The First Deep Sleep, the Last Awakening
The reason why Cards call themselves Second Breathers is because they died. The circumstances behind every death vary, of course, and Cards are therefore as diverse as the general populace of Sleepers around the world can be. The the one thing that binds them together is the fact that they died, crossed the Borderlines, and managed, by merit of their Second Breath, to return with their souls intact…
…Or rather, as “intact” as they could possibly be after an experience like that.
People aren’t MEANT to come back to life once they’ve crossed the Borderlines, and it has very little to do with the “knowledge” they get from seeing anything/everything all at once and quite a lot to do with the fact that it’s just not supposed to be possible. A Card’s journey through the Borderlines, however, is nothing short of abnormal, for rather than simply facing up to the full brunt of the weight of their existence on the universe, they also come head-to-head with their Id, the Shadow of their current self.
Speculations abound as to exactly WHAT happens to Cards at this point, and no concrete explanations are coming anytime soon, but the most popular theory dictates that the creation of the Shadow is a result of the Card’s soul tearing in half. The Shadow, then, is a part of the Card’s own soul that somehow managed to develop its own identity by siphoning away parts of the original – namely, their base instincts, and all the urges and desires that the user buries within their psyche.
At that point, if the Card failed to acknowledge that the Shadow was a part of himself or herself, he or she is subsequently swallowed by the significantly more powerful half of his or her soul – the result is the creation of an Umbra, the shadowy creatures who lurk within the Fog, or come out during the Dark Hour. Cards who acknowledge their Shadow, however, take their Second Breath, transforming their Shadows into an archetypal manifestation that best reflects who they are… the Persona they now wield, one whom they can communicate with. They return with their Persona in tow, and a second lease at life with an entirely different set of rules.
Life is Inevitable, and Death Goes On
The whole business of dying and the Possible Complete Obliteration by One’s Dark Side aside, the Second Breath might seem like a pretty sweet deal, at first… Cards get to come back to life stronger than ever, and they have kick ass supernatural powers to boot.
Nothing in the World of Darkness is ever free, nor is it ever simple. See, Cards don’t remember their own physical death at first. They wake up back in the mortal realm, not remembering anywhere between the other night all the way back to a week and wholly unaware of the fact that they carry their Persona within them. This is because, since they’re supposed to be dead, the universe scrambled to compensate for their impromptu reappearance in the only way that it knows how: by reversing the death, and erasing all memory and evidence of the incident. That unfortunately includes the whole act of drawing the Second Breath during the Card’s time among the Borderlines, since that wasn’t supposed to happen either.
Cards are then “reduced” back to a state which is almost like Sleeping again. It’s not that they don’t have their Persona, or the abilities that come with controlling one – they just can’t remember the fact that they do. The way to recover these powers is to go on what “veteran” Cards have taken to calling a Pilgrimage – that is, a quest to re-remember their death, and fuse with their Persona. The first step to doing that, of course, is figuring out what happened during the days that the world blocked from their memory.
With the exception of how they end, no Pilgrimage is like the other, just like how people might die of similar causes but the circumstances that lead to the ends of their lives are always different. Some Cards, in fact, never manage to go on a Pilgrimage – they can, for whatever reason, easily dismiss the significant memory lapse and go on with their lives, at least until they’re consumed by Apathy or devoured by Umbra. Cards who succeed in remembering themselves get a second lease on life.