You look at the little snake on your wrist, then hold up your hand.
You're about to ask the Bridge Maker if he wants to trade for the snake somehow-- you're certain there's probably a weird magic way of getting the snake off-- but before you can do or say anything, the snake leaps from your wrist, stretching like some kind of comedic bungee. Its tail is still wrapped around your wrist, still flat and tattoo-like, too, but somehow the rest of its body has become three dimensional, elongated, and very very angry.
It sinks its fangs into the Bridge Builder's neck, and he collapses with a scream.
"Uh," you say.
The snake retracts, fusing back with your wrist until it is, once again, a simple -- if animated-- tattoo. It looks at you expectantly.
On the ground, the Bridge Maker spasms painfully.
"Is. . . is he going to be okay?" you ask the snake.
The snake bobs its head, and you hope it's nodding, but half suspect it might have been shrugging.
The spasms stop, and the Bridge Maker suddenly goes limp. You cautiously crouch beside him and check to see if he's alright. 'Alright' might be a strong word-- he's unconscious, but he's breathing.
"I needed him," you say. "He has my name."
The snake points itself towards the cottage.
"You want me to break into the guy's house?"
The snake bobs its head again, this time it is more clearly a nod. You sigh and get to your feet.
"I can't just leave him out here," you say. "Seems wrong to knock him out and leave him in the yard."
The snake doesn't respond, but watches as you grab the Bridgemaker's arms and heft him up. it's hard going; you're vaguely aware that the Fireman's carry is a thing, but you've no idea how to go about carrying someone that way. In the end, you wind up hugging the old man around the chest, your arms beneath his armpits, and you waddle backwards to the cottage, dragging him with you.
The inside of the cottage is much larger than its outward appearance led you to believe. Outside, it seemed like a small storybook home. The inside is akin to some enormous manor; the first thing you see is when you enter are double-grand staircases leading to the open second story above. Above you, a giant chandeliers casts fragmented crystalline light around the room.
"Oh," you say, taken aback. The snake looks at you inquisitively. You give a little abashed shrug. "I'm not used to this sort of thing." You don't specify if you mean the apparent wealth, or the spacial inconsistencies, and the snake doesn't ask.
Off to the side of the entry hall is a lounge chair. You gratefully dump the Bridge maker there, doing your best to make sure all of him is on the sofa before moving on deeper into the house.
You press ahead, feeling dwarfed in this overlarge living space. The snake guides you through a top-of-the-line kitchen that's all burnished steel and futuristic gadgets, past a den, then a living room, then a rec room, and into a library. You're immediately filled with envy. The library is the size of your entire apartment back home, and it is stuffed to the brim with equally full bookshelves.
The snake grows more excited, wriggling around your wrist. You follow its guidance to a small wooden box on top of an end table in the corner, beside a comfortable looking and well-used armchair. You plop down in the chair and open the box.
Inside it a single black stone. It gleams in the light and looks more like glass than rock.
Slowly, you take the stone from the box. The moment your hand wraps around it, the stone disintegrates, and memory pours through you. You gasp as your mind suddenly clears, as though a fog behind your eyes has been lifted.
"My name's Neal," you say with complete conviction. "Neal Ascher."
Memories flood through you, and things that have been put on the back burner since your arrival in this place suddenly take front and center, as though you're only now remembering them clearly for the first time. You remember a man, a man who is not strictly old in years, but whose body has begun to wither away all the same, eaten by a disease that cannot be stopped, only paused. A man still full of love and vigor, but who can barely walk, who needs to drag his wheeled IV drip with him around the apartment, and who needs your help to feed himself.
"My dad," you find yourself saying. "I have to get back to him. I'm all he has. I have to get back! How do I leave?"
The snake on your arm circles around your wrist, reminding you of a fish swimming in a tank. You get up and follow it out of the house, passing the still-sleeping Bridge Maker as you do.
Once you've passed the threshold of the door, you feel a sudden gust of wind at your back. When you turn around, you find that you're suddenly back in the middle of the desert. The grass, the cottage, and the hill are all gone.
The snake around your wrist points ahead.
-->[You wander the desert]