I understand now. Everything. And I remember everything...
He felt the cold again. The cold darkness of the grave. And the voices. Nightmare voices, distorted, voices of his dearest friends and bitterest enemies alike, people he'd never met but felt he'd known all his life... Flickers in the corners of his eyes, like silhouettes of flames. Everything burning... stood on the burning deck of the ship... he jumps, trying to land behind his opponent and hit his unprotected back, but slips just as Bilan lunges forward... chitinous fangs bursting through his chest... searing pain... his last thoughts before sinking into the vortex of red mist and pain and darkness, thoughts that he didn't understand and he wasn't sure were even his own, I knew I couldn't beat him this time round, not on my own, not in the state I'm in...
Maybe I shouldn't have been so keen to be on time...
His eyes snapped open and he bolted upright, blade already in hand. The darkness was lit by glaring spotlights. He was in a place tha he vaguely recognised, grim blue-black walls with guttering torches, except that this room was impossible. It was enclosed by an iron fence with no gate, and appeared to be floating in midair, halfway down a bottomless pit, a gaping eternity above and below him.
"Stupid dreams..." he growled.
"This isn't a dream. Well... its not one of the dreams you're thinking of. Not quite, anyway."
"What? Make sense, you..." Garian glared at the thing that had addressed him, the only other thing in the room. A yellow dwarf with coal-black eyes of menacing humour, it wore a blue baseball cap and carried maracas. He struggled for a word to describe it, "Were-banana?"
"Ah, so you've forgotten who I am. Maybe forgotten everything, this time round. Or maybe you're a completely new arc." the banana-thing pondered, somehow mocking him with that beak and round eyes of his, "I hope so. It would mean guessed correctly, and I was successful in separating this place off. However, it does mean this will take longer than I thought. But fear not, you have plenty of time. And plenty of incentive."
"I still have no clue what you're talking about. Jack, do you...?" the bounty hunter whirled around, peering at a spot just over his left shoulder, "Jack?"
"The bird can't follow you here." said the banana-thing.
"Where am I? I... last thing I remember, I was..."
"Dead." he replied, "That was real. You still are, in a way. And you'll just carry on being dead if you leave now. But this place doesn't quite follow the rules. You haven't broken the cycle yet, but you can work towards it. The first thing you need to do, is earn your Second Chance."
"To redeem yourself. To understand what's going on before it all just happens over again until its too late. Because it is, you know. Almost too late."
"Oh... metaphysical stuff." Garian sighed, "I was hoping for a rematch with Bilan."
"Oh, there'll be plenty of battles. Real battles, too, where you can die for good, this time, if you lose, and if you win, you'll have to live with the consequences of who you kill."
Garian sounded a little more hopeful. Fights were something he understood. He gripped his sword hilt a little more firmly and went into a martial stance. He felt a little better now. Like whatever had been weighing upon him – the weird cold feeling, the lack of energy, the air of doom – was no longer present.
"Its harsh, I know, to make you fight as soon as you've woken up, but its necessary to fulfil some of the rules of the cycle. Some of this stuff was in place before I came here. I can't get around the rules entirely. You have it easy. You get to still be Garian. I have to be J.J."
"Heh, I'd fight anyone you want if you'd explain to me what the hell you're talking about." replied Garian, "Or, better yet, stopped saying vague bullshit that sounds suspiciously like you're insulting me."
"Oh, you'll understand in time." the beak mocked him again, After all, that's what this is all about."
That was a long time ago.
Musashi had been the first opponent. Musashi Morgensen, the other prisoner in the cage, the other survivor on board that boat. Musashi, who hadn't feared death.
Then there had been Indigo, who saw destiny, sometimes, because he could stand outside of it.
Bruno, the weretiger whose fighting spirit was as fierce as the animal he appeared as.
Warden Kurtliegen, whose strength lay in being the master of his environment. He would have made a good Warden, had he just concentrated on the job in hand.
Bilan, his greatest enemy. An enemy who could stalk others across land and sea, capture and possess its prey. An enemy too much like himself. The enemy he could so easily become.
DeBose, who lived again.
Blade, who was a killing machine, with a body of steel and no remorse.
Megan Rafael Lansky, angel of ultimate evil, the most dangerous prisoner on the Island, who laughed as she killed.
Sean Gabriel Lansky, whose devotion to his sister was a cause he would never stop believing in. A thoroughly evil cause, but a true cause, nonetheless.
M-Bilan, the one who sought absolute transcendence.
They're all dead now.
Dead by my hands.
Everyone on this island is dying. Dying for good. I was about to die, too. When I wake up, I don't know if I'll be alive or dead. I don't know if I'll be on the boat, on the Island, still here, their blood on my blade, their corpses at my feet, or somewhere worse, that void that lay just on the borders of possibility.
I alone have a chance, though. I realise that. I had to be as good as them in order to defeat them in a one-on-one battle, with no aid, no rest, completely fair and even. They were all strong opponents. I've learned everything I can from fighting them, now.
I know that when I fell to Bilan that day, on the boat, it was nothing I could avoid back then. There were things I didn't understand about what was happening when I boarded that boat that I do now.
If anyone's going to survive all this, it'll be me.
It had better be me.
I'm the only one left.