Tiina is reeling from the sudden change in time and space. The journey to Arkana is a blur of images melding into each other. It is a definite sort of coming home for her.
It is a bright and sunny day, when she walks in through the front gates of the academy. The Arkana of Half Lives, the dull virtual letters next to the gates declare. She is about to step over the threshold when a young man who has been gazing at the scene inside hails her.
Tiina looks around at him. “Hello?” she says. There is something very familiar, yet she cannot quite put her finger on it. “Uh! Do I know you?” she asks,
“I am Yudi,” he says.
“Yudi,” she laughs, unsure. “You are ...Yudi?”
“Ah! That’s what I just said, didn’t I?”
Tiina hesitates. “You don’t really want to know my name …?”
“Try me!” he says.
She puts her hand forward. “Uh! Zara.” She bites her lips. It’s easy to lie. The sweetness of their final meeting is forever etched in her memory, married with the pain of having left her twin behind. She is just not yet ready to reveal her name to him, she realises.
“Where are you from, Z?” He takes her hand, enclosing her fingers within his palm, warming hers.
Raising her eyebrows at the casual way in which he has shortened her name, she says, “From a place far, far away from you.”
“Well, girl from far, far away, let me buy you a drink before we head in there,” he says. “God knows if they have alcohol in this place.”
“Why not?” asks Tiina. “A place filled with young people, surely they serve recreational drinks?”
“Recreational drinks, eh? That is cute,” he says, and then adds, “you are cute.”
“Uh!” Tiina swallows uncomfortably. “You are direct,” she says, trying to get by him. “I am in a hurry. I really do need to get on.”
“Oh. Surely not. Z, come on. If not alcohol then coffee. There’s nobody else here I’d rather be with than you!”
“You’ll do anything to avoid going into Arkana, is that it?” she asks.
“I came of my own free will,” he replies, “but school has never been my strong point.”
He holds on to her hand as he speaks, looking into her eyes, his lips curved into a half smile, while his brown eyes twinkle down at her, his hair ruffling just so in the slight breeze.
“Go on ...” he urges her, “just the one.”
I am over the “love at first sight” thing, she reminds herself. And it is not lust ... well, not lust, either, she thinks. However, there is an intense pull, an attraction and affinity and a strange sense of immediate trust, as if she has known him all her life. It does not seem to matter that it is almost eight years since they last met, he still has a strange hold on her. All he has to do is look at her with his brown eyes and just ask. And she could never refuse him anything.
And so, in pursuit of the dream that has kept her alive for a lifetime, Tiina, the grown woman in pursuit of the feeling that would make today the first day of the rest of her life; And Yudi, the reluctant hero, who is putting off the inevitable, until the very last instant. The two of them go get a coffee, which turns into two. They move onto a few drinks at the nightclub nearby.
It is an evening which degenerates into an old-fashioned full-blown bender.
Swept along on a tide of that which feels right, the night reaches its inevitable climax as they make love under the night skies.
Later on, looking up at the stars, he says, “How long are you going to keep up the pretence?”
Still dazed by the events of the day, Tiina blinks. She does not want to open her eyes, in case all this is a dream. Keeping them shut, she says, “Uh! What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean,” Yudi replies still looking up at the night sky as if searching for something.
She finally opens her eyes and looks up at the skies as well. “It is gone, you know ... I’ve looked for it many nights.”
“Ka Surya,” he sighs. “So far, yet so near.”
“It will always be in our hearts,” she says, turning to him and laying her palm on his heart.
“No ...” he says, smiling when she looks at him in surprise. “You know there is only space for you here.”
“When did you know ...?”
“As soon as I saw you,” he says. “Did you really think I would not know you, Tiina? Many nights I have gone to sleep with the touch of your lips on mine.” He reaches out and kisses her. “And how could I forget this...?” He leans forward and much to her shock and amusement, he smells her neck, breathes deeply and says ... “That’s what I missed the most ...”
“We meet after all these years and all you can say is you missed how I smell?” she asks not sure if she should be flattered or indignant.
“Ah! But it’s so potent, so uniquely you ... Something I never thought I would smell again.” He sniffs her once more. If I were to bottle it and sell it, I would become very rifh.”
