Soon they were deep in the forest. They could no longer jog non-stop: patches of tangled vegetation and uneven ground kept forcing them to a walk. They could only hope that General Krang’s army had been slowed much more by the need to clear a path for Wolf-Roarer. At least they hadn’t yet heard the sound of the cannon firing.
‘Not far now,’ said Tam, after another hour.
The Bluff would be visible from a distance through the trees. But they discovered the track of General Krang’s army first. Nina let out a wail of horror.
It was a channel of devastation, five metres wide. Left and right ran the great grooves gouged by Wolf-Roarer’s wheels. Every bush had been ripped out, every tree had been hacked down.
‘They must hate our forest!’ cried Nina.
‘Hush,’ said Tam. ‘We need to go quietly now.’
They continued to advance through the trees along the side of the track. They hadn’t gone far before they heard a stir of activity ahead.
They came around a bend and the Bluff rose up in front of them. General Krang’s army was there too. They drew deeper into the shelter of the trees.
‘What now?’ asked Chiz.
‘We climb,’ said Nina.
‘Up there?’ Doubtfully, Chiz surveyed the branches overhead. ‘I never climbed a tree before. How do you do it?’
‘Like this,’ answered Nina, and shinned up the nearest trunk.
Tam followed, then Chiz. Chiz turned out to be a natural-born climber, light and agile. ‘It’s like houses and drainpipes,’ he grinned.
They crossed from tree to tree, where the branches overlapped. Glancing down, they could see the massed soldiers of the General Krang’s army. Some were standing, some sitting and talking, some polishing their pikes. Not one of them thought to look up through the leaves.
Crossing from tree to tree became more difficult as the forest thinned out. Finally they could go no further. Crawling out along the last branch, they studied the scene ahead.
This was where the trees gave way to spiky bushes, all around the Bluff. But there were no bushes where the army had spread out, right and left: the soldiers had uprooted every single bush. They faced the Bluff in a wide crescent formation, and Wolf-Roarer reared up in the middle of the crescent. No tarpaulins now, just the great barrel gleaming in the sunlight, just the terrifying wolfs head ready to spit fire.