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After 1000 years of dwelling in apocalyptic shelters, some brave souls have begun exploring the surface. (This is how Rhydars were discovered and documented, by the way.) Among the first things these 'Vanguard' folk have discovered are Drakit, odd creatures evolved from cats in the harsh surface conditions (between the biological and chemical weaponry, radiation, and magical energy there, mutation is a given).

Drakit possess horns (position and design vary between individuals), a spinal ridge (of spines), hairless areas covered in scales (all Drakit have scaled undersides, but individuals may have scaled patches or body parts), and barb-tipped tails with razor-sharp claws and fangs. They are also curious, mischievous, and intelligent enough to understand human body language and obey simple commands, while also being capable of bonding with humans. In other words, they've been highly domesticated after their discovery and so we thought we knew them. We didn't.

As Vanguard members have ventured further out, shocking reports have come in of larger, stronger Drakit, about the size of a mountain lion, which isn't so surprising. What is surprising is their humanoid characteristics. They stand on two legs, make and use tools, and appear about as intelligent as ancient Neanderthals, being self-aware. They also seem to live in male-female pairs, but seem to form groups every so often-they're not exactly social, but they will interact with others of their kind and cooperate to aid each other in hunting or gathering salvage (like their juvenile form, they are drawn to shiny things and hoard metal objects), showing they are capable of altruism and critical thinking patterns.

This begs the question; why the sharp difference? How is it that Drakit get from being felines with intelligence like and equal to a primate's to bipedal, tool-wielding psuedo-hominids? Or in other words, what is behind this odd metamorphosis?

We've realized:

  • It can't be humans. We've haven't been back long enough to trigger such a change.
  • This is a natural part of the Drakit life cycle; a sort of metamorphosis. Vanguard members have reported their Drakit becoming more like Drakonomi (that's what we call the adult form) over time, from starting to walk bipedally to suddenly taking, hoarding, and crafting items with resources. These changes occur parallel to an increase in intelligence and a change in the paws, which become more suited for grasping and manipulating objects in older Drakit.
  • Drakonomi aren't exactly social; they do live in pairs, they do interact if they encounter other Drakonomi, they can and do cooperate to bring down prey or gather resources, but they are aloof, and when they do form groups, they basically just do their own thing. This strongly suggests that social behavior was and is not the precursor to their higher intelligence.
  • Drakit exhibit some small magical abilities, being able to shoot fireballs or streams of obscuring darkness to burn or blind prey or predators. Drakonomi can do much the same, even better with their high intelligence, and they have good natural weaponry, so they don't seem to need intelligence.

Any insight on this strange phenomenon would be greatly appreciated, thank you Monster Researchers!

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  • $\begingroup$ how is this any different than someone finding monkeys, gorilla, and humans? Also if they are not social it is unlikely they "evolved" intelligence $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ Cats are already self-aware, can plan and conspire, and can 'count' (keep track of numeracy) at least to five. They have a well-developed social structure with definite communication between them and humans. Not sure that there is an issue - they have a thousand years to develop.. Except the magic part. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ "... and obey simple commands..." bit THERE you have a problem. Cats completely ignore 'commands'. They wonder why these silly humans are trying to order them around. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 14:59

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Chimerism due to magic

I seem to recall that your magic system, mainly chaos energy, served to mutate creatures and occasionally give them traits from other animals. Humans are animals too aren’t they? So there’s no reason animals and monsters wouldn’t be able to gain human attributes by pure chance. Most likely however, since humans aren’t exactly well equipped to survive, the monsters with human traits won’t flourish. However getting human-like intelligence and opposable thumbs at the same time may be enough to make them ascend to the status of apex predators.

Going the convergent evolution route is also an option but as you already mentioned is too slow. For the sake of realism, magic makes the most sense in this scenario (oh, the irony).

Why only late in life? With magic serving as a mutator only powerful Drakit (dragon kitten?) would only have enough magical power to mutate when fully grown. However, the catch is that not all Drakit would necessarily end up with human traits. An exception would be if adult Drakit transferred their mutated genes to their offspring, in which case we can only wonder why they aren’t born humanoid.