She laughs loudly, till tears come to her eyes.
“I missed that, too ...”
“What?” she chortles, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“That full belly laugh of yours ...”
“You have a good memory ...”
“Why did you lie to me?” he asks, growing serious.
Tiina unwraps herself from him as if to put a distance between them. “I just couldn’t, Yudi,” she shrugs. “How could I, when every time I look at you, I still see her.”
“Maya,” he says, his tone weary.
Tiina nods, unable to say Maya’s name aloud.
Yudi looks up at the skies. “Maybe she is out there somewhere ...”
“Maybe,” says Tiina softly, as he reaches out to her and puts his arms around her, drawing her into his embrace again.
Tiina realises that the two of them came together immediately, again. And yet she has changed so much in the last few years. Definitely their attitudes to life are now remarkably different. Gone is the carefree ten year old he had known. In her place is a sober, more focused, more meticulous, eighteen year old. “More boring ...” a voice whispers.
Yudi seems to have come off better. Always light hearted, he has turned out to be one of those gifted people who is multi-talented, with a natural ability for many tasks and happy-go-lucky.
Then “there is me” she thinks “Average abilities, perhaps even good at a few things. Yet there is not one specific attribute, no specific trait, at which I excel. Nothing about her truly stands out. Except that all of this makes her fiercely determined to keep moving, to find that something which truly inspires. What she does not realise is that it is this very drive to make a difference which does make her stand out.
The first few months at the academy are, for Tiina, the best days of her life. Yudi balances out her intensity. His easy-going attitude and happiness for the small things in life are infectious. Everyone around him seems to love him.
It is something Tiina envies. In comparison she feels cynical, used up, wise beyond her years. Unlike her, he makes friends quickly; indeed revels in the closeness of others; so for once in her life, thanks to Yudi, Tiina is in the company of those she likes. It is as if she belongs. It’s a new feeling.
When Rai meets Tiina and Yudi for the first time, they seem like a finely tuned instrument. They are not always in perfect harmony, yet when they do get it right, they can make the most melodious tunes. He sees Tiina as a graceful veena — the ancient instrument of the Gods.
He compares Yudi to a saxophone. Someone who straddles many cultures, with keys that can be played by those in the know, to make him perform the actions they want, sometimes even against his own will, and yet Yudi would be game enough to comply despite knowing that the consequences might not be in his best interests.
It is no accident that the three of them first get together in the other dimension during the class of self-ascension, for it is a taste of things to come. An inkling of their journey together across the various dimensions.
Rai has just managed to calm his senses and ascend into the other plane when he immediately runs into Tiina.
“Rai, isn’t it?” she asks.
“How do you know?”
“Hard not to miss you,” she exclaims. “I have seen you on the dance floor. You, the demon dancer with stars on your jacket, hypnotising people with your moves. Then, as they freeze, you walk to them and absorb their positive essence.”
“So you’ve seen it,” he says, not surprised.
“Yes,” smiles Tiina. “But don’t worry; your secret is safe with me.”
Just then Yudi comes across to them and asks Tiina, “So, how about some introductions?”
Rai smiles at him. “We don’t need introductions. We already know each other. This meeting is destined.”
“Indeed it is,” says a voice.
They look up to see the wise old man with the flowing white robes and white beard walking up to them, holding his hooked cane in his hands.
“Mimir!” exclaims Rai.
Tiina bows her head in deference. Rai and Yudi look at her, then exchange a look, surprised by her obsequious gesture. Neither of them is compelled to follow suit.
Mimir’s face breaks into a broad smile. “Tiina!" he says, “so you have met your fellow voyagers.”
Once again, Tiina is entranced by the gentleness and the waves of complete spiritual cleanliness she feels emanating from Mimir. If I could paint, she thinks, then the mood of this scene would be peaceful, exquisite, all in white. As if Mimir, just walking in, has spring-cleaned the space, rarefied the air in some form.
Mimir nods. “It is my favourite colour.”
“Oh! Did I say that aloud …?” she asks in surprise, then realises that he has probably read her mind. Mimir smiles at her again, as if privy to all her thoughts, and she smiles back despite herself.
