The party travels high into the Rocky Mountains, leaving the well-traveled foothills for the empty and ominous spruce-fir forests. When the heroes settle down for the night on the second day of the trip, a catamount stalks their camp, mimicking a woman crying for help. Jack senses that something is off, however, and Hightower and Argent manage to turn the tables on the creature. Argent ultimately beheads the creature, and Hightower drags the carcass back to camp, where Jack insists on eating it.
The next day, the heroes encounter a limping traveler on the road—it’s Maria, the young woman who they helped escape on the auto-gyro a couple of days prior. Maria explains that the auto-gyro crashed in the mountains, killing the pilot. She’s trying to make her way to Whateley, a mining town in the mountains. The party offers to give her a ride.
On the way, Maria elaborates on the real reason she’s on the run from two of the Great Railroads. A few months ago, Maria teamed up with her “husband,” a former miner named Wade. The two of them signed up as rail warriors for the Union Blue Railroad. They waited for the inevitable attack by Central Rail’s goons, then sabotaged the train, broke into the engine room, and stole a device from the Great Engine.
Maria and Wade hid the device in an abandoned mine outside Whateley and then headed to Denver to try and find a buyer. That’s where they ran into the Union Blue and Central Rail posses. Wade ate a bullet, but Maria managed to find refuge with Ed Chase at the Palace Theater. Chase connected Maria with a buyer (the auto-gyro pilot), in exchange for a cut of the sale.
Maria explains that since no one outside of the Five Great Railroads has gotten their hands on the Engines’ bizarre technology, the potential price tag is on the order of $100,000. She’s grateful for the heroes’ help getting her out of Denver, so she’s willing to cut them in if they help her retrieve the device from Whateley.
The Way is Closed
Whateley, Colorado is a mining town that has gone through at least one boom-bust cicle. It’s situated beside a lake at the bottom of a valley ringed with mountains, which Maria says are riddled with mines. The party arrives in town late in the afternoon to find the streets almost deserted. A stable hand tells them that a couple of weeks ago, miners in the Old Whateley Mine started going missing until there were so many disappearances that workers refused to go into the mine. But when people tried to leave the valley, somehow the roads always wound back to where they started. Now people are starting to vanish from town every night, with most of the residents holed up in the Pick and Shovel hotel while the local constables guard the warehouse of mine owner Arthur Mechum. Most folks blame the situation on the ghost of town founder Noah Whateley, who perished in an accident at the old mine twelve years ago.
The party encounters Mechum leaving the hotel and he confirms much of what is being said, but he doesn’t believe that people can’t leave the valley and thinks talk of the ghost is just superstitious nonsense. The real reason that the miners won’t go to work is that they’re holding out for more money. Mechum says that equipment is being stolen from his warehouse and the local community leader, Mrs. Doubleday, won’t let him conscript people for guard duty. Mechum suspects the thefts and disappearances are the result of sabotage by his competitors. He offers the heroes $1,000 for recovering a pair of industrial load lifters that have gone missing.
The inside of the Pick and Shovel Hotel is crowded with displaced families and looks more like a refugee center than a hotel. The proprietress, Mrs. Eleanor Doubleday, greets the heroes but warns that the place is full up. A longtime resident of Whateley, she tells them that her husband Michael was among those who perished in the mine disaster 12 years ago. Since then, people have only mined the upper reaches of the surrounding mountains, for fear of hitting aetherstone fumes if they go as deep as the old mine. She suspects the mysterious happenings are Noah Whateley’s revenge for Mechum recent reopening of the Old Whateley Mine. She urges the heroes to investigate and offers the assistance of the town if they do.
The heroes convince Maria that they should put off finding the device until after the mine situation is resolved. They also talk Mrs. Doubleday into finding a room for Maria, while they stay with the horses in the stables.
