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"Monster" is a general term for creatures made entirely of mana. There are many types of monsters with a variety of different appearances and abilities, but all are characterized by a mysterious aggression toward humans. They first appeared during the Cataclysm, and the threat they represent has played a large part in defining the shape of human society.
A monster with a high enough mana density becomes sapient; these are known as spirits.
Monsters are made of mana, condensed into solid form. They don't need to eat or sleep, and even the ones that resemble animals lack common animal instincts. However, they do die; a monster that loses enough mana to destabilize its shape will dissolve back into the background mana field. They can be killed by straightforward attacks, or die from "old age" since they slowly leak mana back into the atmosphere even without outside interference.
Very little is known about the internal anatomy of monsters, since they are difficult to study. Dead monsters dissolve back into formless mana, while living ones are too aggressive to handle. Even if a living monster is subdued for vivisection, it's hard to make the necessary cuts without destabilizing the monster's form.
Occasionally, small parts of a monster will remain solid even after death; most existing knowledge of monster anatomy was gained by studying these. It seems that monsters have "organs" of sorts, or at least masses of differentiated mana, but their purpose and function are still unknown.
Monsters spontaneously come into existence in dungeons - places where the background mana field is particularly dense. Some monsters are born fully-formed, while others start out as monster seeds: sessile growths made of solidified mana that form on dungeon surfaces. Most seeds have a fleshy texture, like strangely animate fungus, but plantlike and even crystalline seeds have been observed in certain dungeons. Seeds slowly absorb mana from their surroundings, and eventually metamorphose into full-fledged, mobile monsters.
There seems to be some correlation between the makeup of a dungeon's background mana and the types of monsters it produces; for example, a dungeon primarily containing water mana might produce monsters with aquatic features like fins and tentacles. However, the details of this process are still poorly understood.
Since the birth of a monster is rarely witnessed by human eyes, there is still a great deal of mystery and superstition about what exactly monsters are, and where they come from. For example, since battlefield dungeons often produce warped, bony or rotten-looking monsters, one common belief is that they are the ghosts of soldiers slain in battle, come back for revenge upon the living.
The sentience of monsters is a subject of much debate. Some believe that monsters are equivalent to computers, and merely react to stimuli in pre-defined ways; others argue that monsters have minds, but alien ones that are not yet understood.
When left to their own devices, monsters exhibit repetitive, seemingly-meaningless behaviour; for example, patrolling in circles or snapping at the air. They continue to attempt these behaviours even in obviously wrong circumstances - a monster in a tunnel will attempt its usual behaviours even if there's obviously no room, and end up banging its head against the ceiling at regular intervals. They generally do not respond to the presence of animals or other monsters, either. However, they do seem to respond in complex ways if their routines are significantly interrupted - changing their route when a tree falls across it, for example, or retaliating when attacked.
Monsters under a summoner's control tend to exhibit more personality. Different individuals, even of the same species, might follow orders in different ways, and some are noticeably harder to work with than others. However, some argue that this is due to the presence and influence of the summoner's own mana, and thus does not constitute evidence for consciousness.
Regardless of type, all monsters attack living humans on sight with whatever physical abilities and magic they have at their disposal. Monsters with mouths will bite and consume human flesh, even though they can't digest physical matter; they simply regurgitate their meals a few hours later. Even seeds will strain and reach toward passing humans.
Over long periods of time, monsters drift away from their native dungeons and approach human settlements, seeking to breach the walls. Human settlements attract more monsters this way the larger they are, effectively imposing an upper limit on population.
Currently, the most widely accepted explanation is that monsters are attracted to mana, and attack humans in an attempt to absorb the mana stored inside their bodies. The fact that monsters will occasionally attack large magitech devices and other monsters supports this theory. The Church of Aether opposes this idea, claiming instead that monsters were created to punish humanity for their sins, and in recent years they have gained a fair amount of support.
Relationship with Humans
In every settlement of Empyria, monsters are a constant threat to human survival. Every city is surrounded by a defensive wall, patrolled by guards who watch for approaching monsters in shifts. Adventurers are hired to head into dungeons and exterminate monsters before they can organize large-scale attacks. With modern technology and spellcasting techniques, most monster attacks can be repelled without too many damages. But it is still common to meet people who have been orphaned or displaced from their homes by monsters, and everyone keeps an ear out for the warning bells as they go about their daily business.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that monsters often appear as villains and bad omens in fables and literature. In more charitable works, especially those with Aetherite influences, they sometimes take the role of messengers of the gods - enforcers of divine punishment for humanity's sins and transgressions. Even then, they are clearly depicted as creatures to be feared.
Few are willing to dispute this negative reputation, but some academics argue that it impedes scientific progress. Most existing research on monsters focuses on how to kill or use them more efficiently; those who study their behaviour or origins receive little support from the general public, and in some places they are subject to derision or violence. This, combined with the difficulty of obtaining samples or observing them unnoticed, means humanity's knowledge of monsters is woefully incomplete.
Monster parts that do not dissolve after death can be put to a variety of uses. They can be cooked down into pure mana and used to power magitech or spellcasting. There is also a market for them among anatomists; large intact parts especially sell well, since they are quite rare and can be dissected to gain insight on a monster's vulnerable parts.
In recent years, it has become popular among certain groups of adventurers to fashion parts from monsters they have slain into accessories. This is mostly a show of power, but since they're made of mana, they can also be absorbed in emergencies to give a boost to one's magic reserves. Subtle examples can be indistinguishable from regular jewelry made of organic materials, but since monster parts do not decay, one can see the occasional adventurer sporting an entire monster head as a pauldron. Public opinion is still split on if this is impressive or disturbingly tacky.
Some people, called summoners, have the ability to control certain monsters. This is a common way of automating hard labour, especially in Wywick.