“I thought purple was the colour of all you spiritual minds,” says Rai.
“Purple is also good,” replies Mimir. “Though it has more connotations of passion than I am comfortable with. Although I do admit that I feel like that sometimes.” Noticing their confused expressions, he adds, “The passion, I mean. I am familiar with that emotion. You don’t get to my age without sampling the range of all the delights that life has to offer,” he says, a wicked twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh!” exclaims Rai, “I do believe you were trying to embarrass us, Mimir.”
“We elevated spirits have our moments of weakness too,” chuckles Mimir. “Though I confess that I get that way more when I am faced with yet another ‘good versus evil’ kind of situation.”
“Humour being the panacea to such intense situations?” says Yudi.
“You talk about it as if it were a common occurrence,” says Tiina.
“Good versus evil?” asks Mimir. “Well, when you get to be my age, it seems to get annoyingly repetitive. It is quite cyclical too. As if all the bad stuff is compelled to occasionally raise its head, remind us that it is still around, lest we forget about it, and get slapped down, again.”
“You mean, be put in its place,” says Yudi, helpful.
“Yes, exactly, quite so,” says Mimir.
“It sounds awfully boring when you put it that way,” says Tiina.
Mimir nods. “It can get quite dull and solitary. Therefore, it is almost a relief when someone such as Shaitan comes along. An out-of-the-ordinary situation, needing a very different approach and raising some very interesting possibilities,” he says, looking at them meaningfully.
“Uh, oh!” says Yudi. “I do not like the sound of this.”
“Well, you are right. The three of you are the answer this time,” he says.
Mimir looks at Yudi, Tiina and Rai. He then holds up his hooked cane so that the moonbeams reflect off its polished surface and into their third eye. A whoosh of pure energy sweeps them along; through an implosion of colour, emotions, sensations and sound, which surprises all their senses. It sends them reeling with conflicting sentiments that threaten to overwhelm. A forewarning of the dangers that await. Not all of them will make it through to the other side.
“Arise, chosen ones!” Mimir pulls them out of the frame. “You have a mission. To defeat Shaitan. Find the Isthmus and restore it back to the sacred mountain. Bring hope to all living beings.”
“Wait,” says Yudi. “So you are saying that we have to save the world?”
Mimir corrects him. “To restore peace to the living.”
“That should be easy!” says Rai, his tone sarcastic.
“It should not be very difficult,” says Mimir, “As long as you are together; there is not much you cannot do.”
“Wait!” exclaims Yudi “Why us? Why now?”
“Why is it that young people ask so many questions,” Mimir sighs. “I guess you realise by now that you are connected? You share a future.”
“So this is meant to be?” Tiina asks. “That’s your explanation on the random choice of the three of us, being chosen for this … this mission?”
“Can I add, three very different people picked at random,” says Yudi.
“It is not random at all. You have been chosen to be here at this time and place to undertake this journey.”
“So it is our destiny?” asks Tiina
“You said it, Tiina,” smiles Mimir. “But yes, it is. It is your future, so to speak. I must warn you that you will be tested. And you will discover new things about yourself.”
“Sounds fun!” says Yudi, “what do you think Rai?”
“Yeah ... Sure” says Rai, his face wearing a dazed “I don’t believe it” expression.
“But it will be,” says Mimir. “You will have amazing adventures before finding your way. And that I think is the best part. It is so much more exciting to lose your way first. It will not be boring, I promise you that,” says Mimir.
“Mimir, you almost sound wistful,” says Tiina.
“Wish I could come along, but guess I am a bit too old to go around the galaxy having adventures.”
“Do spirits grow old?” asks Rai with interest.
“No, I just became weary of responsibility,” replies Mimir. “But the three of you are young. Your experiences make you hungry for answers. You still see the promise of the future through different eyes. And this is what will keep you going on the journey, and you will complete it ...”
“You will still be with us, won’t you?” asks Tiina.
“I will,” Mimir replies. “When you really need me, just ask and I will be there.”
The three are quiet, taking everything in. Then Yudi voices the question that is upmost in their minds. “Mimir, what if we don’t complete the mission?”
Mimir looks at him, his expression serious. “Then there is no more hope for us.”