Its most likely because of the brain. As with most problems in life, the brain is to blame. It is responsible for consuming about 20% of our total energy and growing a large brain is energy intensive. You’ll notice that human babies (I call them human larvae) are completely helpless until they reach a certain age. Meanwhile Cubs don’t take as long to mature, they are ready to hunt much earlier than humans are. In a harsh environment you’d want your offspring to be autonomous as soon as possible. Thus, once a Drakit has reached maturity, it is then good enough at hunting to have the excess resources to grow a big brain. Bipedalism and opposable thumbs would get in the way of running, so that’s probably why they only manifest late in life.

There you have it.

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Evolutionary pressures

Primates come in many biological forms with different intelligence. It is theorised that humans gained with their intelligence an abundance of food for a long time, allowing for more frivolous evolutions. Much like a peacock has invested inhuge feathers that are more of a hindrance than a boon, humans could start to invest in intelligence. It is an expensive and difficult part to evolve where the benefits aren't immediate.

We can use this as a template. The felines had incredibly little time to evolve, a tiny 1000 years. But we'll accept that due to all the magical and other environments that facilitate rapid evolution for this question. The felines can have wide differences between area's thanks to the specific requirements. One might have plenty of predators, but if you are big with horns you can ward them off while getting plenty of food. The snart felines might have something else.

Possibly they grew up in a previous urban area. Their intelligence evolved to make sure they didn't venture into structurally unsafe area's, but also to scavenge for food. Felines who didn't learn to push buttons, use handles or open cans would starve and are unlikely to procreate. The ones that do will have plenty of food. They might invent tools to make it easier. For this a size closer to humans is preferable to have easy access to buttons and handles, making it less energy intensive and leaving them less open to attack while trying to use buttons and such.

Though using buttons and such helps them get food, which is best done solo or with a partner so you don't have to share with others, this isn't their only food source. They still hunt and recognise the need for cooperation for higher yields.

The buttons etc. could have stopped giving food some time ago, but their intelligence can already support a higher food production. As a leftover they still prefer to be solitary or with a partner, but can still team up easily if the need arises.

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Humanity left a niche.. and a heritage

An explanation for this very fast development could be success: humans disappeared suddenly. Our niche got filled quickly by our pets, accustomed to human artificial environment, that is human's homes and streets. Some went bipedal, to make even better use of that environment.

While adjusting their behaviour, many human toys were suddenly in reach: the first thing cats learned when they were not affected by mutations yet, was how to open the fridge, how to open doors, how to crack food stacks. While going bipedal and developing their forelimbs, some cats discovered knives and how to use knives to kill.

After some time, when food gets scarce, the animals started predating again. Cats upscaled a bit and look far more dangerous now, as a result of only 60 generations of natural selection and competition ! The reason these physical changes occurred so fast was fast mutations, together with overpopulation.

There is further development: socially.. human society served as an example, families became pet families became clans Even tools production has been observed, but that is a recent development.. it is slow.. predators don't have good forelimbs to be really good at it. Most animals living in the cities reuse human tools, which are abundantly available. They will enjoy the human heritage and make good use of it. But as a result, they look more and more like humans.

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Convergent evolution, the same reason why sharks and dolphins have the same body plan though being separated by several millions of years of evolution.

For making and using tools, having a pair of limbs free from the task of supporting the body helps a lot, and this pushes for bipedism. Then, to have a versatile manipulating limb, again the hand with opposable thumb seems to be a good choice, as it is used by humans, raccoons and others.

And the tool making will start a positive feedback loop with brain capacity, pushing more toward the anthropomorphism.

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/It can't be humans. We've haven't been back long enough to trigger such a change/

There are other things that have.

There are other intelligent entities which have been operating on the surface during humankind's long hiatus. These nonhuman intelligences (and there may be more than one group) were heir to considerable human knowledge and have added their own over the centuries. Possibly one group of these intelligent entities are not originally native to the Earth. These entities are not numerous, and they operate in areas far from where the humans are exploring.

One group of these intelligent entities were enamored of the Drakonomi and so selectively bred them into companion animals. Some of these went feral and did very well; these are the drakit, which have ranged far over the centuries since they came into being. The intelligent entities are still working on the drakit, and more fanciful and friendly versions (and also some more intelligent versions) now exist though these companions are less fit for life in the wild.

The Drakonomi go along pretty much as they have. They might be aware of this group of intelligent entities, if someone can figure out how to talk with them.

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