Despite their dire suspicions, the posse was unable to find either the living Maddie Hayes or her flayed body. She was either concealed somewhere in the snow or otherwise hidden. Given the ongoing threat, Hawkeye disappeared to try and find out more about skin-walkers and their capabilities.
Several weeks passed, the snow got deeper, and the town celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year with its usual combination of solemn piety and riotous partying. As February passed, the expected partial thaw did not materialise, leaving deep drifts across the valley containing the railroad and keeping the town cut off from the outside world. By mid-March, food was beginning to run short and rationing was being introduced.
The town council summoned the heroes to a meeting to discuss the situation. It turned out that one of the more notorious residents in town, Hanson W Throckmorton III, an explorer of the “New Science”, had invented what he called the “Throckmorton Crystallised Precipitation Division Device”, designed to be attached to the front of a locomotive. It was proposed that this be done and that the locomotive should be used to drive through to Shanghai Junction, a small community situated where the Deadwood branch line connected to the main Iron Dragon railroad. There the passengers would be able to access emergency food stores and order a relief delivery from Bismarck.
The heroes found themselves volunteered to accompany him, despite their misgivings about both his invention and the mission.
They were scheduled to leave the following morning. Arriving at the platform, the group found the locomotive being blessed by a Buddhist priest, its owners standing nearby looking a little worried. The TCPDD turned out to be a huge structure on wheels, attached to the front of the locomotive. It was steam-powered, with its own boiler and supply of ghost rock and was fronted by two huge fan blades.
As their horses and equipment were loaded onto the train, the TCPDD was started up successfully, although it made a horrible racket. They left town promptly, the blades slicing into the snow and hurling it back in two streams to the rear of the train (and showering many of the spectators). The device did its job well and they made good time to Lead, a small mining community towards the edge of the Black Hills, leaving cleared tracks behind them.
Lead turned out to be extremely quiet, although they were expecting some kind of welcome considering the noise they were making. As the plough needed adjusting after its first day’s use, the posse took the opportunity to investigate.
The town seemed extremely empty, so they headed for the sheriff’s office. The office was empty, the door ajar and the stove had burnt out. There were signs of a fight and the door to the holding cell had been bent and partially ripped off its hinges, from the outside. It was obviously done by something very strong. With a growing sense of unease, they moved on to other buildings, finding much the same story in each one.
Moving onto the church, they found evidence that all the fighting had centred there. Venturing into the porch, they found themselves stumbling on a thick layer of what appeared to be human bones. Folden ventured further inside and became aware of movement. Attacked by four fast-moving walkin’ dead with huge mouths, they found themselves in a desperate firefight. Early success, as Dupre blew the head off one, turned out to be an illusion, as the creature began moving again, but then they tried shooting them in the stomach instead. This tactic proved extremely successful and they made short work of the remaining creatures before moving further into the building.
Now Law became aware that something very big was approaching the building at speed. They retreated inside, taking up positions around the pulpit and altar. The creature burst in through the doors, turning out to be an 8 foot humanoid with a huge mouth and sharp teeth (actually a wendigo, although a little far from the usual hunting grounds). The group opened fire and it surprised them with its speed and agility, leaping into the pulpit and slinging Dupre across the room. It turned out to be very difficult to kill, but eventually they brought it down in a hail of blessed gunfire. As it died, it reverted to its human form, that of a brawny miner.
As the creature had eaten the entire town, they decided to torch the church as a pyre and memorial, before checking the rest of the town for more walkin’ dead or wendigos. They found none and returned to the train.
Leaving early the next day, the train broke out on to the plains around midmorning. Without the hills to break the wind, the snow was much lighter and the going much easier. Folden took to riding in the lookout cupola in the caboose, in case of attack by Indians, but things looked peaceful…
… until the firebox on the TCPDD exploded with a loud report, followed by the almighty bang of the boiler exploding.
Shrapnel flew everywhere and Throckmorton himself, who had been tending it, was thrown twenty yards into the snow. Folden went to help him, then the firebox and boiler on the locomotive itself exploded. Law was now trying to save the engineer.
It was obvious that they wouldn’t be going any further by train, so they opted for horseback. The journey was complicated by the snow and a pair of Sioux warbands which followed them the whole way, their members constantly firing arrows over their heads and making lightning fast raids across the line behind them. The braves stuck scrupulously to the letter of the Treaty though, making no actual aggressive move towards the posse.
Eventually, they made to the Junction, where they were able to organise a crew to clear up the wreck and a fully-loaded train back to Deadwood, returning as heroes…