If Yudi is surprised at his tone of finality he does not show it. “And if we defeat Shaitan ... then do we get a reward?” he asks, trying for a light tone.
“Ah! The old ‘what’s in it for me’,” he says, and then adds, “Surely the journey is the reward in itself.”
The three of them begin to voice their protest when he concedes. “OK, I am kidding you.” He smiles again, breaking the solemn note that has descended on the group. “If you defeat Shaitan, then rest assured that you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams.”
Yudi smiles. “Did you say riches?”
“Pay off, both spiritual and material is to be had. We, the spirits, are not completely alienated from reality. We know what is important to you.”
“Mimir, will you be really there for us when we need you?” Rai asks, needing reassurance.
“I promise,” says Mimir. “Just call me and I will be there.”
“Hey but what about graduation?” asks Rai
Yudi rolls his eyes “Why did you have to go remind him about that now?” he says. “We don’t have to complete the course, do we? We have a world to save now.”
Mimir laughs. “Afraid it does not get you off studying, Yudi.”
“What?” Yudi exclaims in surprise. “Shaitan is not going to wait around doing nothing while we finish the course, you know.”
“Even heroes need to get their basics right. This is no ordinary course, Yudi. It’s going to equip you with important mental and physical survival skills so when you finally come face to face with your enemy, you have a much better chance of actually defeating him,” he says, leaving Yudi downcast.
Mimir is ready to depart, when Tiina exclaims, “Wait. Ah! I have just one more question.” She clears her throat uncomfortably. “Uh! It is a personal one,” she says, then plunges ahead with it. “How can I reach my heart’s desire?”
“You already have it in the palm of your hand, Tiina. You just have to reach out and take it, accept it without fear.”
Tiina looks down to see her palm clasped in Yudi's. She hastily lets go and looks up to find that Mimir has disappeared.
“Well, is that intense or what?” Yudi breaks the shocked silence.
Rai looks at both of them, “You know what this means, right?” When they look at him questioningly, he says, “Well, there is no way out once you take this on.”
“You heard him, though; there is a payoff at the end.” Yudi repeats Mimir’s words.
“Who can refuse when Mimir asks?” laughs Rai. “He is clever, though. Making it look so good that you cannot refuse.”
“Don’t I know about that? He brought us to Arkana, said all the right things. And now sends us off on this crazy mission.”
“So what do we do”, asks Tiina? “It’s not like we have a choice, do we?”
“We always have a choice,” says Rai.
“He has challenged us. I see no option but to accept,” says Yudi.
“Fate. Here I come!” exclaims Tiina.
Rai shakes his head. “You young people are so impetuous.”
“How old are you, anyway?” asks Tiina, intrigued by his statement.
“Older than you,” says Rai.
She looks up to find him walking away from them. “Wait,” she says.
Rai looks at them. “I need a little time alone to think this through,” he says, then turns and walks on.
Tiina asks Yudi, “What’s with him?”
“You can’t help someone who’s rejecting his own future,” says Yudi, shrugging his shoulders. “He’ll come around. Come on, Tiina, we should celebrate. It is a big day. We’ve found our purpose.”
“You know,” says Tiina, “this is possibly the first time that we have agreed on something.”
“Oh! Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Yudi says, his eyes alight with mischief.
“I do believe that you are growing up,” continues Tiina. “Accepting your place in the larger scheme.”
Before Tiina can reply, the illusion fades away and the three are back at Arkana.
After this strange encounter with Mimir, Yudi, Tiina and Rai spend every free minute huddled together discussing their future. It is as if they have formed their own little unit against the world. The three discover they actually like spending time together. They share a fun, easy-going friendship; an “all is well with the world” kind of attitude. They like hanging out together and the possibility of the future adventure seems a while away. The year passes quickly and soon it is graduation night.
Tiina, Rai and Yudi join the other Half Lives of the universe, the future of the galaxy at the graduation ceremony. They are excited to face the future, their hearts alight with the hope of dreams and adventures to come.
They line the huge assembly hall of Arkana, listening to the graduation speeches by the class prefects, and their teachers.
