Author’s Note: This is an odd little thing, somewhere between a short story and a deleted scene. It started when a reader, Emma Queen, wrote into my page on Facebook to ask “I’m rereading Claimed by Shadow again and I’m curious, how exactly did Pritkin describe Cassie to Mac? I’ve always wondered.” So here’s the answer, plus a little bit more.
“I, for one, like a good cheap beer,” Mac said, tilting his chair back against the wall behind his shop, careful not to let his skin touch the burning brick. The sun had been on it for hours, until finally sliding off to torment some cacti around the corner, assuming the cacti minded. John didn’t know. He found the flora in Nevada as strange as that in some of the hell regions, which was fair considering the average temperature of the place. He wiped some sweat off his temple, before it could roll down the side of his neck, and took a swig from the bottle Mac had provided.
“Water,” he said, because there was no discernible difference.
But Mac didn’t seem to take offense. “It’s not water, it’s beer. It’s just shitty beer.”
“And you drink this why? Have they suddenly stopped paying your pension?”
“Like I’d notice if they did,” Mac said dryly. War mages, especially ex-war mages, were not over paid.
It was probably why his friend had turned a hobby into a second profession. John watched as a painted snake that had been hiding in Mac’s long mustache suddenly dropped out of sight, only to reappear on his chest and upset an eagle tat, which pecked at it savagely. The snake slithered off under Mac’s stringy bicep, and his friend took another swig, as if he hadn’t noticed.
Maybe he hadn’t. He only had about a hundred of the things, magical tats of all types and descriptions, covering his body in colorful perfusion to compensate for his inability to shield. He’d once been a war mage, as spit polished and disciplined as any. But ever since a curse stripped away his shields, and thus his career, he’d been looking more and more like a man with no purpose, doing tats for the magical community and waiting . . .
For what John didn’t know.
Maybe for better beer.
“There’s a liquor store around the corner,” he offered idly. “I could make a run –”
“You’re not listening,” Mac told him, squinting against the sun, which was now behind John’s head. “I like shitty beer.”
“You like shitty beer.”
“So, if I were to go get, say, a Newcastle, or a Black Sheep, or that damned chocolate stout you used to favor –”
“Then you could drink it yourself.”
“Since when do you champion fizzy, ice cold, tasteless crap?”
“Since I moved to Nevada,” Mac said, shooting him an amused look. “Climate changes a man. A good, strong lager and a warm fire pair up nicely when your bollocks are about to freeze off. But here,” he waved a hand from the heat shimmering off the nearby road to the dry as dust desert, “not so much. I used to laugh at American beers, too, until I realized why they brew them like they do.”
“They brew them?” Pritkin said dourly, and drank his slightly sour soda pop.