The Diariy of Luck Castellan
MY NAME IS LUKE.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with this diary. My life is pretty crazy. But I promised the old man I would try. After what happened today…well, I owe him.
My hands are shaking as I sit here on guard duty. I can’t get the horrible images out of my head. I’ve got a few hours until the girls wake up. Maybe if I write down the story, I’ll be able to put it behind me.
I should probably start with the magic goat.
For three days, Thalia and I had been following the goat across Virginia. I wasn’t sure why. To me, the goat didn’t look like anything special, but Thalia was more agitated than I’d ever seen her before. She was convinced the goat was some sort of sign from her dad, Zeus.
Yeah, her dad is a Greek god. So is mine. We’re demigods. If you think that sounds cool, think again. Demigods are monster magnets. All those ancient Greek nasties like Furies and harpies and gorgons still exist, and they can sense heroes like us from miles away. Because of that, Thalia and I spend all our time running for our lives. Our superpowerful parents don’t even talk to us, much less help us. Why? If I tried to explain that, I’d fill up this whole diary, so I’m going to move on.
Anyway, this goat would pop up at random times, always in the distance. Whenever we tried to catch up to it, the goat would vanish and appear farther away, as if it was leading us somewhere.
Me, I would’ve left it alone. Thalia wouldn’t explain why she thought it was important, but she and I had been adventuring together long enough that I’d learned to trust her judgment. So we followed the goat.
Early in the morning, we made it into Richmond. We trudged across a narrow bridge over a lazy green river, past wooded parks and Civil War cemeteries. As we got closer to the center of town, we navigated through sleepy neighborhoods of red brick town houses wedged close together, with white-columned porches and tiny gardens.
I imagined all the normal families living in those cozy houses. I wondered what it would be like to have a home, to know where my next meal was coming from, and not have to worry about getting eaten by monsters every day. I’d run away when I was only nine—five long years ago. I barely remembered what it was like to sleep in a real bed.
After walking another mile, my feet felt like they were melting inside my shoes. I hoped we could find a place to rest, maybe get some food. Instead, we found the goat.
The street we were following opened up into a big circular park. Stately red brick mansions faced the roundabout. In the middle of the circle, atop a twenty-foot white marble pedestal, was a bronze dude sitting on horseback. Grazing at the base of the monument was the goat.
“Hide!” Thalia pulled me behind a row of rosebushes.
“It’s just a goat,” I said for the millionth time. “Why—?”
“It’s special,” Thalia insisted. “One of my dad’s sacred animals. Her name is Amaltheia.”
She’d never mentioned the goat’s name before. I wondered why she sounded so nervous.
Thalia isn’t scared of much. She’s only twelve, two years younger than I am, but if you saw her walking down the street you’d clear a path. She wears black leather boots, black jeans, and a tattered leather jacket studded with punk rock buttons. Her hair is dark and choppy like a feral animal’s. Her intense blue eyes bore into you as if she’s considering the best way to beat you to a pulp.
Anything that scared her, I had to take seriously.
“So you’ve seen this goat before?” I asked.
She nodded reluctantly. “In Los Angeles, the night I ran away. Amaltheia led me out of the city. And later, that night you and I met…she led me to you.”
I stared at Thalia. As far as I knew, our meeting had been an accident. We literally ran into each other in a dragon’s cave outside Charleston and teamed up to stay alive. Thalia had never mentioned a goat.
As far as her old life in Los Angeles, Thalia didn’t like to talk about it. I respected her too much to pry. I knew her mom had fallen in love with Zeus. Eventually Zeus dumped her, as gods tend to do. Her mom went off the deep end, drinking and doing crazy things—I didn’t know the details—until finally Thalia decided to run. In other words, her past was a lot like mine.
She took a shaky breath. “Luke, when Amaltheia appears, something important is about to happen…something dangerous. She’s like a warning from Zeus, or a guide.”
“I don’t know…but look.” Thalia pointed across the street. “She’s not disappearing this time. We must be close to wherever she’s leading us.”
Thalia was right. The goat was just standing there, less than a hundred yards away, contentedly nibbling grass at the base of the monument.
I was no expert on barnyard animals, but Amaltheia did look strange now that we were closer. She had curlicue horns like a ram, but the swollen udders of a girl goat. And her shaggy gray fur…was it glowing? Wisps of light seemed to cling to her like a cloud of neon, making her look blurry and ghostly.
A couple of cars looped around the traffic circle, but nobody seemed to notice the radioactive goat. That didn’t surprise me. There’s some sort of magical camouflage that keeps mortals from seeing the true appearance of monsters and gods. Thalia and I weren’t sure what this force was called or how it worked, but it was pretty powerful. Mortals might see the goat as just a stray dog, or they might not see it at all.
Thalia grabbed my wrist. “Come on. Let’s try to talk to it.”
“First we hide from the goat,” I said. “Now you want to talk to the goat?”
Thalia dragged me out of the rosebushes and pulled me across the street. I didn’t protest. When Thalia gets an idea in her head, you just have to go with it. She always gets her way.
