Ethereals are beings of pure energy that travel the universe though the Twisting Nether in mercantile societies, collecting powerful artifacts and relics. Their bodies can change form, ranging from small and compact to large masses of vaguely humanoid energy. They often wear specially-enchanted wrappings to maintain a humanoid shape. It is likely that they don’t require sleep and unknown if they need any form of food or drink for substance.
An ethereal without wrappings in a pure energy state.
The society of ethereals consists of several trade princes and political companies that all form various factions. As a rule, they are neutral in conflicts and will often play both sides or be loyal to whatever will profit them the most.
The ethereals weren’t always energy-based beings. Over a thousand years ago, they were normal beings of flesh and blood that lived on the world of K’aresh. The world was thriving with life and several different sentient species. Their leader was named Nexus-King Salhadaar.
Nexus-King Salhadaar after he became an ethereal.
Perhaps because it was so teeming with life, a void lord called Dimensius the All-Devouring found K'aresh. The void lord assaulted the planet and opened countless gateways into the Void and the Twisting Nether, bathing it in powerful magic energies. Being a race possessing advanced technology, the soon-to-be ethereals attempted to construct magical barriers around their cities. While not entirely successful at blocking all the damage from the powerful waves of magic, the barriers were at least able to keep the people alive. Unfortunately, the powerful unimpeded flood of arcane energy tore away their physical bodies and infused their souls with magical energy that barely allowed them to survive without a body. To help give them form and survive, they bound themselves with enchanted strips of cloth to provide their souls with enough structure to survive. This altered state proved to be a blessing in disguise, as their enhanced minds and magical abilities allowed the ethereals to fight Dimensius and his limited forces to a standstill. Over the years, however, Dimensius eventually grew powerful enough to summon armies of fellow void creatures, forcing the ethereals to flee into the Twisting Nether.
Possibly due to their exposure to arcane magics, many ethereals make excellent mages.
The Ethereum, which held the ruling council of Nexus-Princes, started becoming dark and twisted in their obsession for vengeance against Dimensius. This caused many of the Nexus-Princes to leave the council and form their own smaller private organizations, including the Protectorate, which sought to stop the mad schemes of the Ethereum, and the Consortium, which consisted of traders, smuggles and thieves and provided aid to the Protectorate.
Dwelling within the Twisting Nether, several groups of ethereals found their way to Outland, the destroyed remains of the homeworld of the orcs, Dreanor. Essentially residing within the Twisting Nether itself, Outland was a perfect place for the ethereals to search for powerful artifacts. As it just so happened, the demonic Burning Legion was using Outland as a staging ground to launch attacks on other worlds, attacks that drew the attention of the factions of Azeroth.
The Invasion of Outland
One of the groups of ethereal in Outland was the Ethereum, which had by now created a new kind of ethereal called a Nexus-stalker. Nexus-stalkers are a partially void-based form of ethereal, and are considered by the Protectorate to be aberrations. The Ethereum’s goal had changed from its initial mission of hunting down and taking revenge on Dimensius. They now wished to "become void." To that end, they constructed a machine that was able to manipulate void energy and bond it with their own energy to transform into nexus-stalkers.
With a dark purple energy under its wrappings and apparent use of void magic, this ethereal is likely a variety of Nexus-stalker.
After the Burning Legion was driven back by the Alliance, Horde, and various allies they had made on Outland, several ethereals made their way to Azeroth to engage in business with adventurers in major cities. Such business transactions include selling magical items, creating pocket dimensions for storage, and magically changing the appearance of armor through a process called transmogrification.
Years later, during the Third Invasion of the Burning Legion on Azeroth, the united forces of the Alliance and Horde traveled to the Legion’s home world, Argus, through a portal created by Illidan Stormrage. There, they joined forces with the Army of the Light and reunited with two old heroes thought lost for many years, Turalyon and Alleria Windrunner. As part of her fight against the Legion, Alleria had taken to studying the void under a void ethereal called Locus-Walker. During a battle with the fallen naaru L'ura, Locus-Walker prompted Alleria to absorb the dark void power of the naaru. This resulted in Alleria absorbing the entire void essence of L'ura and transforming her into a void state. She later united with several other elves who had become enfused with the void and formed them into a people called the Ren'dorei--children of the void-- that supported the Alliance. Locus-Walker found these new void elves fascinating and decided to stick around and study them.