A Bite in the Dark
During Hightower’s watch, he suddenly feels a compulsion to leave the stables—but makes enough noise in doing so to alert Argent, who wakes up the rest of the group. They try to restrain Hightower, but he overpowers them and keeps going. He leaves the town and seems to be heading towards a mountain across the lake.
Before he gets too far, however, the Hateful Thing comes slinking out of the dark, looking wary. It tugs on Hightower’s pant cuffs to try and steer him back towards the town, but when that fails it bites him sharply, waking him from his stupor. The creature then sneers at the party before fading away again.
The party spies two other people, an older man and a little girl, who seem to be similarly entranced and heading towards the mountain. The group also sees a light on in an isolated cabin on a wooded hill some distance from town. After some debate, the party decides to follow the two sleepwalkers, tracking them for several hours as they go around the lake and approach the entrance to the Old Whateley mine. The heroes watch them enter the mine and then abruptly vanish into the darkness.
Beneath the Lonely Mountain
Realizing that no one in the party has a light source, the heroes trek back to the town where they sleep in for several hours. They convince Maria not to go after the device until they’ve dealt with whatever is going on in the Whateley mine. And they tell Eleanor Doubleday about the events of last night and encourage her to string some bells up as an alarm when more people try to sleepwalk out of town.
The heroes then meet with Mr. Mechum and borrow several miners’ helmets and two Edison electric torches in order to see their way below ground. They ride horses over to the Whateley mine entrance and notice that all of the metal, right down to the nails, has been pried out of the surrounding buildings.
Argent, a native of the Rockies, explains that his sect once fought an ancient evil deep within the mountains and this experience is reminding him of the tales he heard as a child.
Recalling how the two sleepwalkers from last night seemed to suddenly be swallowed up by the darkness, the heroes probe the mine entrance before deciding it’s safe to enter. About twenty paces in, their lights dim, all sound grows muted, and the air becomes cold. Another ten paces and they’re clear.
The inside of the mine is hot and noisy. A loud clanging sound, like hammers on metal, rings out from deeper in the mine and the party can see the flicker of firelight coming from several passages up ahead. The party discovers a fire in one passage near the entrance that is meant to serve as a crude ventilation source for the mine. Near it, they find a ragged journal of semi-incoherent ramblings about the “great master.” The most recent entries express concern that the master’s dreams had “turned to steel” and ended with a pledge to protect the master from the “metal poison.”
The next chamber the heroes investigate is lined with slime and has half a dozen semi-translucent pods hanging from the ceiling. The party creeps up to the entrance to the next chamber, the source of the clanging. Inside, they find ten creatures, man-shaped with slimy gray skin that hangs loosely on their bodies, large milky eyes, and no nose. The creatures are crudely forging steel into large plates that look as if they are meant to fit together into a massive chassis or armor, although some pieces have large holes in them.
Argent sneaks into the room and strikes one of the creatures from behind with his new silvered longsword, cleaving it in half. He tries to get the drop on another creature, but isn’t stealthy enough in his approach. The monster lets out a terrible shriek, alerting everyone in the cavern. In the ensuing battle, the heroes methodically dispatch the creatures, including two more who appear at the chamber’s entrance. The party doesn’t quite perform flawlessly, though, as Argent gets caught in a blast from Vincent’s Burninator and Hightower accidentally shoots Jack.
After the battle, the heroes return the chamber with the pods, finding that two of them are now empty. Argent and Hightower cut open the remaining pods, revealing the old man and little girl they saw from last night as well as a third victim and another thing that is halfway towards becoming one of the creatures. After ensuring that the three survivors are able to return to town on the horses, the party examines the mine.
The main tunnel dead ends abruptly in a wall of perfectly smooth rock. Jack identifies the smoothness as a telltale sign of the burrow spell. Vincent then slaps together a gadget that should allow the party to burrow through the wall to get to the other side. The gadget will only last for one use, but he assures them that he can build another on the other side. With that, the party steps through the stone and into the next session.