Besides, I couldn’t let her go without me. Thalia has saved my life a dozen times. She’s my only friend. Before we met, I’d traveled for years on my own, lonely and miserable. Once in a while I’d befriend a mortal, but whenever I told them the truth about me, they didn’t understand. I’d confess that I was the son of Hermes, the immortal messenger dude with the winged sandals. I’d explain that monsters and Greek gods were real and very much alive in the modern world. My mortal friends would say, “That is so cool! I wish I was a demigod!” Like it’s some sort of game. I always ended up leaving.
But Thalia understood. She was like me. Now that I’d found her, I was determined to stick with her. If she wanted to chase a magical glowing goat, then we’d do that, even if I had a bad feeling about it.
We approached the statue. The goat didn’t pay us any attention. She chewed some grass, then butted her horns against the marble base of the monument. A bronze plaque read: Robert E. Lee. I didn’t know much about history, but I was pretty sure Lee was a general who lost a war. That didn’t strike me as a good omen.
Thalia knelt next to the goat. “Amaltheia?”
The goat turned. She had sad amber eyes and a bronze collar around her neck. Fuzzy white light steamed around her body, but what really caught my attention were her udders. Each teat was labeled with Greek letters, like tattoos. I could read a little Ancient Greek—it was sort of a natural ability for demigods, I guess. The teats read: Nectar, Milk, Water, Pepsi, Press Here for Ice, and Diet Mountain Dew. Or maybe I read them wrong. I hoped so.
Thalia looked into the goat’s eyes. “Amaltheia, what do you want me to do? Did my dad send you?”
The goat glanced at me. She looked a little miffed, like I was intruding on a private conversation.
I took a step back, resisting the urge to grab my weapon. Oh, by the way, my weapon was a golf club. Feel free to laugh. I used to have a sword made from Celestial bronze, which is deadly to monsters, but the sword got melted in acid (long story). Now all I had was a nine-iron that I carried on my back. Not exactly epic. If the goat went commando on us, I’d be in trouble.
I cleared my throat. “Um, Thalia, you sure this goat is from your dad?”
“She’s immortal,” Thalia said. “When Zeus was a baby, his mom Rhea hid him in a cave—”
“Because Kronos wanted to eat him?” I’d heard that story somewhere, how the old Titan king swallowed his own children.
Thalia nodded. “So this goat, Amaltheia, looked after baby Zeus in his cradle. She nursed him.”
“On Diet Mountain Dew?” I asked.
Thalia frowned. “What?”
“Read the udders,” I said. “The goat has five flavors plus an ice dispenser.”
“Blaaaah,” said Amaltheia.
Thalia patted the goat’s head. “It’s okay. He didn’t mean to insult you. Why have you led us here, Amaltheia? Where do you want me to go?”
The goat butted her head against the monument. From above came the sound of creaking metal. I looked up and saw the bronze General Lee move his right arm.
I almost hid behind the goat. Thalia and I had fought several magic moving statues before. They were called automatons, and they were bad news. I wasn’t anxious to take on Robert E. Lee with a nine-iron.
Fortunately, the statue didn’t attack. He simply pointed across the street.
I gave Thalia a nervous look. “What’s that about?”
Thalia nodded in the direction the statue was pointing.
Across the traffic circle stood a red brick mansion overgrown with ivy. On either side, huge oak trees dripped with Spanish moss. The house’s windows were shuttered and dark. Peeling white columns flanked the front porch. The door was painted charcoal black. Even on a bright sunny morning, the place looked gloomy and creepy—like a Gone with the Wind haunted house.
My mouth felt dry. “The goat wants us to go there?”
“Blaah.” Amaltheia dipped her head like she was nodding.
Thalia touched the goat’s curly horns. “Thank you, Amaltheia. I—I trust you.”
I wasn’t sure why, considering how afraid Thalia seemed.
The goat bothered me, and not just because she dispensed Pepsi products. Something was nagging at the back of my mind. I thought I’d heard another story about Zeus’s goat, something about that glowing fur…
Suddenly the mist thickened and swelled around Amaltheia. A miniature storm cloud engulfed her. Lightning flickered through the cloud. When the mist dissolved, the goat was gone.
I hadn’t even gotten to try the ice dispenser.
I gazed across the street at the dilapidated house. The mossy trees on either side looked like claws, waiting to grasp us.
“You sure about this?” I asked Thalia.
She turned to me. “Amaltheia leads me to good things. The last time she appeared, she led me to you.”
The compliment warmed me like a cup of hot chocolate. I’m a sucker that way. Thalia can flash those blue eyes, give me one kind word, and she can get me to do pretty much whatever. But I couldn’t help wondering: back in Charleston, had the goat led her to me, or simply led her into a dragon’s cave?
I exhaled. “Okay. Creepy mansion, here we come.”
The brass door knocker was shaped like Medusa’s face, which wasn’t a good sign. The porch floorboards creaked under our feet. The windows’ shutters were falling apart, but the glass was grimy and covered on the other side with dark curtains, so we couldn’t see in.