The Imperial Palace, Meditation Garden 2:00 P.M
"Wow… I… I honestly don't know what to say…" Ron said as he beheld the Jewel Shard he was given; the rainbow-colored shard that he and Imara would need to present to be admitted into the Master Challenge.
"You really shouldn't be surprised." Imara said. The rest of the Gimura Force simply bowed in respect to Imara's decision, though Sol noticeably looked almost disappointed by this. "After careful consideration, I've trusted you the most. Sometimes more than I trusted even my own brothers. Especially with certain secrets…" Imara's face turned red at that last part as she looked away. She had hoped it wasn't an open secret at this point.
"I'm pretty sure you've been trusting more than just me with said secrets." Ron said with a chuckle, as Imara blinked. The rest of the Gimura Force, especially Sol and those closest to Imara's age, silently concurred. "What secrets?" Hassan asked, the boy truly and genuinely lost despite the looks from Adam and Jericho. "Use your imagination, Hassan." Penelope said, chuckling at her own memories of her wild and sensual youth before she married Raj. Adam and Jericho both grimaced at their mother's words. "We try not to, Mom." Jericho said. "Dad would have been better off if he didn't as well."
The mood soured as soon as Raj was mentioned, especially amongst the younger men as they remembered Raj's reaction to the suggestion that Imara was fraternizing with the troops. This memory also shined a light on the fact that only Ron could have gotten away with turning on Imara's father as he did, and even then perhaps Imara didn't hold it against him only because of the cavalier attitude Raj beheld his best friend's sacrifice with. Even so, Imara's sadness at her father's death was still visible.
"Raj was never the true leader of his own Force, nor was he even the reason his own household was in order. The sooner you realize that, the better you'll feel about what happened to him. And the sooner you'll realize why the Empress and especially Prince Azuro place as much faith in you as they do." Ron reassured as he handed the Jewel Shard back to Imara.
"Well said, Jotomatu." Empress Malkia's voice sounded, and everyone bowed the minute they turned and saw the Elven Empress. To her right stood Azuro, King Oogtar and King Abdul; and to her left stood the Grand Priest, then Lugo, then Zume and Auri. All of them concurred with the Empress, who continued to speak for them.
"We have no doubt that you will win the Master Challenge, and just as soon as you stop doubting yourself will you realize that you were destined for greatness from the very start. The fact that you can wield the Troll Scimitar alone is proof enough of that. But simply look behind you if you need more convincing." Malkia said as she pointed behind the next Grand Priestess.
Imara for the first time saw what many others saw. The entire Gimura Force, made up of those most societies would deem unscrupulous or lost causes, looked upon her with the utmost respect and adoration. She could command them all to commit suicide, and they'd scramble over who could do it the quickest. It occurred to her that almost all of these men would never have submitted to any other authority if not hers. She truly was the real power in the Gimura Force.
"You truly believe in me? You all truly believe that I can complete the Master Challenge?" Imara asked, to which Lugo spoke up. "We believe you do not even need a partner to do so, in fact. However, with Ron at your side, you carry with you the entire morale and support of the Gimura Force. You will prevail, if for no other reasons than there is no challenge on Master Sheng's Island that can stop you once you recognize your abilities." Lugo said. Imara's eyes glowed, a smile tugging at her lips at seeing the concurrence of all those who believed in her, even where she didn't believe in her self.
"For all of you. I shall ace the Master Challenge."