John trekked around the forest for about two more hours, but not any further than thirty minute's worth of distance from the teleportation zone back to his nest. He was so weak right now he did not want to risk going too far out, especially in light of what he had seen.
Thankfully, John's injuries seemed to heal slowly.
The muscles he had pulled and torn in his legs from the Mudclaw Crab had patched up over time, and Mel said that dragons had a natural healing factor that improved dramatically over evolutionary stages.
Plenty of times, John had to hide when he heard something big approaching, rustling through the foliage, and the first time he hid in the thick of a round bush, he peeked out to see an enormous, green furred panther with glowing green saber teeth prowling around.
The panther was more than twice John's size, and he had no doubt it could kill him in one swipe of its huge claws.
Even just seeing the panther made shivers run down John's spine, and it made him that much more aware that he was out in the wild, where you ate or got eaten.
John also fully knew that had the panther wanted to hunt him, he would have never seen it coming. The only reason he was still alive was because the panther had a full, round belly, not caring much of concealing itself.
This made John realize that he needed to be aware of hiding spots and escape routes at any given moment of time.
That slowed John down a little, but it made him more aware of his surroundings.
'Damn, isn't there anything easy I can snap up? Anything big is too strong for me and anything small is too fast for me. Mel, any suggestions?' asked John.
[I cannot assist you on that regard. You must hone your hunting skills yourself,] came Mel's calm but resolute voice.
'Fine,' said John with a shake of his head before the whiff of a scent caught his nose. A sweet, fragrant scent that reminded him of the hint of strawberries, his favorite fruit.
He tentatively started to follow it, using his sharp nose to get around.
'Mel, what's that smell?' asked John, hoping she would answer.
[A source of edible mana,] said Mel. [Draconic noses have an incredible capability to pick out the scent of mana infused objects. Consuming any such object will also contribute to your Essence.]
'Well, that's a whole lot easier,' said John as he made his way to the smell. 'Something like an herb or fruit won't fight back, will it?'
Mel did not answer.
'Okay fine, be that way. Guess I'll just have to investigate myself,' said John.
The culprit of the smell was a small grove of strange ferns growing beside a tree.
The ferns were shaped in tall curls, countless little bulbs of tiny black lining their stems.
At the base of the fern, where they sprouted from a patch of thick grass, there were tennis-ball sized glowing blue seed pods.
This was it! The pods were where the smell came from.
John immediately began to salivate as his hunger reared itself. He had to swallow saliva and stop himself from drooling, and he eagerly came forwards to grab a pod and eat it, for he was so close to reaching his next evolutionary stage.
But wait a second-
John stopped himself from grabbing the blue pod right as his claws hovered around them. His hunger made it hard, but he held back because he felt a little suspicious about this.
Pods full of magical energy glowing like this?
Just out in the open? Why hadn't something else eaten them?
There must have been a catch.
John trotted back, looked around, and grabbed a stick in his jaws. He flicked his head towards the ferns, tossing the stick at it with some force. When the stick slapped one of the ferns, the countless tiny black bulbs on it exploded, sending out spike like thorns everywhere.
John yelped in surprise as he dodged behind a tree trunk, evading the spray of thorns, but a few had managed to lodge painfully into his tail.
Thankfully, because John had made some distance, only three thorns had made contact instead of what would have been close to a fifty.
John felt pain radiate out from the tip of his tail. Thin but long spines were lodged in there, little circles of red outlining them as drops of blood streamed out from the wounds.
A strange, numbing sensation tingled his tail, and he immediately suspected poison.
John acted quickly. He held down his pain and tore out the thorns from his tail. Then, he sucked out an blood from the entry wounds and spat it out, trying to rid himself of as much poison as possible.
John was a little woozy, but he could still stand. He had scales, but they were still soft and fleshy, providing almost no protection. He needed to reach his next evolutionary stage and armor himself up with the Mudclaw Crab's shell.
John shuddered to think of what would have happened if he had let his hunger drive him to take the pod. All those spines inside of him, poisoning him – he would have probably died or been left paralyzed for something else to eat him.
So many times, John could have died today. He desperately needed to get stronger.
For that, John needed these blue pods. He could instinctively tell they would get him to his next evolution quite easily.
But were they worth the trouble?
Yes, yes they were.
This was what John realized as he thought about his situation for a few seconds.
Honestly, it was pretty easy to work around the ferns.
John took another stick in his jaw and flung it at another fern, and now because he knew what to expect, he could hide behind the tree trunk before any thorns hit him.
There were eight ferns, and John repeated this process with all of them, observing that the black bulbs did not regenerate their projectile thorns.
When John was done and all the ferns were disarmed, that was when he came out of his tree trunk hiding place with more confidence. He looked at the trunk and the hundreds of thorns embedded in it and breathed a sigh of relief that none of those were in him.
Now, for the spoils of war!
John trotted forwards and picked up a blue pod in his jaw, tugging at it to tear it from the fern. He crushed the pod in his jaws and felt cool, sweet liquid trickle down his throat. It tasted like syrup, almost too sweet, but hey, he was not here to complain.
John gobbled up all eight of the pods, and then felt a wave of sleepiness and heaviness hit him. He looked down at his chest and found that it was glowing slightly blue.
*Essence Obtained (+80)*
Essence Level: 150/100
*Whelp Evolutionary Stage available*
*New Origin Obtained*
Ten points for every pod, huh. Not a bad haul, for sure.
Now, John could even reach his next stage of evolution to become a Whelp.
[Your hunting instincts are sharp. Your ways are…unconventional for a Hatchling with your penchant for using tools, but as long as you survive, all is well,] said Mel. [Currently, your body is digesting and processing the magical energy you have consumed from the Quill Ferns.
It will take some time, and until it is digested, you will feel sluggish. I suggest you return to the nest for the day.]
'Already on it,' said John as he followed his innate sense of direction back to the teleportation zone. There, he could lie back and finally evolve in the safety of his nest.