Some are emotional about the end of this phase of their life, a slice of time when they could afford to be carefree, despite much else in the world that was wrong. A few are fearful about stepping out into the wide world. Yet others are looking forward to entering the race of life, to begin the true experience of existence, without responsibility for anything except themselves and the consequence of their actions.
For now, though, it is time to celebrate. All the formalities of the evening being done with, the new graduates of Arkana, still clad in their formal graduation robes, head off to party at the only bar on campus.
Yudi and Tiina are on the dance floor, wrapped up in each other. As Rai looks on from the edge of the floor, Yudi draws her closer to him, then twirls her around in an exaggerated move only to bring her right back in an even further intimate gesture against his chest.
“I love you.”
Tiina looks at Yudi, love shining in her eyes. “That is the first time you have said that.” She is about to reveal her own feelings when she notices that his eyes are fixed elsewhere.
She follows his gaze, to a breathtakingly beautiful woman standing not very far away, wearing an odd out-of-fashion white and gold dress which sweeps behind her in a train. It is a timeless design, yet tailored to meet the demanding requirements of today. As Tiina watches, the woman looks at Yudi with deep dark eyes, slightly slanted and feline. Her body calls to him, seduction in every step, as she takes to the dance floor and dances; her movements slow, just for him. Their eyes lock over Tiina’s head and they do not let each other out of sight all evening.
The DJ takes a break and the music winds down into a slower beat. Tiina goes to get them another drink. At the bar she turns around to find that Yudi is following the woman as she leaves the dance floor and walks out the door of the dance hall. She walks through the open field heading in the direction of a small hill not far from the academy. She stops and turns and, finding Yudi following, smiles and raises her eyebrows, as if daring him to keep coming. It seems to Yudi that as she steps forward, flowers bloom around her, soft grass springs up underfoot, a gentle breeze wafts over his skin, scented now with the smell of seduction. The entire space sighs with pleasure. They reach a soft grassy ledge on the top of a small hill. Yudi has eyes only for her, though. He fails to see the lights of the city spread out before them. He reaches for her. They tear off each other’s clothes and make passionate love.
At one point, he is compelled to ask, “Who are you? A Goddess?”
“Your lust come true,” she replies, breaking into laughter as he stares into her deep blue eyes. “Remember, you are mine!” she says softly, and walks away leaving him weak in the knees. His heart is beating faster and a feeling of déjà vu washes over him. It is as if he has set in motion an entire sequence of events which feel vaguely familiar. He knows he has been here before; feeling both ecstatic and unhappy at the same time. He does not regret the pleasures of the past few hours. But he knows he has lost Tiina, a second time.
The next morning Tiina wakes up with a sense of something being very wrong. She lies there feeling the old sensation of emptiness washing over her. She cannot remember what has changed, and then the events of the past night come rushing back.
Without even looking for him, she knows that Yudi is gone. No more will she hear his stupid jokes, feel his calming presence. Everything was OK as long as he was with her. She realises that she has lost him again. All her old insecurities come tumbling back. Rai finds her still in bed that evening, not having moved an inch from the morning. He tries to comfort her, picking up the pieces one by one.
“You’ll see him again. I promise.” He tries to reassure her, not sounding very confident himself.
“I am not sure I really want to ...” she says.
“That is what you say now. Things will change,” he says softly.
“Time and new memories?” she says, sniffling.
“And new adventures to replace old dreams,” he smiles.
“I know, I know,” she says.
“Your heart will heal, I promise,” he says.
“Surely you don’t believe that, do you?”
“No,” he says truthfully, “I was just trying to be nice.”
“But remember the mission? We do have a world to save. Go on adventures together.”
Tiina walks away, putting a little distance between them. She looks at him, disbelief on her face. “How can you be so sure?”
“You heard Mimir. We will be together.”
“Do you believe everything Mimir says?”
“Not everything,” Rai hesitates, “but almost …”
“You have to admit, he is more accurate than not!”
Tiina nods. “It will not be this easy the next time around.”
“You don’t have to make it easy for Yudi.”
“He will have to find me and woo me …”
“Make him grovel,” exclaims Rai.
“And even then, it will take a lot for us to be together again,” she says “There will be adventures, but for now they will be my own ... I am going to take a little trip.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,” says Rai.
Tiina merely smiles.