Zharra’s “sister” Sara approached her in the dark alley with a deal: She could become free of her affiliation with the Magician by doing as she had done: forging an allegiance with the Weeping King. Upsides included the innate ability to pierce lies. Downsides included her soul’s consumption on her demise. After giving the matter all the consideration it deserved, Zharra politely declined, at which point Hardluck, having seen dark shapes creeping into position around the party, took the opportunity to both stab and rifle through the pockets of Sara, coming away with a small cylinder of the kind used to protect parchment.
It was, as they say, on. Several additional apparent clones of Zharra (or Sara) appeared and harried the party with blasts of dark energy. Lear was momentarily overcome with disorientation from an unknown source and an additional clone, bearing the marks of both tiefling and drow, appeared. Hardluck catapulted himself up to the rooftops and began mowing down the clones as Harley closed with Sara and Lear attacked with javelins from behind. Gable, in attempting to pick the lock on one of the alley doors, was surprised to find it open…triggering an alarm and what turned out to be a very irate were-dog of some sort who initially assumed that everyone in the alley was a threat. Gable was able to convince him otherwise after sustaining a savage claw attack, and he retreated back into his home. In the meantime, Lear and Zharra turned their attentions to two amorphous forms that assumed the shape of winged humanoids, while Harley and Iron Horse continued to attack Zharra’s clone, dropping her to the ground, at which point her consciousness appeared to transfer to one of the clones on the rooftop. Sara, realizing that the tables had turned, attempted to flee, but the party continued to attack her as she flew into the sky, and blood loss overcame her, her body plummeting down into a conveniently-positioned manhole.
After having caught their breath (and once again placated the were-dog, whose name turned out to be Geoffrey) Hardluck opened his rightfully-stolen parchment cover and attempted to read the contents. After his ears stopped ringing and he could see again, Harley took it and tried the same. He had the same effect, but out of intuition or sheer stubbornness, he was able to piece together the words and the rest of the party saw a silver light flow into his eyes as Harley heard the laughter of the Trickster in his ears. He saw Hardluck and Lear glowing with a silver nimbus, and after a bit of trial and error, the party determined that Harley could now, if temporarily, perceive lies.
There was only one thing to do: go to the Trickster and verify that she hadn’t been lying to them all this time. Her secretary Chance received them and performed some tests to give everyone confidence that Harley’s soul had not been compromised; he also let it drop that he could perceive the influence of powers beyond the world on mortals. The Trickster was happy to receive them and reiterated her (existing) plan to the party, but also mentioned that, to be truly honest, she was known for her fickleness. The fact that she meant it right then didn’t mean that she wouldn’t change her mind in an hour or two. The party also asked if they could borrow Chance for the next banquet in an attempt to flush out any double agents in their midst: she agreed on condition that they not allow him to drink or gamble.
With that squared, there was only one thing to do: take Harley gambling! Even after his agent’s fee to Hardluck he came out rather well ahead for the night and retired to his room at the Spider and Fly to sleep off his adventure, which he did until the next morning when the paladin Ausviir came knocking on his door with news: Crag, who had been professing loud and intense dislike of Harley, had been missing for two days. Ausviir had been trying to cover it up, but she was worried (a) that something bad had happened to him, and (b) that Harley might unfairly take the blame for this after all the shit-talk Crag had been doing. Harley agreed to look into it, much to Ausviir’s relief.
At about the same time, there came a rather low-positioned knock on Zharra’s door: Hardluck answered to find Sparkle, the prostitute he and Harley had saved from Crazy-8. She expressed her deep gratitude to Hardluck and begged a second favor: a place to stay since Crazy-8 was insisting to see her, and he could probably locate her if she stayed at Mother Mercy’s. Hardluck was more than willing to grant Zharra’s hospitatlity to Sparkle (call her Claire), and she set about preparing breakfast for them. Hardluck sent invitations to the rest of his friends to join them for breakfast. Most proceeded willingly, but Iron Horse interpreted the urchin’s message to him as a threat and called a strike team of Circle wizards onto Zharra’s house, damaging the door, window, and stove. They did insist on testing all people present for elder-god contagion, seemed unsurprised at Zharra’s positive result, but did look askance at Harley until he was able to talk his way out of it.
Now gathered, the group decided to investigate the disappearances of Crag and Duna, who Madame Mysterio had informed Iron Horse was last seen near the Golden Vault. A quick tour of the marketplace turned up that they were not the only people missing: two support staff from Water and Power, named Carina and Alejandro, were also missing, and also a dragonborn merchant, Chimalli. Investigation at Carina and Alejandro’s house turned up messages in a cipher Iron Horse recognized as belonging to the Coyote Clan, and also spelunking gear that had been used recently, based on the chips and dust on the handle of the pickaxe.
The party decided it was time to confront Eli Botherstone at the Golden Vault. He began by stalling for time, but eventually admitted that while he rather strongly did not want the party entering the tunnels below the casino, it was beyond his power to actually stop them, and the party bound him up and prepared to descend to the tunnels below.