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Treading the chaotic spaces between worlds, the ethereals are astral travelers who dwell within the Twisting Nether. They are known to be collectors and traders of arcane items and artifacts. Now drawn to Outland, many ethereals are seeking to track down its treasures and steal them back into the Twisting Nether. Most of them are liars and scoundrels who will stop at nothing to pursue their mysterious aims. The ethereals have no care at all for the Burning Crusade. They would even play both sides of the conflict against each other if doing so would serve to further their own goals.
Some ethereals have chosen to partner with the Alliance and the Horde, and others are neutral to both factions.
Ethereals can be found in Nagrand south of Lake Sunspring, in the Mana Tombs of Auchindoun, the Blade's Edge Mountains, and throughout the Netherstorm. A small number also dwell in Shattrath. The ethereals are driven by trade and economics, and accordingly their political structures are centered around trade princes and political "companies".
The ethereal faction called The Consortium, which players can gain reputation with, is one of these. The ethereals that currently control the Mana Tombs in Auchindoun led by Nexus-Prince Shaffar are another of these "political companies." The Ethereum is a radical militant organization that attempts to avenge the destruction of the ethereal homeworld by void creatures. The Protectorate attempts to thwart the void and protect neutral races from the Ethereum's attacks.
The ethereals are similar to goblins, in the way their political systems work, and like the goblins the ethereals will support anyone who would further their profits, and oppose anyone who dares interfere with their plans. The Ethereals also share in the goblins' propensity for technology, though their technology appears to be far more powerful and otherworldly. Ethereals possess everything from the familiar, such as transporters, to the radical, such as their eco-domes.
K'aresh was an arid planet, home to a thriving ecosystem and several sentient species before the arrival of Dimensius the All-Devouring. How the void lord found K'aresh is still hotly debated among the surviving ethereals, but the effects of his coming were unmistakable: he opened countless gateways into the void and the Twisting Nether around the planet, bathing K'aresh in arcane and dark energies.
Using every scrap of its advanced technology, one of the mortal races hastily attempted to construct magical barriers around its cities, but it was only partially successful; although the dark energies were blocked, the unimpeded flood of arcane energy tore away the mortals' corporeal shells and infused their souls with enough energy so that they could subsist without a body… barely.
Members of this race, now called ethereals, took to binding 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.
Originally, Ethereals had physical form. When Dimensius the All-Devouring assaulted their homeworld of K'aresh, however, the arcane energies they used in their shields against him, ripped apart their bodies. Only their advanced technology allowed them to survive - barely - as beings of pure energy. Ultimately, it was this very change that allowed them to battle Dimensius on an even-footing and travel through the Twisting Nether to find refuge. Their bodies can take many forms, able to be compacted into small sizes, or expanded to their true form: a mass of glowing energy with vaguely distinguishable head, eyes, and arms.
They most often appear in their specially enchanted wrappings that keep their energy forms bound within their humanoid shapes. Ethereals appear to need to eat and drink, with their vendors selling specialty bread and drinks not found on vendors of other races.
Based on the foods Eyonix sells and their interest in gems, it could be thought they eat them and precious metals. Alternatively, ethereals may not eat at all and sell food only for the sake of the more corporeal beings with whom they trade and interact. It is not known if they sleep, for even if they have inns, it could be stated that they do only for business purposes with other races; however it is more likely that they do not need rest, since their encampments lack true shelter or any form of relief.
Recently, the Ethereum have devised a way to fuse Void shadow energy with their own, creating Void/Ethereal hybrids called Ethereum Nexus-Stalkers that are intended to help in the fight against Dimensius. Though, Ameer states "The Ethereum are not here to hunt Dimensius! They are here to become void!", so they may be for an even darker purpose.
So far, however, the process could be flawed, as there are some Void minions called Voidwraiths (specifically Unstable Voidwraiths due to their proximity to the Ethereum) that resemble Unbound Ethereals.
Relationship to the Void
Currently, the Ethereals are at war with the Void, the demons made of pure shadow energy (an example is the Voidwalker used by warlocks). The void lord, Dimensius the All-Devouring, ravaged the Ethereals' homeworld long ago, and ever since the void have been a constant threat to the energy beings. Whether or not the Void invasion was planned by the Burning Legion, or if the Void are even officially a part of the Legion is unknown.
It can be speculated however that the Void is a force acting on its own, since the Ethereals seem to hold no vengeance for the Legion; as well as the fact that Voids are not present in Legion encampments.
The renegade Ethereal sect that has devoted their existence to defeating the void by any means necessary is called the Ethereum. In reaction to the Void as well as the radical acts of the Ethereum, the Protectorate was formed.
- Ethereal names (such as "Bashir" and "Shaffar") are borrowings from, or alterations of, Arabic names. This is a reference to pre-Islamic Arabia, which was organized into oasis city-states ruled by trade princes or powerful merchant families. This also be based their resemblance to mummies found in Egypt, an Arab nation.
- The Ethereals superficially resemble the Protoss from the Starcraft universe, most obviously when an Ethereal "runs", leaving several ghost copies behind himself much like a High Templar does.