The first slabs to go were usually the most spectacular, so nesters from all five valleys tended to get there early to claim the best of the available viewing perches. The unavailable ones, of course, had already been reserved; their haughty occupants would fly in at their leisure, arriving just in time for the midday games to begin and often later than that.
Spotting an empty stretch of branch between a nester family and a pair of hunters, Sye'sral tucked her wings and dove. Just as she broke momentum and her talons came in contact with the deeply scarred wood, a third hunter swooped up from below, roaring territorially right in front of her. Talons scrabbling for purchase and wings flapping violently, they glared at each other for several heartbeats.
"Buzz off," one of the other hunters hissed.
The newcomer's nostrils flared, inhaling Sye'sral's scent. Suddenly the snarl froze on his face. Sye'sral narrowed her eyes at him and turned to go.
"Wait!" he mewed, moving aside while batting at her with his paw in a gesture of sundued apology.
"Oh, you smell that I'm 'in season' and suddenly there's room on the branch for both of us, is that it?" Sye'sral smirked and let go of the branch. Typical, she thought, as she dropped in a wide arc and glided over to the other side of the Greatree.
She landed on a mostly empty branch this time and made herself comfortable, preening while craning her neck to glance at the gaming sphere. The view here was quite terrible, but at least no horny males were trying to shove her off the branch.
A nearby cub yowled at his sister and copped a gruff paw on the nose from their mum. Sye'sral smiled, settled on her haunches, and reveled in the warmth from the sun. It was a beautiful day for it, if she closed her eyes and pretended she wasn't actually here to kill someone.
The trouble was that whenever she left her eyes shut for any length of time these days, that annoying pull would come back, as if emboldened by the darkness. It had been getting stronger over the past month or so; it would sometimes even manifest in her dreams. There it was like a vague rope or vine, always dragging at her from the same direction:
South, it seemed to command, in a whisper formed from neither lips nor words.