop them and drawing up the plans, all in order to prepare for the required work. That work involved a six figure sum to have the appropriate supplies delivered, untold magical energy to summon a workforce to take care of the reinforcements, and a few pieces of rental equipment that were paid for with hard to trace money to make sure that there would be no trace to the spot where the castle and the hold stood. It was easy enough to transition into the modern age and present himself as a businessman of considerable wealth. It was harder to not leave a paper trail that might one day expose Alucard’s longevity to the masses.

The final price was the noise of construction that shattered the otherwise serene space that the castle and hold occupied deep in Romania. It wasn’t the highest, no, but the one that Alucard felt the most deeply. He could hear things coming from all directions most days. The noise made it harder to pick out intruders in the area.

Or employees coming up the road in their cars for a first day back after some time. It wasn’t until he heard a car door slam shut that Alucard rose to his feet and made his way to greet the other soul who he employed to manage the collections.

Ioana Vidraru was the fifth human to hold the title of a collections manager since it became apparent such a person was needed in 1897. She was a pint sized 34-year-old whose auburn hair was always pulled back and who seemed to be consumed by every single sweater she owned, and the rest of her constricted by leggings. Ioana had been around for ten years and responded to what Alucard knew to be an advertisement so brief that no less than five different Belmonts would declare it to be the sketchiest solicitation that they had ever witnessed. (All five, of course, would fail to realize what a tremendous self-insult that was. It was one of Alucard’s great regrets that Trevor did not exist in the era the term “self-burn” was created.) The posting requested a degree in museum studies, archives, or a comparable field and demanded absolute secrecy, plus the ability to act as the sole executor for an extremely private family estate. Skills with scanners and imaging software a plus. Ioana had replied immediately and didn’t balk at the remote area the job interview was to take place.

It was a positive sign, and that she took a single look at the Belmont Hold and demanded database statistics with a terrifying enthusiasm was even better. If she had ever figured out Alucard’s real nature (entirely likely; she grew up several towns over and Dracula wasn’t exactly obscure history), it never bothered her.

As it was, she was starting to make her way up the main hall’s staircase when Alucard finally appeared. She was dwarfed by the nondescript box that she carried, held not tucked neatly under her arms but resting on her forearms, precariously balanced.

“I see that Paris was successful,” Alucard said, taking the box immediately from the petite collection manager’s arms. “In more ways than one, I hope?”

Ioana nodded, pausing just long enough to rub at her forearms. “I was able to get an idea of what upcoming content management software would be ideal for combining the library and object catalogs into one, along with business cards. I’m still not sure I recommend merging the two catalogs, since they capture such different information, but it isn’t like your current systems don’t have custom modifications either.”

“Hm.” It was a noncommittal response, but then again, software was the secondary purpose of the Paris trip. Alucard’s footsteps echoed through the castle as he finished climbing the grand staircase, and made a sharp right to where he knew the first room with a long, flat table would be. “Rene is well?”

“Rene is...” Ioana said, trailing after Alucard into the room he picked. “Rene said that if you have any other important pieces for him to work on, you should send them to Paris now. He’s retiring soon.”

“Is it his eyes or his hands that are the problem?” The box was placed on the table carefully and Alucard made sure that none of the edges were hanging off of the table itself.

“Eyes, I think,” was the response, and Ioana walked around to the other end of the table. “I said I didn’t know if there’d be any more work soon, but made sure to ask for recommendations in case there’s a future emergency. If you have minor items you want to send out to test them--”

Alucard nodded idly. “In due time. Thank you, Ioana; it was good of you to get those suggestions now.”

“Seemed like a waste of time and your money if I didn’t,” Ioana replied with a shrug. Alucard was aware that she was watching him press a suddenly much too sharp fingernail to the packing tape and carefully run it down through the stuff. “I’d ask if you want a box cutter but...”

“...Much too dangerous,” was the reply as Alucard finished the box’s primary seem and lower half. He moved to the area where Ioana stood and finished it. “If you could get one of the flaps, please.”

Ioana did so, circling to her immediate right, leaving Alucard to take the left. There wasn’t a need to synchronize movements, but there was a need to make sure the damned box flaps stayed open as the two removed the acid free packing paper, and then Ioana held the box steady as the thing inside was lifted up. It was still covered in additional packing material of course, this layer a thin styrofoam type substance both meant to prevent scratches and ensure the packaged item stayed in place.

It wasn’t heavy, but Alucard felt a different weight from the thing in his arms. It made the moment or two that it took for Ioana to move the box off of the table feel like he was Atlas holding up the world. Once it was gone, the big rectangle that had been inside the box was placed down on the table and the tape that secured it was removed.

It was tempting to tear through the last layer like a small child when given something (anything, really) that resembled wrapping paper. But what was under there was so much more important and had to be handled with much more care. The packing material was peeled back, and Lisa Tepes stared back up at her son in all of her original glory, the centuries of sunlight and dust and fireplace smoke settling on the painting stripped away.

A good curator, a good collections manager, wouldn’t dare touch a newly restored painting with bare hands. Alucard did so out of instinct, and there was no noise or even disapproving glare from Ioana. She was looking out the window politely.

“The paperwork is....” Alucard began, eyes still fixed on the painting.

“With me, in my bag,” Ioana said, patting the grey totebag slung over her shoulder. Her eyes were still looking out the window. Ioana’s words moved at an all too fast pace, looking for an excuse to give the man privacy. “Along with digital images of the painting, detailed photographs of the cleaning process, and a full conservation report. Rene had a few recommendations too, since you decided against going the UV filtering glass over the painting. There’s duplicates of everything, so I’ll go put your copy on your desk, then get the other information filed. I’ll go get started.”

Alucard nodded. “Thank you. There’s estimates for what it would take to create an exact copy of the Belmont Index on your desk. Don’t go into the hold; the engineers are trying to get some of the new steel beams in today.”

“Got it.”

Ioana’s footsteps faded and faded quickly, a blessing. Alucard let out a heavy sigh, eyes taking in his mother’s portrait. He remembered when it was first completed and how there had been one of those arguments that was just gentle teasing about where it should be hung. The study. No, the library. No, the main entrance. A week of his parents moving the painting around on each other when they thought the other wasn’t looking had lead to Lisa putting the thing back in Dracula’s study where it had been the first time, ending the debate once and for all.

The same weight from earlier returned as Alucard picked the portrait up and began to walk it back to its original location. There wasn’t any sense of the burden increasing with every step, that was overly poetic language reserved for far more terrifying ways of carrying out one’s family duty than putting a painting back where it ought to be. This was simply respecting wishes and a sense of interior decoration, coupled with a reminder that it had been nearly 600 years since the painting had first been completed.

600 very long, quiet, tired years, coupled with a few months away in Paris being worked on by an art restorer. Both absences hurt.

Alucard opened the door to the study with his foot. Half-vampire or not, he didn’t have extra limbs to open doors, and he wasn’t about to juggle door handles and works of art. The door opened without a sound, and it was the easiest thing in the world to put the painting back on the hook. Once steady, the portrait required a single adjustment, and that was all.

Below, the attempts to ensure that the castle would not bury the entire Belmont collection continued. There would be more steel arriving in the next few days, which meant asking Ioana to direct all of the deliveries and act as the general pointman until the matter was completed. To the right, three rooms over, Ioana was reading the pile of documents that had accumulated in her absence. Beyond that was the forest and its birdsong.

All of these sounds would have been welcome in the castle six hundred years ago. In the house that stood over the hold six hundred years ago. It ensured neither place was a tomb, and truly, hadn’t that been the point of Trevor's gift?