The smuggler looked around quickly, then ushered Sven closer. Holding a small stone box out to him, the smuggler opened it to reveal a tiny, perfect crystal, glowing with an ethereal golden light. "Here it is," whispered the smuggler. "A crystal of purest etherium. Guaranteed to boost your magical abilities. Just be warned, there are some... unpleasant... side effects."
Etherium is a material which is found deep underground infused into rocks and minerals. It is a very difficult material to mine and extract, and because of this has very high value across the world.
Etherium was first discovered by deep gnomes far underground centuries before the Vanishing. They discovered rocks that seemed to glow a soft gold in total darkness. But when these glowing rocks were mined, no one could figure out how to get the glowing component out of the base material. Since the glowing seemed to have no other use, the rocks were gathered and broken into small pieces that the miners used to light their way underground.
A few centuries later, a few adventurous deep gnomes broke out of the underground and set off on a journey above-ground. Their packs were full of these glowing stones, and the explorers found that folk living above the surface were absolutely fascinated by them. The deep gnomes sold all of their stock and returned underground boasting of their great fortune.
The glowing rocks that had been sold were used as light sources until a bright chemist, an elven woman named Falynn, found that the glowing component seemed to have faint magical properties. Falynn began experimenting on the rocks until she discovered that the component could be extracted from the stones by pouring acid over them and allowing the other minerals to dissolve. Falynn was left with a golden liquid that glowed brightly and crystallized under heat to form transparent shards. Concentrated like this, the crystals gave off a strong magical aura.
Falynn's method was soon shared with her guild, and word of the glowing golden crystal spread across the globe like wildfire. It was named etherium, for its ethereal glow. Some called it the divine crystal, believing it was sent by the deities as a gift for the mortals. Some folk discovered that the crystal could boost one's magical abilities for a short time. But this consumption left the user feeling temporarily numb and cold once the effects faded away, and many reported feeling whispers circling in their minds while the crystal's effects lasted.
To this day etherium is a widely valued and sought-after material. It is extremely difficult to mine, and the world's main source of rocks containing etherium continues to be the deep gnomes, who have no care for magic and only see it as a way to make a living. Many countries have banned the material because its effects have often led to magical disasters. An underground network of black markets, however, keeps the substance cycling across Galactus.