Most of the tests were fairly dull. The Steel Dragon drew in an odd mixture of people. Most were just looking to get a workout and a useful skill at the same time. But maybe a third took the training very seriously. For them, every punch was intense and some of them seemed to be visualizing a target.
One of those, Jill, a slight and fragile looking woman, was testing for her green belt. Shan led her through the usual run of kicks and punches then he put on a glove and braced himself. “Let’s see your best force shot.”
A force shot used ‘chi’ to make an ordinary punch into a more devastating blow. Master Shan always stressed that it was among the most dangerous of techniques. The woman raised her eyebrows and hesitated when Shan told her to level it into his glove. Shan correctly identified her worry. “Do not worry, you have no magical experience, right?” She shook her head slightly, “In that case you’re new at this and won’t hurt me. Show me your best force punch.”
As he spoke his eyes darted over to Kyle. A couple of years previously Shan had said almost the same thing to Kyle when he was testing for a green belt. Only Kyle had been able to summon the same amount of energy as a tenth level Dan’s best effort due to his magical training. When Kyle had followed instructions and delivered his best shot Master Shan had been knocked across the room and into the wall. Jun Shan had taken the hit with impressive skill; he’d also started asking about magical experience.
Jill’s effort was fine for her belt, but not nearly as impressive. She lowered her eyes and pursed her lips in a look of concentration, tightened her stance, made a solid closed fist, and then struck forward with the determination she’d brought to all of her training. There was a sharp crack, a flash of light, and Jun’s arms shivered as they absorbed the punch.
“Good.” Jun nodded slightly.
Jill returned the bow and then walked back to her place. Testing continued.
Kyle was called forward several students later, he walked up and Master Shan immediately started barking out commands. Kyle followed them, finding the stances and names for various combinations came to him automatically even when something unusual and seldom practiced was being requested. He was nervous, but that just lent his strikes power and made his movements flow in a way he couldn’t typically manage. The only move he even stumbled on was a very high kick where his foot slipped against the slick boards. Jun’s face was, as always, unreadable but his normally stern expression seemed relaxed and when Kyle nailed a particularly complex combination without even slowing to think about it he actually smiled.
At length, Shan moved behind a heavy punching bag that had been hung up for the testing and braced it like a boxing trainer. “Force side kick,” he instructed.
Kyle drank in the biggest gulp of power he could manage and let fly. His foot raced toward the bag. Energy flowed into it from every part of his body. It was like lightning coursing down every vein, across every nerve. His foot contacted the bag. He let go of his power.
Magical energy changes space, invalidates the ordinary rules of the universe, and twists the underlying quantum structure such that other rules apply and a completely different set of possible and impossible holds sway. If this is done consistently, with foreknowledge of the effect, to achieve something otherwise impossible in our universe, then it’s a spell. With a force strike it doesn’t go that far. Instead, the release of energy is uncontrolled. Down at the smallest possible unit of space, somewhere around the Planck length, reality itself foams. Impossible becomes possible, possible impossible. Photons and electrons that exist comfortably in the normal world until that instant dissolve into energy as their existence comes into sharp conflict with the new rules. Quantum particle pairs are exposed to rules that throw off their perfect balance such that one half ceases to exist, and the other part becomes more energetic. Exotic matter and energy flows out of the new reality and into target.
“BANG!” A light like a flash bulb strobed across the room and a crack loud enough to rattle the windows sounded. Energy of every sort fountained off of the impact point: heat, magnetism, light from every part of the electromagnetic spectrum, a whole zoo of subatomic particles, and some strange kinetics. The 350lb punching bag jolted backwards so hard that Jun was forced to stagger two steps back. It was like kicking a blasting cap; a real opponent would have been sent flying.
Master Jun must have been impressed because he gave a little nod to the rest of the class. “Chi is strong in this one.”