The Swords of Blood and Gold
Magical realism, supernatural suspense/thriller
FIVE CHESTS SIT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN…
Deep-sea treasure hunter is the splashy job description on his LinkedIn page. Pretentious or not, Jon Sherman and his Deep Blue Marine Exploration crew are the best in the business. But a nasty disagreement with his boss suddenly leaves Jon without a job.
When his ex-teammates salvage five chests from the bottom of the ocean, a supernatural killer wielding a mysterious weapon murders the entire crew, and Jon becomes the prime suspect. Overnight, detectives are after him while a masked murderer goes on a rampage, trying to kill Jon and everyone he cares about.
Jon teams up with the daughter of his late boss, and they tumble down a path that uncovers centuries-old secrets and the nature of the killer’s deadly weapon.
To fight back, Jon must employ his treasure-hunting skills to locate the only blade capable of challenging the mighty adversary. But will that be enough to survive a deadly journey riddled with supernatural forces, unexpected romance, and surprising self-discovery?
Mr. Huang appeared next to Jon. “Do you like swords, Mr. Sherman? This one is a replica of the famed Sword of Goujian. The original rests in the Hubei Provincial Museum in China.”
Jon spoke, his eyes glued to the sword. “Mr. Huang, this sword is anything but a replica.”
His comment startled Mo Huang. Following a brief silence, he asked, “Are you a sword expert, Mr. Sherman?”
The question knocked Jon out of his trance. He came back to his senses. “No, sir. Sorry. Of course I’m not—I don’t know what came over me. It’s just that this sword doesn’t feel like a fake.”
Mr. Huang smiled. A second later, his hand landed on Jon’s shoulder. He whispered, “I know exactly what you mean, Mr. Sherman.” Then he winked.
For some reason, the exchange annoyed Jon. “Sorry, Mr. Huang. What am I doing here?”
The hand slipped away. “With any luck, you are here to help me correct two costly mistakes I’ve made lately.”
The front door opened, and Ms. Wang re-entered the office, followed by a server dressed in an all-white uniform. The young man wore gloves and carried a golden tray holding two cups and a coffee pot.
“Mr. Sherman, would it please you to have coffee over there?” Mr. Huang pointed to a couch and two chairs arranged around a low table on the other side of the office.
They walked over, then took seats across from each other while the server poured coffee. The young man handed Jon a steaming cup and then bowed. Then he gave Mr. Huang his cup, bowed again, and left, followed by Ms. Wang.
Jon and Mo Huang sipped in silence for a while, taking their time enjoying the aromatic hot drink.
A minute later, in between sips, Mr. Huang addressed his guest. “Next time we meet, Mr. Sherman, I will treat you to the finest oolong tea on this earth. It’s called the Iron Goddess. I have it imported directly from Fujian in China. Nothing brewed by mortals can surpass it.”
Jon stared in silence at Mr. Huang’s friendly face and felt guilt. So far, Mr. Huang had been nothing but kind. Still, something about him rubbed Jon the wrong way, and he couldn’t put his finger on it. He decided to grab the bull by its horns.
“Mr. Huang, do you know who killed my friends?”
Mo Huang took a while to answer, sipping his coffee and weaving his words before saying them. Suspicion grew in Jon.
“Mr. Sherman, all I had planned to tell you today is that I need you to retrieve a family heirloom from the bottom of the Yellow Sea. I see now that this summary won’t be sufficient for a man like you.”
Jon looked at him keenly, his face betraying nothing. “Mr. Huang, do you know who killed my friends?”
The host sipped his coffee. “I’m afraid that if I tell you the truth, you’ll think I’m crazy.”
Jon’s senses sprang to full alert. “I see nothing wrong with crazy if you’re telling the truth.”
“Ah! But there could be a lot wrong. If you label me insane, you won’t carry out the vital task I so desperately need you to undertake for me.”
Mr. Huang sustained Jon’s blazing stare. The whole thing felt like an invitation to a game; it felt like a trap. And Jon didn’t hesitate to take the plunge.
“If you can help me understand what happened, I promise to help you with your project, if I can.”
Mo Huang smiled. Then he took a deep breath, placed his cup on the table, and walked over to the glass wall behind his desk. There he stood motionless, looking at the city below and the endless ocean beyond it.
Jon rose and walked over to him.
“Life is a mysterious thing,” Mr. Huang said, his gaze lost in the vast space before them. “But death is even more enigmatic.” He turned to face Jon. “I once met a man who told me that both life and death are pieces of the same never-ending circle. There are individuals who have mastered this circle, Jonathan; they turn the wheel of life and death at will. These men and women are beyond mundane goals and therefore are no longer mortals.”
“Mr. Huang, who the fuck killed my friends?”
The man raised both eyebrows. “It is not a who, Mr. Sherman. It is a what.”
Confusion washed over Jon. “What do you mean?”
“A sword killed your friends, Jonathan.”
“I know that a sword was used to kill them. But who the hell was wielding it?”
Mr. Huang remained calm. Again, he gazed at the faraway ocean. “Whoever that poor bastard was, it doesn’t matter—he won’t have any memory of what happened. The police said that he killed forty-seven people, so he doesn’t have much time to live. He may be dead by now, for all I know. But that sword . . . well, she will continue reaping death unless we stop her.”
Jon raised his voice. “Mr. Huang, what in hell are you talking about?”
He gave Jon an enigmatic smile. “If I’m to tell you this story, you’ll have to start calling me Mo, because if I let you in on this, we’ll be far beyond formalities.” He turned and placed a hand on Jon’s back, nudging him. “Please, come. Let’s return to our chairs. This whole thing will be much easier to digest if we are seated.”
Jon hesitated, but he eventually walked back to his chair.
Once seated, he picked up his coffee cup again, and Mo Huang did the same. He watched his host stare into his drink for a long moment.
Then, in a solemn voice, the man said, “The sword that killed your friends—and countless hundreds of others before that—is called the Sword of Blood.”
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“This stunning debut novel combines the historical treasure hunting atmosphere of Indiana Jones with a tense modern murder plot. […] a superb work of fantasy fiction.” —K.C. Finn, Readers’ Favorite
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JCR Paulino is an emerging author of magical realism, fantasy, and science fiction. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.
The Swords of Blood and Gold is JCR’s debut novel.
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