Or: How Coyote Stole the Moon
When Coyote was but a mortal pup, he looked to the night sky and watched as the old gods danced, played, and warred through the stars. He saw Loki and Lucifer making bets and laughed as they cheated each other time and again. As Eagle painted the auroras across the sky chased by Orochi's eight snapping jaws, Coyote mimicked him in pigments and slate. And when Kali and Hades dueled and threatened the lives of men as they grew careless in their blows, Coyote tricked the Wild Hunt into taking only insects to appease the feuding gods.
But when his rival Raven stole the Sun from Ra and flew away with it clutched tightly in his beak, Coyote grew jealous, and said: "Raven has stolen the Sun, so why should I not steal the Moon?"
And so Coyote decided that on the night when the Moon grew near and round and bright, he would reach out his neck and pluck it from the sky. He searched for ten days to find the highest mountain in the land, called Great Mazama, and when he reached its base, he began to climb. He climbed for ten days until he reached Great Mazama's peak. "Ah! Great Mazama!" he cried. "Now you must see that Coyote is your master!" Coyote gave a wild, cackling laugh to defy the heavens.
Unfortunately for the reckless young Coyote, Morpheus heard his wild laughter and, remembering that Coyote had done a great feat of strength in conquering Great Mazama, felt it right that he should rest. And so Morpheus took the form of Coyote's shadow and snuck up on him, sprinkling a pinch of magic sand in his eyes to make him sleep.
Indeed, Coyote was even more tired than even the Lord of Dreams could have suspected. On top of Great Mazama he slept until the night when the moon would grow near and round and bright. But when Coyote awoke, the moon was already drawing away.
Coyote saw that the moon was about to escape him and dashed across the peak of Great Mazama to catch it, but the moon was faster than him. He tried to stretch out of his neck to reach it, but it was too far away. He opened his mouth wide in a final effort to snare the moon, but it was too large.
Coyote saw the moon drifting away, and was seized with covetousness and despir. Unable to control himself, he gave a reckless plea: "Lucifer, this is my hour of need! Aid me! Come!"
Coyote did not remember Lucifer appearing before him. It seemed simply that that he had always been there, and Coyote had not noticed him. However he had come forth, when Coyote looked upon the Devil's form, pristine and terrible, fear clutched his heart and words sprung unbidden to his mouth: "I wish that you would bless me with the speed of the nimble Hermes."
Lucifer smiled, and the sky briefly took on a red tint. He said: "Very well. But you must grant me this boon in return: I shall receive your soul upon your death."
So great was Coyote's desire to snatch the moon from the hands of Artemis herself that Lucifer's terrible price seemed a small one. Lucifer conjured a parchment inscribed with a contract and a wickedly sharp needle. Coyote wordlessly pricked his own paw and left his signature, a pawprint, in blood on the contract.
With a puff of smoke and a whiff of brimstone, Lucifer vanished, leaving Coyote with the needle and the contract. Coyote found that he could indeed run as fast as Hermes, and dashed down Great Mazama's slopes and across land below in the blink of an eye, laughing all the while. Still, he found that while he could now keep up with the moon, he could still neither reach nor grasp it, even when he stood atop Great Mazama.
Coyote's heart fell again to despair. "I mustn't allow Raven to outdo me, but I have already made a cursed contract, and my soul is surely doomed. Still, I lack the power I require. How shall I ever steal the moon now?"
Presently, an idea formed in Coyote's mind, and caused him to laugh so hard he rolled upon the ground. He stood up proudly, and with a wily grin, cried: "Great Serpent Orochi, I beseech your aid! Come to me!"
Eight points of malevolent foxfire appeared on the horizon encircling the mountain. They revolved around Coyote as they approached, converging before him with a brilliant flash of ghost-light. From this light the Great Serpent Orochi emerged, towering above Coyote as Great Mazama towered above the lands below. Each of Orochi's eight monstrous heads turned to Coyote and spoke in chilling unison: "Why have you summoned me, young Coyote?"
Coyote took a deep breath to calm his pounding heart. "I wish to make a deal." Orochi's silence bade him continue. "I wish that you would grant me the power to stretch my neck out to reach the heavens."
