Water elementals are sentient manifestations of water, one of the four primary components of all matter in the physical universe. As with all elementals, they are primitive and chaotic by nature, but can be calmed down by the presence of the element of Spirit. Their primary place of residence is in the realm of the Elemental Plane known as the Abyssal Maw, which is the only place they can be permanently killed. Water elementals are found in and near bodies of water or other liquids, and are associated by many shamans with the personality traits of Tranquility and Indecisiveness.
Like all elementals, water elementals come in all shapes and sizes that reflect their location/habitat.
Along with their fellow elementals of stone, air, and fire, water elementals were the first beings to walk many worlds, including Azeroth. Being a unique kind of planet called a world-soul—aka a baby titan—Azeroth naturally absorbed a large amount of the element of Spirit as a part of its growth-cycle. The resulting lack of Spirit caused an unbalance in the elementals on its surface, allowing their now-unsuppressed chaotic nature to dominate them. The lord of the water elementals, Neptulon, led his armies in wars with the other elements for endless millennia, specializing in divide-and-conquer tactics with wise strategy, finishing them off with giant tidal waves.
When the Old Gods crashed onto Azeroth, they spawned armies of faceless ones and insectoid aqir and built their Black Empire. Like his fellow elemental lords, Neptulon saw this as a challenge to his domain and, for the first time, united with the other lords to destroy the Old Gods. However, in the end, he and all the other elementals were defeated and enslaved to the Old Gods’ will. When the Titans found the slumbering world of Azeroth, they knew they had to save it from the Old Gods in order to prevent the World-Soul from being corrupted. To accomplish this, they created the Titan-Forged Keepers to do battle with these dark forces and their enslaved elemental lieutenants. Neptulon was waylaid by keepers Loken and Mimiron on his way to aid the other elemental lords in their battles. Crafty as he was, he and his water elementals were outwitted and outmaneuvered by the two keepers. The battle ended with Loken unleashing his arcane powers to freeze and shatter Neptulon’s army, while Mimiron crafted enchanted bonds to imprison the water lord. Because the Keepers knew that the elemental lords could not be completely destroyed, being bound to Azeroth itself, Highkeeper Ra called on Helya to create domains in a pocket dimension that would be called the Elemental Plane. Neptulon and his water elementals were imprisoned in the watery depths of the Abyssal Maw.
At some unknown point in history, Neptulon and his forces became at least semi-active on Azeroth again, with one troll legend speaking of how he sent a kraken to destroy the Gurubashi nation. He and the other water elementals also have a history of animosity with fire elementals and have taken active roles in fighting them at least two times. First, Neptulon took a personal interest in extinguishing the fire elementals of Stonetalon Mountain. With the support of his servants, the Tribunal of the Tides, they sent a water elemental named Tsunaman to deal with the problem. Tsunaman enlisted the help of adventurers who wished to gain the favor of the Tribunal of the Tides and was untimely successful on eliminating their fiery rivals.
The second known instance was when a group of water elementals known as the Hydraxian Waterlords caught wind of rumors that the Dark Iron dwarves were secretly being forced to create a massive army to serve Ragnaros the Firelord. These rumors had, in fact, been purposefully leaked by the queen of the Dark Irons, Moira Bronzebeard, in the hopes that they would lure adventurers to Blackrock Mountain to defeat the Firelord and free her people. With the Waterlords spreading the word to the Alliance and Horde, and giving them special water-infused gifts to destroy Ragnaros’ fiery protective runes, the queen’s hopes were fulfilled as Ragnaros was defeated in the Molten Core and banished back to the Firelands.
During the great Cataclysm, heralded by the corrupted Black Dragon Aspect Deathwing and orchestrated by the Old God N'Zoth, the Corruptor the elemental lords were called upon by the Old God to bring destruction to Azeroth and usher in the end of the world, Hour of Twilight. While the violent Ragnaros and Al’Akir the Windlord embraced the call and relished the prospects of war, Therazane and Neptulon had managed to break the shackles that had long ago enslaved their wills to the Old Gods and refused. In response, the naga, servants of the Old Gods under Queen Azshara, and the Twilight’s Hammer cult attempted to invade the Abyssal Maw through a breach that had opened between it and the underwater zone of Vashj’ir. They sought not only to destroy Neptulon and make him suffer for his resistance, but also to seize control of the world’s seas and oceans. This would cut off all sea travel between the continents, allowing a divide-and-conquer tactic for the Old God forces.
Ironically, this misnamed card depicts a water elemental bound by the Twilight's Hammer and forced into their service
One of the plans the Twilight’s Hammer carried out in Vashj’ir was to drain the energy of an ancient creature known as L'ghorek and use it to transform several members of the Twilight's Hammer cult into elemental ascendants, granting them great elemental power as they become one with the chosen element. This project was led by the water elemental ascendant Hallazeal the Ascended.
He was defeated at the hands of adventurers who heard the tortured pleas of L'ghorek who wished to be rid of the parasites that were tormenting it. After the cult was defeated, L'ghorek died in peace and satisfaction.
The ancient creature, L'ghorek
Shortly afterward, the naga Lady Naz'jar led an assault on Neptulon with the aid of the kraken patriarch Ozumat. With the aid of adventurers, Neptulon was able to fend off these attacks in his home of the Throne of the Tides.
Ozumat, the kraken patriarch
During the Third Invasion of the demonic Burning Legion, the shaman of the Earthen Ring worked to summon the elemental lords to aid in their fight against the demons. Although hesitant at first to work with the other elemental lords, Neptulon was convinced to help and sent his champions, Champion Aquaclease and Lord Hydraxis, to help the defenders of Azeroth on battlefields such as the Broken Shore. These same champions would be ordered to fight the forces of the naga Queen Azshara in her capital city of Nazjatar beneath the waves. He was unable to enter himself because of a powerful titan artifact called the Tidestone of Golganneth that Azshara was using to hold back the sea.
Champion Aquaclease, the Tidestone of Golganneth, and Duke Hydraxis
Although existing primarily in their natural elemental state and communicated with by shaman, water elementals can also be summoned, or even created, by mages. The Kirin Tor classifies this spell under Conjuration, the study of magically creating creatures and objects. According to legend, the ability to summon water elementals was discovered when a few daring wizards attempted to summon water without remembering the glass. To accomplish this feat, the mage uses the forces of air and water and combines them into a simulacrum to defend the lands. They are loyal creatures, and will never turn upon their creators.
One variant of water elemental is the ice elemental. As beings of frozen water, they may be the result of the combination of air and water together, but this theory has never been confirmed.
Similarly, steam elementals may theoretically be the result of a combination of water and fire, but this is unconfirmed as well.
For many years during the celebration of the summer Fire Festival on Azeroth, the remnants of the Twilight's Hammer cult have attempted to summon the Frost Lord Ahune in order to kickstart an elemental war between him and the Firelord. Thankfully, adventurers have been able to prevent this every year so far.
Ahune, the Frostlord
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Several images in this article were sourced from Wowpedia.