“Slippery trees,” Thomas declared. He was still touching each pillar they passed, tugging hard against Iris. He had finally decided he wanted to pull free and explore.
Iris said, “Stay with me, Thomas. You can’t run wild in here.”
“Actually, he can,” Rivek said. “He can’t harm anything of real value.”
He reached within his robe and brought out a small com unit. Rivek brought it to his lips. “Copin?”
A bright voice issued from the device. “Yes, Master Rivek?”
“We have a young visitor who requires a chaperone while his parent speaks with me. Are you available?”
“Yes, Master Rivek. I am approaching your location now.”
Iris waved her hand at the priest. “That’s not really necessary.”
Thomas jerked hard. “Thomas run in trees!” he shouted. His voice echoed in the peaceful quiet, making Iris wince.
Rivek gave her a look that spoke of infinite patience. “Of course it’s necessary. The boy needs to run. If he did not, he wouldn’t insist on it. Hello, Copin.”
Iris jerked her head around to see a younger Kalquorian joining them. He beamed, radiating cheerfulness at her. His hair was arranged like Rivek’s with the braids swinging before his ears and the rest of his tresses reaching knee-length. His layered robes were the rich brown of earth, the fresh green of new growth, and sunlight yellow. He was a blast of color in all the whiteness surrounding him, like the first growth of spring after a long winter.
He bowed before them. “Good day.” He gave Iris that brilliant smile, his face that of a young male just reaching maturity. Then he knelt before Thomas. “Hello, little one. What is your name?”
Their eyes met. Thomas froze and took a step back. Then, apparently eased by the smile before him, he stepped closer to Copin again. He pointed at the temple’s interior. “Run!”
Copin nodded encouragingly. “I would be happy to run with you, but first I need your name. What is your name?”
Thomas blinked. “Thomas?” he said uncertainly.
Copin gave him his biggest grin yet. “I am glad to know you, Thomas. My name is Copin.” He looked up at Iris, who hovered in case Thomas decided he’d had enough conversation and took off. “Shall we run now?”
“Yes,” Thomas said firmly.
Iris looked at them all. Rivek was just as patient as ever, Copin looked expectant, and Thomas was straining to get away. Not sure she was doing the right thing, Iris said, “Um ... okay. I guess.”
Thomas knew to take advantage when she wavered. He pulled free of her, yelling, “Run!” He took off, his legs stretching in an all-out sprint. Copin laughed, pulled his robes up to his knees, and ran after the child. Iris watched nervously as the pair wove in and out of pillars.