Orochi gave a deep, rumbling chuckle from each of his eight throats, and said: "So you wish to acquire a measure of my power. I don't suppose you desire seven additional heads, as well?"
"No, I only desire a neck that can stretch like yours," Coyote replied.
"And what do you offer?" asked Orochi.
Coyote stood up as tall as he could on his four feet before the colossal Orochi and said: "I offer you my soul."
Orochi began to laugh. At first, his heads all laughed in unison, but as his laughter grew more wild and insane, each head laughed separately, creating a diabolic cacophony. One head fell silent and began to speak, loud and frighteningly clear over the din of the others: "A good offer!" it said. "But not enough, I fear. You see, young Coyote, I am partial to beautiful maidens. After we strike our little bargain, you must bring me a young human woman as a sacrifice, or I shall withdraw my gift and strike you down where you stand."
Coyote did not want to sacrifice a young woman, and his entire body trembled with revulsion at the thought. Still, he nodded in agreement.
Orochi laughed again, and conjured a contract written on a long scroll. Coyote pricked his paw with Lucifer's needle and signed the scroll with his bloody pawprint. Orochi shone with a demonic light, then split into eight orbs of foxfire, each of which flew over a different horizon.
Coyote spared only a moment to recover from his encounter with the Great Serpent before he began mentally preparing for his next summoning. When he felt he was as ready as he could ever be, he drew in a deep breath and shouted to the heavens: "Destroyer, Aspect of Kali! Hear my cry and come to me!"
The whole of Great Mazama shook with horrific screams and twisted laughter as Kali's most lethal aspect appeared with a flash of lightning and a burst of flame, each of her many arms holding a blade that could cleave the Earth in two. "Foolish little Coyote, you know what I do to those who call on me. Why should I not slay you here and now?"
It was all Coyote could do to not quake in fear. "Perhaps I ought to have called on Mab instead," he thought. Despite his own fear, to the wrathful Kali he responded: "You shouldn't kill me, because I offer you my soul."
Kali closed her eyes and laughed a laugh that chilled Coyote's very bones. "Perhaps you mistook me for Lucifer!" she cried, and smiled savagely at him, baring her teeth. "I wish only to devour your soul, not to enslave it. Why might I not simply flay your body and consume your spirit right now?"
Coyote was terrified. He shook visibly, and could barely think, much less speak. If he answered wrongly, Kali would surely kill him; but if he delayed, her response would be much the same. In his panic, he could think of only one thing: he brought forth his contract with Lucifer.
"What is that?" said Kali, her voice as cold as the northlands Thor called home.
"I have signed a contract with Lucifer," declared Coyote.
"I care not about that!" Kali screamed, her voice tearing through Coyote's mind like a scythe through reeds.
Coyote continued, inwardly shaken, but outwardly unmoved. "It states that when I die, my soul shall belong to him."
Kali whirled her blades about herself in a tornado of deific flesh and steel, creating a torrent of wind that pushed Coyote back. "I am Destruction!" she screamed. "Lucifer is nothing before me!"
Coyote swallowed uncomfortably, pushing his fear down into the depths of his belly. "Yes, but if you kill me, Lucifer will possess my soul, immediately and eternally. You shall not be able to consume it, for it will be gone as soon as I am dead."
Kali fell silent, though licks of flame danced in her eyes.
Emboldened by the fact that he had managed to silence Destruction herself, Coyote spoke with a clear, strong voice for the first time in Kali's presence. "I wish that you should grant me the power to open my mouth as wide as the heavens."
Though Kali's voice came soft as a whisper, it made Coyote's ears scream in pain. "And what do you offer in return?"
"I offer you my soul, as I promised."
Kali paused for a moment in confusion. "You claimed your soul belongs to Lucifer."
Coyote grinned, for he knew now that he had Kali's destructive aspect firmly in his trap. "Ah, but if you possess an equal claim, you shall be able to fight him to prove yours is superior. Did you not yourself say Lucifer was nothing before you?"
Kali's eyes glittered red, and she smiled like a cat before a mouse. "Yes. I shall grant you this boon you request." She conjured a slate etched with a contract, and Coyote used Lucifer's needle to pierce his paw once again and sign in blood. When he did, Kali let out a painful, shrieking laugh and vanished in a great burst of flame.
