embedded in the walls. Strange plants and animals grew in the cave, but any creature that could move fled when it saw Audun.
The dragon had gone only a few feet into the cave when he saw the sea witch. She was crouched beside the egg, which had already begun to crack. I’m too late, he thought, certain that the baby bird would drown if it hatched here, at the bottom of the sea.
A hole appeared in the shell and the baby’s yellow beak poked through. More cracks appeared and the baby emerged, its beak opening and closing as if it were gasping.
Audun rushed farther into the cave to try to save the baby bird but slowed as he realized that the hatchling was growing rounder and fatter. By the time Audun had taken three steps, the baby that had started out smaller than a human boy’s fist was as big as Audun’s head. Three more steps and the bird was twice that size. It was soaking up water just as its siblings had at the oasis, but with water all around, this baby was doing it much faster.
“You’re going to kill it!” Audun shouted.
Nastia Nautica whipped her head around, making her hair swirl behind her. “So you followed me. And I thought my sharks would be fighting over your carcass by now.” The baby bird continued to grow as Nastia Nautica swam back and forth in front of Audun, blocking his way. “It might die, it might not. It will soak up some of the water; the rest it will turn into air. What difference does it make as long as it does its job before it dies?”
The little bird burped and a bubble floated out of its mouth. Suddenly, the sea witch darted forward and ripped the amulet from around the dragon’s neck. With a flick of her fingers, she encased the amulet in a bubble and sent it shooting out the entrance of the cave. Sneering at the dragon, the sea witch said, “You’d better hope that the bird doesn’t die until it empties this cave or you’ll die with it. What a dilemma—save the bird and you die, or let it finish soaking up the water and filling the cave with air and you live, for a little while at least.”
Audun knew just how long he could live on the air in his lungs. It was enough to let him get to the surface, if he left right away. “You can’t do this,” he said, and watched the precious air bubbles trickle past his lips.
Nastia Nautica laughed. “I can do what ever I want, and you won’t be able to stop me. You’re going to be too busy sucking up air,” she said, pointing at the ceiling where the water level had already dropped.
Audun growled at the witch as she swam to the side and let him pass. He was picking up the baby bird when Nastia Nautica backed into the cave entrance, saying, “You really aren’t very bright, are you? I wanted this cave empty of water so I could use it as a cell for a little thief who thinks she can get away with stealing my pearl. Do you see those green stones in the walls? They give off light, but that isn’t all they do. They wipe out any magic used around them, so neither my prisoner’s spells nor your magic will work down here. I bet you didn’t know that your amulet stopped working the moment you entered this cave. You’ve already used up most of your air! Once again, you’ve helped me out through your stupidity. You’ll be my test case. If the cave will hold you, it should hold my little prisoner as well. Oh, and by the way, you won’t be able to get out even if you can breathe underwater. Not after I do this!”
With a flick of her tail, the sea witch turned and darted down the tunnel. A moment later, Audun heard the rumble of stones falling as she blocked off the entrance to the cave.
They were trapped! Now Audun would never see Millie again and . . . He took a deep breath of the air at the top of the cave and tried to calm himself. The baby bird made a chirruping sound and waddled a few steps closer. The little creature didn’t seem to mind being underwater. His body was so big now that his head looked like a tomato resting