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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 were first recorded shortly after the Cataclysm, and the threat they represent has played a large part in defining the shape of human society.
There are a handful of sapient monsters in Empyria; 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. 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.
Regardless of type, all monsters are aggressive toward humans. A monster that sees a human will attack on sight, and over long periods of time they drift toward nearby human settlements and try to breach the walls. Settlements attract more monsters the bigger they are, effectively imposing an upper limit on population. They are completely apathetic toward non-human animals, though, and won't react to them unless directly attacked.
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.
Although monsters are dangerous to common civilians, they're a huge source of profit for adventurers. Cities close to dungeons are in constant danger of being overrun, so they regularly pay adventurers to venture inside and clear them out before it can happen. Monster parts can be sold to anatomists, or cooked down into pure mana and used to power magitech or make potions.
Some people, called summoners, have the ability to control certain monsters. This is a common way of automating hard labour, especially in Wywick.