Though Coyote had obtained all the power he needed to steal the Moon from the night sky, dawn had broken over Great Mazama, and when he recalled Orochi's bargain, his heart grew heavy. To himself, he said: "I had not planned for this. I must honor my contract with Orochi, lest all be lost. Yet I refuse to deliver some poor maiden into his waiting jaws. Whatever shall I do?"
And so Coyote set to pondering. He sat and thought and fasted, praying to the Great Spirit for an idea. And at the height of the day, he found his prayers were answered. After finding a meal, he stood tall and cried, as loud as he could: "Raven! Raven, my rival! I call on you to do mischief! Come to me!"
The Sun vanished from the morning sky, returning the world to night as Raven appeared, perched on a pointed rock. He clutched his prize, the Sun, tightly in his beak, and it illuminated Great Mazama's peak in an aura of blinding light. "Ah, Coyote! The little pup who fancies himself my rival! Caw! How do you do?" said Raven, his voice muffled by the Sun held in his beak.
Coyote concealed his despondency, not wanting to give Raven another reason to taunt him. He said simply: "I have a task for you."
Raven gave an exuberant laugh that sounded like a mixture of giggling and cawing: "Cawcawcawcawcaw! You? Have a task for me? Caw! Do tell!"
Coyote swallowed. "I wish for you to transform my body into that of a human maiden. Can you do that?"
Raven laughed again, even louder than last time: "CAWCAWCAWCAWCAW!" He swayed on his rock, lost his balance, then flapped his wings furiously to avoid falling off. When Raven had recovered his footing he said: "Of course! Of course I can do that! I am a god, you know, and gods are quite powerful! Such a little trick is simple enough for me! Caw! Caw!"
Coyote suppressed a smile. "And what is your price?"
"Price?" Raven gave a more reserved titter before speaking: "Cawcawcaw! For you, my dear 'rival'? I'll do this for free! Cawcawcawcawcaw!"
Thougth Coyote: "Thank you, Great Spirit! Raven has fallen perfectly into my plan!" And indeed he had. Raven's wings grew as broad as the sky and as dark as matte obsidian, and he flapped them back and forth, lacing the peak of Great Mazama with feathers and shadows. All went black, and when the light of the Sun in Raven's beak returned, Coyote found himself in the nude body of a human maiden. In his mind, Coyote rejoiced. But to conceal his ruse, he said to Raven in his strange new voice: "Thank you, rival. But do humans not usually wear clothes?"
Raven gave a loud burst of laughter and spoke: "CAWCAWCAWCAWCAW! But rival mine, you didn't ask for any!" Before Coyote could respond, Raven vanished with a swirl of feathers and shadows, and the Sun returned to the sky.
As Coyote made his mind ready to confront his fate, he discovered that his heart pounded just the same in this strange new body. But despite his fear, and his knowledge that he would have to die, he called out: "Orochi! Great Serpent! I stand as tribute to honor Coyote's bargain! Come! Claim your sacrifice!"
The eight orbs of foxfire appeared and swirled together, and the great eight-headed serpent towered over Coyote once more. Coyote could tell from the predatory may that Orochi looked at his new body that the great demon did not recognize him for who he truly was. And so, when Coyote closed his eyes and spread his strange fleshy arms to embrace his fate, he only felt a brief moment of pain as Orochi set upon him.
Of course, the death of the mortal Coyote is not the end of our tale. For it is said that as Orochi slew Coyote's human body, Coyote's soul fell into an in-between place, torn between three contracts signed in blood. It is said also that as Lucifer, Orochi, and Kali's destructive aspect each tried to claim Coyote's soul for their own, they were forced into battle with each other to prove the superiority of their respective contracts, and that the Devil, the Great Serpent, and the Destroyer were so evenly matched that they remain locked in combat to this day, ever cursing Coyote's name. Lastly, it is said that Coyote retained the powers he gained through his contracts, that these powers together made him a god himself, and that he will remain such until one of the Three who curses his name emerges victorious from their eternal struggle. And because the first thing Coyote did as a god was to steal the Moon, we know all this to be true.