Kitty in the Underworld Page 1

Author: Carrie Vaughn

Series: Kitty Norville #12

Genres: Fantasy

Chapter 1

ONLINE RESEARCH was a mixed bag. I found the most insane conspiracy theories, essays, and propositions, which I could then use to incite heated debate on my radio show. Not just flat earth but cubed earth, or strawberry-ice-cream-eating aliens living at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, or a pseudoscientific study claiming that vampire strippers make more in tips than mortal strippers because of their hypnotic powers. (Vampire strippers? Really? And could I get one on the show for an interview?) Or I could click through useless links for hours and feel like I’ve wasted a day.

Sometimes, I typed in my search request and found treasure.

The image currently on my screen was a photograph of a statue called the Capitoline Wolf. The sculpture showed a rather primitive-looking wolf with stylized, patterned fur; a glaring, snarling expression; and a couple of human babies suckling at rows of impressively bulging nipples. Housed in a museum in Rome, the age of the wolf portion of the statue was under some debate. Historically, it had been assumed that it was old—pre-Roman, Etruscan even, because of its stocky shape and decidedly nonclassical features. Roman writers even made reference to a famous statue of a wolf that symbolized the founding of Rome. But modern dating techniques established the statue’s origin in the late medieval period. The babies—fat and cherubic, in Renaissance detail—had obviously been added later, in the fifteenth century. Wherever it came from, whenever it was made, the statue depicted the legend of the founding of Rome: the she-wolf who discovered the abandoned brothers, Romulus and Remus, and saved their lives. They went on to found the great city of Rome. The statue was so iconic that copies of it could be found all over the world.

That was the official, published, accepted story of the Capitoline Wolf. However, I had my own ideas. Other details about the statue intrigued me. For example, the wolf wasn’t life size, but it was a bit larger than a female wolf living in that part of the world would be. An average female wolf would weigh about seventy-five pounds, give or take ten pounds. A wolf the size of this statue might weigh, oh, a hundred-ten pounds or so. The weight of a small woman.

Shape-shifters obeyed the law of conservation of mass. A two-hundred-pound man becomes a two-hundred-pound wolf. Hundred-and-thirty-pound me becomes a hundred-thirty-pound wolf. A two-hundred-pound were-bear becomes—a really small bear. I’d never actually seen a were-bear in bear form, so I didn’t know what that looked like. Whether I wanted to see what that looked like depended on the temperament of the bear. When I read about the Capitoline Wolf, learned about the dimensions of the statue, made a mental comparison to the werewolves I’d met in both human and wolf form, my heart beat a little quicker. My journalistic instincts for a good story sang out. Because I wondered then if the story of Romulus and Remus had some basis in reality, and I wondered about the werewolf who’d rescued them.

This was all the fruit of a pointed line of research that steered me in the direction of the Capitoline Wolf. I’d heard a phrase: Regina Luporum. Queen of the wolves. According to an ancient vampire I’d met, the story of Romulus and Remus was real—the mother werewolf was real. The Capitoline Wolf, the foster mother of the founders of Rome, had been the original queen of the wolves. I’d been told this label was used to describe werewolves who defended their kind when few others did. Who spoke out and stood up for what was right. A couple of times lately, I’d been called Regina Luporum. It wasn’t a title I claimed for myself or thought I deserved. I was half of the alpha pair of the Denver werewolf pack, which was small, unassuming, and generally sedate as werewolf packs went, because my husband, Ben, and I worked hard to keep it that way.

On the other hand, publicly and professionally, I had a big mouth. I talked too much. That didn’t make me queen of anything.

The statue might have been made in the thirteenth century, belying the tradition and ancient references that said it had stood watch in Rome from the beginning. But that didn’t mean it might not be a copy of an earlier piece that had been destroyed. Maybe copies of the statue had been made over and over to ensure that some memory of the events it memorialized lived on. To provide continuity, to create a tradition that might become muddled over time, but would still exist in one form or another.

Stories faded. The existence of werewolves was not openly acknowledged, so she became a wolf rather than a wolf-woman, because then the tale was just another animal fable harkening back to Aesop, or Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and that somehow seemed safer, more legendary. Time changes stories, no matter how carefully they’re written down. Maybe the Capitoline Wolf existed in one form or another two thousand years ago, maybe it didn’t. Maybe the legend was true, or maybe it was a metaphor for something else entirely. Mostly, I looked at the alert and glaring expression of the statue, and saw the face of someone who must have been a hero.

Another thing I saw when I looked at the statue: the babies weren’t hers—they’d been added later. She’d found them and claimed them. Adopted them. This gave me hope. Women werewolves couldn’t bear children because embryos didn’t survive the trauma of shape-shifting. I couldn’t have children of my own—or maybe I could.

I printed out the image in full color. I wanted to be able to study the Capitoline Wolf whether my computer was on or off, by sunlight or by candlelight, not glowing in pixels on a screen. Kind of crazy, kind of romantic, but the picture in printed form seemed to have more dignity, more permanence. When the page emerged from the printer, I tacked it onto the corkboard on my office wall, right next to the full-page picture of another one of my heroes, General William T. Sherman. A couple of years ago, I followed up some other stories, some hunches, and determined that Sherman also had been a werewolf. Another one who stood up for what he believed. I wondered if history was in fact littered with werewolves.

I leaned back in my chair in my cramped and cozy office at KNOB, my desk filled with mail and newspaper clippings, internal memos, and a million notes on scratch paper, a radio in the corner humming softly with the station’s daytime alternative music format, and studied the pictures, my two werewolf heroes. They were smart, tough, savvy, and they’d made a difference in the world. They’d had battles to fight and had fought them, and lived on in song and story.

If they could do it, maybe I could do it, too.

*   *   *

MY EXCUSE for all this research: I was supposed to be writing my second book.