I stood in front of the door to Allard’s mysterious flat in Antwerp, the one he had only mentioned once in our hundred years together, and hesitated with the key in my hand. The door almost felt alive and there was a strange tingling as I put my hand to the lock. Yes, Alard had bequeathed the key, the apartment and all its contents to me. Yes, I knew that Alard was truly gone, not only dead and undead, but destroyed for all time. Yet somehow, I knew that the instant I put the key in that lock, Alard’s death would be real and final. And though I was over a century old, I wondered if I was really ready to face existence without him.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Dietger, my mortal friend and business partner, was watching me with concern.
I managed a wan smile. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for this.”
The lock yielded easily, and the tingling sensation passed as I crossed the threshold and found myself in a darkened room. I lit a lantern, and we stepped inside, locking the door behind us. In our business, it was never a good idea to have your back to the door.
In many ways, it was a typical Antwerp flat. I was surprised, because the apartment was far less opulent than I would have expected. Alard had been over three hundred years old, and a long existence tends to make it easier to accumulate wealth. Alard was my maker, the one who had brought me across into the dark gift, and as much of a father to me as anyone had ever been. In our time together, I knew we had turned quite a profit, which Alard had shared generously with me. I had set aside a tidy sum for contingencies, and had assumed that Alard, having lived three times as long, had accumulated at least three times as much. Maybe he had, and just chose to live frugally. Whatever his secrets, they were about to be bared to me.
Dietger lit another lamp, and then a third, so that the room was illuminated. “Look at those,” he murmured.
If I still were breathing, I might have caught my breath. Portraits large and small hung on the walls of the flat’s parlor. They spanned the Continent and the past three hundred years, a variety of painters and artistic styles, with fashions as varied as their time and place, yet the face was always Alard’s. Blond hair, crisp blue eyes and slightly crooked nose in an otherwise perfect face, Alard looked like the young aristocrat he had once been, just over the cusp of thirty, before he had been turned by his maker in a debtor’s prison.
“Do you know what you’re looking for?” Dietger asked.
I shook my head. “No. Alard gave me the key and told me that if anything ever happened to him, I should come here.” I smiled sadly. “In a century, you’d think he would have had time to tell me everything, but he didn’t. I imagine he had his reasons. I hope the answers are here—I have a lot of questions.”