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In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the First World War, Corto Maltese is engaged by the Red Lanterns, a Chinese secret society made up entirely of women, to find an armored train laden with gold that belonged to the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The scenarios of the adventure thus shift from China to the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia and Siberia in a period of time between 1919 and 1920. Many others apart from Corto Maltese are looking for this train: regular and irregular armies, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries that are mixed with a number of historical figures, especially Baron Roman Ungern-Sternberg, a Russian general who commands the Asian Cavalry Division and who proposes that Corto should fight alongside him to conquer the whole of Mongolia, a proposal that Corto rejects immediately.
Two important female characters emerge in this story, the cold and icy Duchess Marina Seminova (a representative of an aristocracy on the verge of extinction) and the unconventional Shanghai-Lil (a warrior-member of the Red Lanterns who saves Corto’s life). Corto is attracted by her and at the end of the story goes to find her in the village to which she has returned, only to discover that she has since married Ling, a local farmer.
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