Shinatos was not imagining it. His Resonance was tuned to detect others around him and, with the exception of those talented enough to hide their own like Kurjus, always detected when someone was in the vicinity. But... the room was empty.
To be safe, Shinatos checked under his bed, in the wardrobe, and even in the secret trapdoor used for emergencies. Maybe the intruder was hiding just outside? No, the Resonance was too strong. Whoever it was, they were within reaching distance. It didn't make sense, though. No one was there... right?
Then, as sudden as it had came, it was gone. Shinatos was tired and wanted to dismiss it entirely, but instincts kept him still for the next half hour to feel out the room. He was sure he hadn't been wrong in what he felt, but he decided sleep would be the smarter route. If that... thing... wanted to harm him, it would have stayed.
Shinatos struggled to keep his eyes open as he sat in his throne, listening to the daily reports. Most of it was simply the boring usual happenings that didn't really need to be talked about; such as the gross production of Rose's lands and details on the border defense.
He had not been able to sleep well the night before, as that presence still made him wary. After thinking about it as he prepared for the day, Shinatos had decided it might either be his stress at the failure with General Rauk's bones. It made the two days he traveled back, carrying those damn bones and avoiding people, pointless. It mattered not, though.
"Next," Chancellor Cale announced, "is a messenger from Kemon."
"Oh?" Shinatos watched the messenger be ushered in. He wore the green and black of Kemon, with a white cloak that marked his purpose. "This should be good. I wonder if they'll try to pin this on us as well?"
The Chancellor gave him a blank stare. He was an old and unsavory man, missing hair and crouched over, but Cale was good at what he did, much like most of Rose's trusted members. "My lord, it would be wise to not bring any more attention to ourselves than we need to."
Shinatos nodded. "You're right, of course." He motioned to the messenger standing between two of the Rose guards. "Proceed."
The man bowed and approached the throne. Once he was a couple feet away, he knelt down on one knee. "High Lord Rose, I thank you for your time and assure you I won't take up too much of your time."
"It is no issue," Shinatos answered with his brightest smile. Acting was something he could do well, though he really wanted to just send this man home without hearing anything. "Please, continue with your missive."
"My thanks, High Lord. I come bearing the words of High Lord Guarn of House Kemon." The man pulled out a slip of paper, causing the guards in the room to tense visibly. Should the messenger do anything suspicious, he would die. "For years, Kemon and Rose have shared our northern and southern border respectively. We have been allies since the last Succession War, when the Bastion Throne was taken by Hermus. Kemon is aware that Rose wishes to remain neutral, but we have received information that other Houses plan to move on Rose, who has high influence in the Bastion Court."
Shinatos smiled at the man. "So, you wish to be allies, once more?"
The messenger hesitated. "In short, yes, my lord."
"Do you have any proof Hermus is targeting Rose?"
"We do, but we want to wait until we can retrieve more reliable information."
Smart. Kemon was purposely making this 'information' unreliable to make them seem more trustworthy. Had Shinatos not already known Kemon was proposing an alliance with Hermus AND preparing to attack Rose, it might have swayed him. "Chancellor, might I have your word on the matter first?"
"Of course," Cale said, glancing at Shinatos. "Your proposal seems honest, to be sure, but you lack evidence to support your claim about Hermus." The messenger didn't move, but Shinatos got the sense he felt tense. "And even if you did have this evidence, Hermus must travel through your lands to reach Rose's own. Are you really offering a truce, or simply attempting to bolster your own defenses?"
The messenger looked up at the Chancellor. "I assure you, Chancellor, Kemon does not wish to use Rose in any way. We simply wish to gain your support in name alone."
Shinatos smiled at the man. "I see your point. You want to gain a large standing so you might force the other Houses to think twice before attacking."
"Indeed, my lord. We hope to take the throne without violence."
Lies. "I sympathize with your House, I truly do..." Shinatos sighed as if he cared at all. "But I have already proclaimed House Rose to be neutral in this War. House Jeroha shares our border as well, though mountains separate us. If they wished, they could use their superior military to cross the mountains and mount an attack. It is no secret Jeroha wants the Crown, too."
"My lord, Jeroha would never attack Rose."
The chancellor cleared his throat to gain attention from the messenger. "While it is true Jeroha respects our neutrality, it is also true that they have a grudge against your house. Would we side with you, Rose would be at risk."
"I understand, but we could..."
"Enough!" Chancellor Cale turned to Shinatos. Ah, it was good to have reliable allies. "High Lord, make your reply if you wish. I feel as if we have heard all this man has to offer."
Shinatos nodded to his chancellor, agreeing. "I do apologize, messenger for House Kemon, but I must decline. I see no benefits to allying with you."
The man sighed audibly. "I understand. I only hope Rose can remain neutral throughout this War." Was that a threat?
"I assure you," Shinatos told the man before he left. "If any come to pick at Rose, they will find naught but thorns." It was a subtle reminder of the assassin Rose had. Of course, there was no proof that is was Rose's. There never would be.
"I will relay your words, my lord." The messenger bowed deeply and moved to leave.
"Should we send spies to Jeroha?" Chancellor Cale asked.
Shinatos pushed his long black hair back and sighed. "No, just keep watching Hermus, Kemon, and Usam.
Chancellor Cale nodded, then called in the next man. Shinatos sighed to himself. He had so much to do. He would need to travel to Hermus soon and take out another high ranking member of the house as Dethnus, figure out how to proceed with his research, and keep the neutrality of Rose for possibly years to come. So much to do...