The Totem Thief Myth in Teshelyn | World Anvil
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The Totem Thief

The balaceti are well-known for their signature totem magic, in which they conjure an etherial animal vessel around themselves to help in their daily lives. They may conjure a manta vessel to travel long distances without tiring, a shark vessel to aid in hunting, or an orca vessel as part of a performance or ritual. It is lesser known that this magic actually originated with the roughtooth dolphins. Their application of the magic was similar in concept, but they did not rely on it for survival as the balaceti do now.   The story of the totem thief is part of the oral tradition of certain balaceti pods, and tells of how the balaceti leader Saint Kebria stole the secrets of totem magic from the roughtooths and gave his people the power to survive the dangers of the Balacen.


Before his days as a leader of the balaceti, Kebria was an unapologetic prankster. With his natural aptitude for magic he would constantly play tricks on the people of his pod, widening holes in the nets of fishers, disguising himself as the pod matriarch, or redirecting water currents. But as mischievous as he was, he was still always outdone by the dolphins. He would always follow in their wake, trying to keep up with their constant tricks and games, but could never quite make it.   He tried all sorts of ways to gain acceptance from the dolphins, but his currents weren't strong enough to let him keep up with them, and his disguises were immediately seen through by the dolphins' echolocation. The dolphins' own magic shrouded them in new forms that granted them fantastic powers, and Kebria sought the secrets of that magic for his own gain.   His home waters were close to the traditional fishing grounds of the roughtooth dolphins, and on several occasions he attempted to sneak into their treasuries to find the source of their magic. Again and again he was caught, but the dolphins seemed to appreciate his ingenuity and tenacity. Eventually he decided to sneak into the roughtooth's territory using only his own strength - no magic, no deception, only stealth.   When the dolphins left to feed, he stole his way into their treasury to find a magical mask. It was made for a dolphin, and resembled a shark. Kebria tried it on instantly, and with an electric surge he found himself in the form of a shark. Terrified and exhilarated, he went to leave the cave but heard the dolphins returning from their hunt. He was still trapped in his shark form, but as he reached out with his mind and felt the lines of magic around him, he found he could influence its shape. He changed his form into the only one that would allow him to exit safely - a roughtooth dolphin.   He bolted from the treasury, ignoring the confused calls after him. He could feel their sonar on his skin, but it didn't penetrate his shell as it had with his previous disguises. When he reached the boundary of roughtooth territory, he turned around to face his pursuers, and with a thought he dissipated his form. He removed the mask and laughed in their faces, knowing they could not enter balaceti waters without causing more trouble.   Kebria's matriarch was furious at what he had done. She demanded that he immediately return the mask and apologize for his actions. A meeting was arranged between his pod and the roughtooth clan so that the mask could be returned. Dejected and defeated, Kebria reluctantly handed the mask over to a roughtooth dolphin who immediately fled the gathering. The dolphin's form dissolved, revealing Kebria once again triumphantly holding the mask, while the balaceti everyone thought was Kebria revealed himself to be his friend using illusory magic.   The matriarch's anger grew even greater, but the dolphins at the meeting only laughed. They were impressed that Kebria has mastered the magic within the mask in such a short time, and agreed to let him keep it, as well as teaching him further techniques of totem magic. This partnership birthed balaceti totem magic as it is known today.

Historical Basis

As with most major balaceti legends, Saint Kebria is involved in the story of the totem thief - and as with most stories of Saint Kebria, its basis in history is dubious. It is generally accepted that Kebria was a real person, but whether his exploits lived up to his reputation is a subject of debate. It is possible that he became a syncretic figure as balaceti folk tales spread and developed, taking on the roles and accomplishments of others as stories were retold.   The origin of totem magic in roughtooth dolphin culture is a demonstrable fact. Even the most advanced totem magic of the balaceti can be traced back to roughtooth umbra spells. The exact moment of transmission of these skills from the dolphins to the balaceti is unclear, and both sides have different accounts of how it happened.

Variations & Mutation

While the balaceti version of the tale frames Kebria as a heroic trickster who managed to outsmart the most clever beings in the sea, the corresponding tale from the roughtooth dolphins is somewhat different. Roughtooth tradition holds that totem magic was not stolen by the balaceti, but gifted to them by a roughtooth clan matriarch of the time. This fits with the general cultural relationships between the dolphins and balaceti, with the balaceti trying to prove themselves to the dolphins, who tend to view them as young upstarts.   The tale also is one of the earliest traceable mentions of Saint Kebria's Mask. This causes some problems, as it is incompatible with Saint Kebria's Mask as a location, but it is possible that it is merely a shared name with no deeper link between the two.

Cultural Reception

Although it would seem that the tale would contribute to tensions between dolphins and the balaceti due to the adversarial role of the roughtooths, the spread of the tale actually strengthened the bond between the two cultures. Roughtooth culture is generally very good-natured, and most roughtooth dolphins find humor in their role in the story. Roughtooth dolphins even take part in ceremonial retellings of the story at balaceti gatherings from time to time.   Cultures other than the ones involved in the story do not take much interest in the matter. Silverfin dolphins study it as it pertains to the history of Teshelyn, and orcas find interest in the comparative study of the different versions of the tale, but neither are as invested in it as a story as the balaceti are.

In Art

Most retellings of the story naturally use totem magic in the performance. Traditionally, balaceti performances will cast the youngest male of the pod as Kebria, and the matriarch of the pod as the roughtooth clan leader. The matriarch will weave an umbra of a roughtooth dolphin and make a show of chasing the child playing Kebria as he tries to steal a ceremonial replica of the totem from her. In some cases, an actual dolphin will take part in the show
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