[Most of our civilisation was lost when the blasted system changed us. No need for farmers, artists or poets when you're a monster. It was our ability to manipulate cores and create pets to fight for us that mattered, and over the years we've taken that skill as far as we can.]
The two of us were relaxing in Formo's house, carved into the wall around the outside of the forge. The inside was as simple as the outside, a small number of rooms, a crude bed and furniture which had been carved from the rock. Formo sat on a stone chair next to a small table whilst I stood just outside with my head through the door. This part of the town wasn't exactly made for monsters to move comfortably in, and the Sophos were quite small.
[I'm a bit surprised that you guys all seem to look pretty similar. Since you're monsters, shouldn't you have evolutions and all that? What tier are you anyway?]
Formo's snort rang in my mind for a moment before he spoke.
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[It's a touch rude to ask that sort of thing, old bean. But I don't mind I suppose. We deliberately don't evolve much in order to keep our settlements in the upper levels of the Dungeon. Most of us are tier five and a few of us are tier six. We use mana concentration enchantments to bring mana up from below in order to sustain us. If we kept on evolving, that'd become impractical and we'd have to move down. This settlement is already something of an oddity, since most of our communities are in the second strata. Better cores down there.]
[I can imagine. Any chance you would share those enchantments?]
I think for a moment. I can feel that the mana in the air is more concentrated in here than it was in the tunnels outside, which is crazy considering there aren't any mana veins. Are they moving mana around with some sort of mana air conditioning system?!
[Your friend Tirimon seemed very interested in my pet Crinis. Any particular reason for that?]
[Is that the tentacly one?]
[Yes,] he began to muse, one clawed hand coming up to stroke his narrow chin. [That's quite the rare specimen you have there. Quite rare indeed. Very new species. We encountered them for the first time during the wave, which I presume, you did as well.]
[For sure. Scared the heck out of me.]
[Hah! I bet! It's not unusual for the Dungeon to spit out new species during events like a wave, see how they fare. Now that things are calming down, we're quite keen to send an expedition to the lower levels to see what we can see.]
I refrain from pointing out that they won't see much, due to being blind. That's too cheap, even for me.
[No one's going to steal her are they?] I ask nervously.
[What?! THEFT!? NONSENSE! The Sophos aren't petty thieves! ]
[Tirimon seemed pretty keen to get his hands on her.]
[Tirimon is a BLITHERING IDIOT for letting his pet out into the tunnels unsupervised. If he wanted to test its performance then he should have done so here in the proving grounds. I'm sure he wanted to replace his lost specimen but he got what he gosh darn deserved.]
He stood up, his thin legs wobbling a little as his oversized head began to tip his balance.
[WHOA THERE! Might as well pop down to the pens if you're worried though. I wouldn't mind checking in on my pets also.]
I have to back myself up a little in order to clear the doorway and we pass through the forge where Sophos diligently work their craft and we come to an enormous staircase leading both up and down. These stairs are so massive that I think even Garralosh would be able to navigate them! Makes sense I suppose, there would have to be somewhere the Sophos could move their pets throughout their community. That's probably why their streets are so wide to start with.
The stairs slowly curve and it isn't long before we arrive in the 'downstairs' area and my mandibles drop open reflexively. Had I really thought the Sophos would treat their pets poorly? I'm an idiot.
What I see could only be described as the most luxurious stable I've ever seen. A trickling stream of mana infused water meanders between spacious pens with high walls and comfortable amenities. The pets have beds. BEDS! And they look so much better than what the Sophos themselves enjoy! In fact, from the entrance I can see into a nearby pen where one of those enormous worms is comfortably nestled on an enormous padded cushion. A pile of Biomass rests next to the languid worm and I can see a Sophos inside, massaging the great beast.
In fact, there are far more Sophos here than there were upstairs. They move from pen to pen, checking on creatures, or even just resting alongside them. They don't appear to be doing much physical labour, which is understandable considering how weak they are, instead they direct other pets to the heavy lifting and move alongside them.
[It seems as if your people spend more time down here than upstairs.]
[Hurrumph! We can't have children anymore, you know. The Dungeon doesn't allow natural reproduction from 'monsters'. Not in the way we could before. My people invest most of their energy in their pets. They are the only children we'll ever have. Of course, not all pets are treated this way. Some are disposable soldiers, an unfortunate reality of living in the Dungeon, those who've been with us for a long time though… It's hard, when they die.]
[I understand. I've wanted to try and find a way to free my pets.]
[Hmm. You don't want them to be compelled to follow you but do so from their own choice?]
Nice to meet someone who understands my principle!
[SMASHING empathy there chap, but I have to say we haven't found a way to do it. When you reconstitute a core, the bond is formed and we don't know how to sever it.]
Speaking of my pets, I find the pair of them resting in the lap of luxury within a pen waited on hand and foot. Tiny appears to be loving life as reclines in a padded chair that seems designed to hold his sort of weight as he munches on handfuls of Biomass. Crinis, for her part, is cringing against the wall trying to hide herself for a small crowd of six Sophos who appear to be standing and staring at her, motionless.
Now of course, I know that they are probably having a rich (and loud) mental conversation but I have to say, it looks a little creepy.
I can feel Formo weaving together a mind bridge in mere seconds as he attaches us to what I can only describe as a mind web, a multi-link bridge construct between the Sophos.
[WHAT IS ALL THE HUBBUB?!] he bellows.
[NO NEED TO BUTT IN, YOU PEASANT!] Comes the sharp reply.
As they erupt amongst themselves, I wander over to Crinis.
[How's it going there, Crinis? How long have they been here?]
[The. Whole. Time.]