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  1. Palace of the Imperial Envoy, Oryant, April 624 Commander Lei Feng walked through the door of the Red Dragon's Hall. He was expecting that convocation after the defeat in the Battle of Seawatch. Four years before, the Emperor was promised an easy victory against the barbarians from Carno. After two long campaigns, the deployment of hundreds of soldiers, and considerable expenses for the Imperial Treasury, the victory was as far as on the first day of the war. And now, with the Imperial Envoy on the island, someone was going to pay. Lei bowed deeply before the Envoy and sat on the low bench prepared for him. Then, following the ceremonial, he deposed his sword on his right and drank a sip of liquor from the bowl prepared for him. Now, according to the traditions, he was considered a guest, and couldn't be touched... even if, in the past, this sacred rule had been violated multiple times by particularly unscrupulous noblemen. The commander took a deep breath. The man in front of him represented the eyes, the ears, and the voice of the Emperor in Oryant, and he was there to decide who was responsible for the disastrous course of the campaign... one wrong word, and Lei's head would have been exposed on a spike before the sunset. "Welcome, Commander Feng. It's a pleasure for me to finally visit the famous island of Jinzi, the topic of so many discussions in the Imperial Court." The Envoy didn't even try to sound convinced. "However, I would like to know why I cannot ride freely, from East to West, on an island that rightfully belongs to His Majesty the Emperor. An island that our commanders promised to conquer in a few months... four years ago." His tone remained calm and unexpressive, but Lei Feng didn't miss the fierce gaze in the Envoy's eyes. "So, Commander Feng, can you help me understand why this military expedition keeps frustrating the Emperor's will? How could our best commanders be utterly defeated by the Northern barbarians?" Lei expected the question... all the commanders did. After the retreat to Oryant they had agreed on a half-true version of the story, in which most of the blame was put on the poor cohesion of Lotii, Monomonto, and mercenaries, on the lack of modern artillery, and the distance from the supply lines. Before he could begin, however, the Envoy added, almost casually: "Oh, it's fair that you know that the High Command considers you responsible for the defeat of Seawatch. General Wang claims that you refused to retreat your unit, out of personal pride, and that your foolish move compromised his ruse. His version was confirmed by most of the commanders. If this is true, then you are either an incompetent or a traitor. Wang suggested I should order the captain of my guards to behead you immediately. I feel generous, so you have two minutes... you can try to convince me, or use this time to jump on your sword and die with honor." For Lei, this was a punch straight into the stomach. He was used to the duplicities and treasons of the Imperial Court, but this was far too much. He had been chosen as a scapegoat by his own commander, and by the men he had fought with, shoulder to shoulder... and after what he had truly done during the Battle of Seawatch! For a fraction of a second, Commander Lei Feng considered his possibilities. Most of his men were still loyal to him, probably, but he had no way to reach them. There were five armed guards in the room and dozens more between him and the closest gate. He was in a trap with no way out... after what he had done! To hell with the etiquette! "This is an outrage!" -without almost realizing it, Lei had stood up, and was almost yelling. "I remained behind with my unit, and we fought almost to the last man. This is what saved a part of the army from destruction, despite our great General! We delayed the barbarians as long as we could, and gave our men the time to escape!" The guards rushed towards him, sword in hand, but he didn't care. At a nod of the Envoy, the guards froze, still as statues. "So, Commander Feng, you are telling me that General Wang's plan had failed, and that he is a liar. That the whole high command is lying, apart from you. Please, what went wrong in Seawatch?" The tone of the Envoy had again changed. Weirdly, he seemed... pleased? What was happening? Lei recovered a little of demeanor, then continued: "As you certainly know, your Excellency, General Wang had planned a fake retreat. He wanted the barbarians to rush forward, with only some light infantry to harass them... they would have arrived at our real battle line tired and unprepared, without their heavy artillery, and they would've been destroyed. General Wang, however, completely ignored the real state of our troops. Our forces were entrenched in a long, fortified line across the jungle, and some units didn't even receive the retreat order! When the barbarians attacked, we were still disassembling the batteries, and the soldiers were still funneling on the bad jungle roads. I rallied my man to cover the retreat, and we gained as much time as we could. At this point, reforming a battle line was completely impossible, so our forces retreated eastward, as well as they could… Then, we tried to disengage across the Dead City, where... where..." "Where your unit was almost completely exterminated." Concluded the envoy. "By savage natives, demons in the shape of men, I was told. Commander Feng, you probably saved some of our troops during the Battle of Seawatch, but you also ignored your general's order, and this is treason. You saved a part of the army, but you caused the annihilation of your whole unit.” Lei held his breath... the next sentence could either mean life or death for him. "However, today I will hold the executioner's sword. You have one last chance to redeem. As we are talking, three Carnite men are trying to cross the Dead City, heading for Seawatch. A column of barbarians is trying to reach them, but they must fail. You don't need to know more, but these men carry vital information. Bring them alive to Oryant, or kill them if you can't. But if you fail, I only wish you to die with honor." Without another word, Commander Lei Feng was dismissed. He had been betrayed and sent to death by his own comrades, by his own commander, but he had survived again… probably headed to a suicide mission, but alive! Better than he had hoped a few minutes before! Then he remembered what he had seen in the Dead City, back in that damned jungle, and the screams he could still hear every night. Suddenly, the merciful blade of a sword didn’t seem such a bad option… ------------------------------------------------------- Far later than expected, here you can find the fourth (and last) character headed towards the Labyrinth, where their stories will finally cross. The hall is freely inspired by the Phoenix Throne of the Korean Emperors, which has a painting of the Korean mountains in the background. I hope you enjoyed this part! Overall view: Without minifigures: No minifigures, canopy removed: