Literally prompted by this.It’s easy to find someone to drink from the water glass. Accepting water into one’s body is natural, normal, we all learn it.
The next one takes the plant. This may take a few times, for chewing the plant doesn’t work, but it’s simple enough to understand how to eat such a thing whole, and the plant is alive. Once swallowed, it will tell one what to do.
Next comes air. The third drinker doesn’t breathe the air; they swallow it. Just odd enough to push people towards water or earth, but not nearly so tricky as the last.
Then there’s fire. Singers take the fire, and always singers. It makes sense, as those dedicated to the art only lose their voice for a day, and the rest will lose it forever.
One must hold the fire in one’s belly for a day, without hesitation and without doubt. Fire spat out in the first day will give one’s voice back immediately.
One needs one’s voice for the incantations of a mage, so the fire-drinker must be a singer, must love and need singing. It is nearly impossible to find one so dedicated who does not fear the loss of their instrument.
Elisia breathed deeply. She knew what this description was supposed to do, and knew that there were probably different versions given to each drinker. Probably about how the water drinker must be brave, to go first, alone. How the plant drinker--the word didn't fit, but it was still the word--accepts a foreign life into one's essence/mind/soul, how courageous it was to do so and how fulfilling to be whole.
She knew they were understating air. Her friend Jenny had taken air, and had described it as, "a torrent sweeping through every part of you, except no one can tell why you're upset. The old air-drinker warned me I'd go temporarily insane, but I didn't realize zie meant it. I wasn't...me." Elisia shook her head.
That was probably it. They didn't want her to back out, so they'd overstate the prestige and understate the consequences. The consequences must be similar, for fire and air.
Elisia stared at the glasses, briefly thinking back to when the four had been full. There was only one left, now. Fire. Destroyer, healer. Warmth, burning. Loss of voice, loss of self, but perhaps recovery, perhaps movement to something greater.
Fire of life. Pyre for your deathbed.
Elisia stared at her glass. She took a breath of air through her nose, then exhaled, "My glass." That was wrong. "My fire." That was right.
She took the glass of fire and drank, all in one go. Her throat closed, but that was fine. The fire reached through her skin, called oxygen that way. It also burned her skin, but that was fine. She was made to drink fire, she had burned herself often enough. She had enough moon-pale stripes to prove it, stark against bronze skin.
A dozen people came to her. After the first two (Jenny, her mother), Elisia realized that she was hallucinating. They told her that she wouldn't be a mage, not properly, a drinker but never a mage, that she'd never get her voice back, that everything of her would burn and nothing would grow from the ashes. After two more people (her father, a stranger), she wasn't sure if she was in the same room anymore, or if she was still standing or had fallen.
Elisia couldn't fight. Her nails slipped through the illusions, and her words couldn't pass her lips. She couldn't take deep calming breaths, because the fire burned on steadily, giving her what air she needed and none more or less.
So Elisia did not fight, and she did not try to calm herself. She did not attack, and she did not hide. She relaxed every muscle she had control over, and she let it happen.
Some hours later, the visions dissolved. A hand appeared. The fire-drinker before her, the one who had been the fire mage. "Welcome, fire-drinker," Samantha said.
I took her hand and stood. I breathed through my never-closed throat and said, "Fire mage."
The older fire-drinker smiled at me. "So you are."