::::'''''Small Worlds'''''
::::''Chapter Two''

"Quite a placcce to meet you, Gunssslinger," the shedim hissed. "You mussst have hit sssome truly hard timesss, if you're ssslumming it in thisss dying old ssstation."

"I'm just here for the beer," Vaniah said. With one hand, he fiddled with his hat, adjusting the brim. With the other, he toyed with the collar of his shirt. The shedim watched him fidget with a look of disgust.

With his foot, he groped along the floor, searching for his revolver.

"You've yet to pay her your debt, Gunssslinger," the shedim said, sneering at the beer stains on Variah's shirt. "And you and I both know how much ssshe hatesss to wait."

"Worlds don't grow on trees, Newt Breath," Vaniah said. Privately, he thought, ''Eeeych. "Rotting-corpse-breath" would have been more appropriate.'' The tip of his shoe probed beneath the barstool of an obese Avialan, seeking his gun. He felt a smooth dip rise out of the floor, but it was the wrong shape to be the handle or barrel of his revolver.

"Sssomething wrong with thisss one?" the shedim inquired. It took a step forward; Variah retreated, and felt the worn corner of the bar pressing into his back.

"Too big for me," Vaniah said. He sidestepped quickly, knocking aside an empty stool. The clatter as it hit the floor was suspiciously loud. The gunslinger felt the collective hot stare of the establishment as all the eyes in the bar turned to look at him.

"The prophetesss needsss her world," it said. "Ssshe won't be pleasssed if we return to her and tell her you haven't found a sssuitable one yet. And if ssshe getsss angry..."

An old wood door creaked softly. Vaniah's head jerked. Out of the corners of his vision, he caught sight of a head--he couldn't tell what color--slipping through a cracked passageway.

The shedim noticed. One of its glistening, sore-puckered arms snapped up, flashing a pistol. A bullet cracked over Vaniah's shoulder, snapping like splintering bone. Vaniah's eyes chased it to the back wall.

One hand hanging off the back doorknob, the other held aloft, the red-headed barmaid returned fire. Another pistol shot echoed. The lead shedim drew in a sudden breath. None came back out. Like a column in an earthquake, it fell heavily and pondurously. The tavern-crawlers gasped as he hit the floor. Lizardlike, the two shedim behind it scurried up to their fallen boss. Vocalizations failed them--they looked up at Vaniah and hissed. He began to back up along the bar, walking towards the back door.

He threw a glance over his shoulder. The barmaid was grinning at him.

He caught a glimpse of the gun she held. The initials "V. V. V." glinted on the barrel.

"...HEY!" he shouted. Smirking silently, the barmaid slunk out the door, letting it click softly behind her.

Vaniah turned around. Behind him, the two shedim had recovered their boss' gun, and were valliantly (but fruitlessly) trying to figure how to work it. One peered inquisitively down the muzzle of the weapon.

"Thank the Gods Analta is a cheap-ass prophetess," he muttered to himself. He raced for the door and threw it open.

In the empty courtyard, there was no sign of the red-headed barmaid who'd run off with his gun.