Rachel awoke lying face down in the sand. She groaned, started coughing as grit invaded her mouth and nose, and rolled over onto her side. As the coughing fit finally eased, she pushed herself up to sitting and looked around. "What the hell?"
She was in a depression in the desert that was so deep and wide that where she lay at the very bottom center it was still in shade. There was no trace of the giant snake. With a groan, she pushed herself up to her feet, which left her swaying and dizzy. "Ugh, I feel like shit." She held up her hands, turning them over from palm to back in brief repetition as she flexed her fingers. They looked weird to her for some reason, although she couldn't remember them ever looking any different. Light skin, faint blonde hairs, five fingers each. But still, it was strange.
How long had she been lying here, anyway? She was dying for water, but it was mainly thanks to the sand that had managed to invade her esophagus. She didn't think she'd been unconscious more than maybe an hour or two tops. Unfortunately, although she looked around there was no sign of her backpack or even the mattress. Just featureless, smooth sand everywhere she could see.
Ugh, climbing out of this depression or sinkhole or whatever it was promised to be a nightmare. The edges were far enough away that the sand where she stood was almost flat, but near the top it curved at a pretty steep angle. She eyed the sun creeping down the far slope. Given the complete lack of cover, she doubted she could stay here.
Well, nothing for it. She closed her eyes, staggered around in an imitation of a spin—still didn't quite have her balance back, damn it, and she didn't remember the sand at the top of the dune before the snake showed up sliding around so much—and when she opened her eyes she was facing the darkened side of the depression at an angle. Assuming the sun rose in the east in this world, she was looking north-east.
Carefully, trying not to stumble, she rotated until she was facing the exact opposite direction and began hiking toward the edge of the depression. If Bill was right, random chance was likely to send her in the opposite direction from Xavier and that seemed like a pointless waste of time to her.
As she walked, Rachel tried to figure out what had happened to her. The snake seemed to have been telling the truth, at least. Aside from dizziness and weird body dissociation she'd suffered on waking, along with the fragments of strange dreams that still lurked in the back of her head, she was the same as normal, as far as she could tell. The huge snake had obviously gone somewhere, though, so maybe it was inside her in some capacity? That seemed impossible. The depression she was stuck trekking across had clearly been made by its body, and it was enormous. There was no way that much matter was somehow squeezed into her short frame.
"Hello, snake?" she said out loud. "Are you still there?"
No response. Ah well, it was worth a try.
Something tugged at her attention, and she looked sharply up in time to see an object hurtle into the sky over the lip of the depression, bend a parabolic path through the air, and come slamming down in a plume of sand about three quarters down the slope. Rachel stopped for a moment, warily watching as the sand fell back to earth to reveal a person struggling to extricate themselves from where they appeared to be buried chest-deep in the ground.
A person with—were those bunny ears?
Well, that helped solidify the genre for her, at least. Figuring any rabbit person—especially a rabbit person who was humorously floundering—was bound to be helpful, Rachel adjusted her course and started struggling their way.
After what felt like a short eternity fighting her way through the loose sand, sliding one step backwards for every two forward, Rachel finally drew close enough to the rabbit person to be heard. After it became clear that they weren't getting out any time soon and that she was headed their way, they'd finally stopped flailing around and waited with a distinctly impatient-looking cant to the two big ears sticking up out of their hair.
«Hello there, stranger!» called the rabbit person.
Rachel stopped dead. The sounds she was hearing—she clearly didn't know this person's language. But despite not recognizing the sounds at all, she understood them. So…that was kind of freaky. Could they understand her, as well?
«Hello!» Rachel called, and slapped a hand to her mouth. She didn't recognize those sounds, either. What the hell was going on? There was no way that she should be able to understand and speak a language without learning it, right? Sure, that sort of thing happened a lot in the isekai Bill had encouraged her to read, but there it was clearly just hand-waving to get the story moving.
The bunny person either didn't notice her discomfort at this distance, or just didn't care. «Mind helping me out? The sand was a lot looser and lower down than I was expecting when I jumped.»
«Uh…sure, not a problem,» Rachel yelled, and forced herself to keep moving forward. Come to think, the snake had somehow talked directly to her mind when she'd made physical contact. Did she inherit some of its skills or something? She supposed she shouldn't look a gift snake in the mouth, but still…having sounds she didn't recognize but did understand coming out of her mouth was severely freaky. "Snake?" she muttered under her breath. Well, at least that was English. Still no indication from the snake that it was around, though.
As Rachel drew within a few steps of the rabbit person, they waved their one exposed arm downslope. «If you could just help dig out the sand in front of me, I think I can slide myself out.»
«Sure.» A gritty, thirsty time later the rabbit person successfully tore themselves out of the sand, dragging an absolutely massive hammer behind them and setting off a minor sand avalanche down the slope that pushed Rachel several feet back before she found her footing and got her first look at the newcomer.
The woman—now that she was out of the sand it was obvious she was a woman—was a little taller than Rachel, had thin, off-white rabbit ears sprouting out of her light gray-ish hair, and was absolutely stacked. This was very obvious, because underneath her ankle-length robe she wasn't wearing much in the way of clothes. Just a wrap around her chest and a sort of shorts-skirt-kilt-ish thing around her waist. And then there was that hammer…Rachel stared, flummoxed.
«Thank you for helping me,» the bunny woman said, offering a shallow bow before she dragging the hammer around in an arc, laid both hands on its handle, and crouched down as if she were ready to swing it. «Now what the hell are you?»