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A summoner is a human with the hereditary ability to control monsters. Any child with at least one summoner parent will be a summoner as well. Legends say all summoners are descended from the Chosen Hero, from the time of the Cataclysm, but this is impossible to verify now.
Technically speaking, the only special ability a summoner has is a higher than average level of control over mana. With practice, they can learn to remotely control small amounts of mana even after it's left their bodies. The technique of using this to control monsters was developed later.
Monsters are simply aggregates of mana particles that are large enough to act on their own. Therefore, if a summoner can replace enough of a monster with their own mana, they can override the monster's instincts and give it commands. To capture a monster, summoners have to first attack a monster to lower its mana levels, then use a spell to pump their own mana into it. This is a difficult balance to strike; if too little mana is replaced the monster will simply be healed and resume attacking, while if too much is replaced its shape will destabilize and it will completely dissolve. But after a monster is successfully captured, the summoner can more or less control it indefinitely.
A captured monster can still act on its own if left without orders, as well as interpret moderately complex commands such as "protect me" or "don't let anyone enter this area". However, they're not any smarter than regular monsters, so dangerous misunderstandings are always possible. Some summoners prefer to take complete control of their monsters when they need them, and order them to stay still when they don't.
More powerful monsters require more mana to capture, so a summoner's monster count is effectively limited by the amount of mana they can remotely control. Most summoners can manage about 5-6 weak monsters or one boss-level monster at a time.
Capturing and controlling monsters takes years of training to perfect, but it's such a versatile ability that it practically guarantees steady employment. Most people born with the power end up going to specialized schools to hone it.
Although captured monsters are usually pretty weak, they obey orders unquestioningly and do not need to eat or sleep, so they're incredibly useful for manual labour. Wywick, which has a higher population of summoners, makes extensive use of monsters as mounts and draft animals. Also, a summoner can essentially act as a one-man adventuring party: their monsters attack, while they cast support and healing spells from behind. Therefore they're the only people who can safely travel through the wilderness alone, and are a cheap and easy option for mercenary or delivery jobs.