"Hello, Grandpa," said Percy formally.
She was standing in Oakstaff's doorway, which had just opened automatically. Percy's biometric records allowed her free access to Oakstaff's quarters, though she still felt obliged to wait in the porch.
When Oakstaff saw her standing in the doorway, his eyes widened in surprise. He embraced his granddaugher, who was by now a half-head taller than him, especially in those ridiculously high shoes young people wore these days.
"Why haven't you been to see me for so long?" Oakstaff said loudly, as he led her through to his sitting room. Soft plasma bulbs faded into life without the flick of a switch as they entered, and the decoder on the wall started up a subtly selected track of Ancient music.
"Oh, you know, Pa - work isn't exactly easy at the moment, you know ..."
"What do you want to drink?" said Oakstaff, gesturing to his Vendor.
"Oh - just water, thanks," said Percy uncomfortably. She had only too good an idea what her grandfather drank, and it wasn't at all to her taste. She was already beginning to feel uncomfortable - she hadn't come here for a cushy family reunion, but for work purposes only. She was afraid he'd act exactly as he had. She wasn't letting him get anywhere near the subject of her.
Oakstaff said, "Water," to the Vendor, which at once swung a gleaming cup into view, filling it with cool, fresh water and dispatching it to the table with a resounding beep.
"Thanks," said Percy stiffly, picking up the cup gingerly and taking a seat next to the decoder.
"Well, I see neither skin nor shoe of you for three years and you turn up unannounced on my doorstep! To what do I owe the pleasure?
"Purely work-related business," said Percy curtly.
"Oh, well, in that case, shoot. Can't promise I'll let anything go, though - gotta be careful what you tell a Royal servant!"
He chuckled jovially but Percy was unimpressed.
"Well, alright then ... I'll get to the point then, to save me wasting my time," said Percy coldly. "We both know - and there's no point in denying it - that you're involved with the maggots."
"Says who? You and your old Magic Scanner? We had them fifty years ago and they were as useless as they are today."
Percy was temporarily quelled, but she had a reply ready. "I know Magic Scanners can be unreliable. But it's not hard to realise that you became soft in your old age, all those years ago when your Medblock was disbanded, and the maggots rounded up. I heard you were rather against the decision."
"So what if I was? I thought they were treated unfairly, specially as they couldn't help the fact that they were gifted -"
"So you did end up helping them?" demanded Percy.
"I gave them a place to hide. A place where they wouldn't cause any harm -"
"You know that's treason, don't you?" Percy interrupted sharply. "I could have you arrested for that."
"Your own Grandpa? A fine way to repay me, after everything I've done for you -"
"I'm not trying to get you arrested."
"Then why on earth are you attacking me, young lady? It's not as if you're against magic yourself, is -?"
"Don't you say anything about that!" Suddenly Percy was on her feet, her face flushed with fury. "It's my job to hate magic! Do you think I like the position I'm in?"
"You still haven't told me why you're here," said Oakstaff quietly. "I thought you weren't interested in anything other than work."
Percy gave him a venomous look, then resumed her seat.
"Have the maggots kidnapped Princess Elenia?"
Oakstaff stared at his daughter.
"Have the maggots kidnapped Princess Elenia ..." Oakstaff paused, playing for time. "I'm not saying. Such valuable information is dangerous in the wrong basket, especially a basket that is hanging on the arm of the King himself."
"Don't try and fool me, I always knew you're a terrible liar!" yelled Percy angrily. "Do you think I came here expecting you to give a simple answer? No, I knew you'd dress it up in riddles and make it do a tapdance just to try and confuse me! So they told me - they told me to come prepared."
And to Oakstaff's shock, Percy pulled out a taser. He could see her flick the selector from KILL to STUN with her right pinky, however, her hands were shaking and her face was full of rage and fear.
"Quiet, Percina, come down," said Oakstaff soothingly. "This isn't you, you know this isn't -"
"How do you know?"
"You would never hurt a microbeast, never, not even when you were younger ..."
"I don't have a choice! This is my job! They - they have eyes everywhere! If they see me doling out mercy to members of my own family -"
"I have no Eye in my house, I disabled them," said Oakstaff, a quiet smile on his face. "You forget some of the merits of magic ..."
"I can't risk it ..."
"You don't hate magic, little'un, I know you don't ..." said Oakstaff slowly.
"Where is the Princess? Do the maggots have her? Tell me now and I'll go ... before I say something I regret ..."
Oakstaff got to his feet. Percy raised the taser but her fingers loosened on the trigger. She ran forward and collapsed, crying hard into her grandfather's shoulder.
"Listen ... I know how hard a position you're in," said Oakstaff. "I've been trying to get in contact with you to tell you not to feel so guilty ... and then when I found out about Elenia I knew how hard it would be for you ..."
Percy stayed in Oakstaff's arms for a long while, before unravelling herself.
"The maggots have Elenia, don't they?"
"Yes, they do. And though she was forcibly taken, she is remaining there willingly."
"All the maggots did was remove her so they could offer her their protection, as they have vowed to do for every maggot in this city. For now, she is scared to emerge, for fear that she will be persecuted for her powers. Ceridwen believes the King values the ousting of magic more than his own daughter, and may wish to make an example of her if he ever finds out."
"But that - that's horrible!"
"If you tell the King, it may cause more trouble than it's worth, especially if Ceridwen is right. Now, the right thing to do is to watch and wait. And we need to feed the King information on his daughter's gift, to see how he reacts."
"But she's safe?"
"Aye. The maggots have not hurt her at all, and they haven't stopped her from leaving."
"Well ... well, that's something."
Percy turned to go, but Oakstaff held up a hand.
"Dumpling -" (Percy scowled( "- I'm sorry I was so cryptic earlier. I didn't know if I could trust you after all these years, even though you are my granddaughter ... I know how much you've wanted magic all your life, and ..."
But words failed him. A single tear, like a shimmering drop of dew on a pink rose petal, was hovering below Percy's eye.
"And Percina - I hate to ask this of you, but any information on the King's activities would be helpful."
He expected her to start storming at him again, but she was silent. She met his eyes once, then turned silently, slipping from the house as best she could. Oakstaff's thoughts followed her out of his house. Concern and apprehension were weighing on him as never before, even in his old age. He got heavily to his feet and walked over to his PI. He tapped Ceridwen's avatar and waited for her to answer.