Several ethereals have become legends in the Hearthstone Tavern. According to the tales, one mighty ethereal named Nexus-Champion Saraad is said to have been a competitor in the Grand Tournament and rode a mysterious steed known as an energy camel. This creature could possibly be another species from K'aresh which experienced the same transformations as the ethereals themselves.
Raza the Chained is a unique ethereal rumored to be utilized by the crime syndicate known as the Kabal. Rather than using enchanted wrappings to keep his shape, Raza’s body is now made of enchanted chains. Led by the disguised blue dragon, Kazakus, the Kabal is said to run the illegal mana and potion trade in the city of Gadgetzan. Using a very unstable magic material called Red Mana to make their potions, the members of the Kabal use Raza’s chains as a method of stabilizing their volatile potions.
Zerek, Master Cloner is an ethereal under the employ of Dr. Boom at his headquarters of Boom Labs in the Netherstorm of Outland. Zerek is obsessed with finding a way to ensure the survival of the ethereals, and, most importantly, himself. The solution he has settled on to ensure his own immortality is cloning, although his cloning gallery still has to be perfected and is nowhere near being able to create a perfect copy of an energy-based life form like him. So far, he can only make miniature versions of corporeal races, but, as he says, “If perfection were easy, everyone would do it!”
Perhaps the most infamous ethereal to grace the whispers of the Hearthstone Tavern is Rafaam. An ethereal who considers himself the “Supreme Archeologist”, Rafaam has a history of attempting to steal the most powerful magical artifacts he can. This put him at odds with the League of Explorers when he tried to steal their latest find, the Staff of Origination. Creating chaos in his theft, he began using the staff’s power to steal everything else he deemed of value and bringing various museum exhibits to life in the Hall of Explorers to slow the League down. He was eventually defeated by the League and the treasures were recovered.
Rafaam empowered by the Staff of Origination
At some point after this, Rafaam gave King Togwaggle a lantern crown containing the fire elemental, Rakanishu. This act crowned Togwaggle the Kobold King and placed him in charge of gathering treasures in the Kobold Catacombs for Rafaam.
Rafaam crowing Togwaggle the kobold king.
A year or two later, Rafaam arranged a meeting with the fortuneteller Madame Lazul and several other defeated villains. By uniting with the forces of Dr. Boom, Hagatha the Witch, King Togwaggle, and Lazul, Raffam formed the League of E.V.I.L to enact his master plan of resurrecting the ancient dragon-monster known as Galakrond. As leader of this new league, he dubbed himself Arch-Villain Rafaam and enacted the first stage of his plan: capturing the magical floating city of Dalaran.
Rafaam as leader of the League of E.V.I.L
During the Dalaran Heist, Rafaam led the attack against the Kirin Tor, the most powerful mages in the city. With the Kirin Tor driven back, Rafaam and his team had free reign on Dalaran.
After seizing control of Dalaran and strapping Dr. Boom’s rockets to it, they used it to fly to Uldum and unleash several powerful plague lords from the Tombs of Terror with the aid of the Tol'vir Dark Pharaoh Tekahn. Although his old enemies, the League of Explorers, were able to put an end to the threat the Plague Lords posed to Uldum, Rafaam had already gotten away with his real prize, the Plague of Undeath.
After getting the Plague of Undeath, Rafaam abandoned Tekahn to fight off the League of Explorers on his own while he and the rest of the League of E.V.I.L got away.
Now with all the pieces falling into place, Rafaam led the League of E.V.I.L to the Dragonblight region of Northrend to carry out his plan of resurrecting Galakrond. A fierce fight broke out between his forces, including a fellow ethereal named Grand Lackey Erkh, and the united forces of the League of Explorers and the Dragon Aspects.
Erkh and various other etherals served under Rafaam in the League of E.V.I.L.
Not all the stories agree on whether or not Rafaam succeeded in his evil scheme of resurrecting Galakrond, but his tale lives on in the Tavern, making him perhaps the most infamous ethereal to ever walk Azeroth.
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Several images in this article were sourced from Wowpedia.