Walking on a cobblestone path, Barbara suddenly turned back to look at Anya.
“What’s wrong, Saintess?” Anya, who was still astonished at Barbara’s display, suddenly felt her heart drop as if she had been seen through.
“Do you know… who those children are?” Barbara’s black eyes carried the traits of the natives, but that didn’t matter. It actually left Anya wanting to get closer to her.
“They should be the refugees and fleeing slaves from the north, right? It’s become common in the past few decades. Saintess Barbara taking them in is an act of kindness!” Anya naturally knew where these children had come from. Refugees and fleeing slaves who couldn’t stand the orcs’ harsh treatment were everywhere ever since chaos erupted in the north.
Unfortunately, even here they would not be guaranteed a better life. Freezing or starving to death was so common that there were mountains of skeletons at the sides of every road and in the plains.
With the situation being so bad for adults, children were even worse for the wear. If not for Barbara’s help, those little imps would probably die from the hunger or cold in the near future. There was nothing wrong with calling her actions kind.
“Yes, an act of kindness!” Anya reiterated.
“Anya… Did you know that the Lord took in a batch of refugees and children from the north when the unrest began? He nurtured them, making priests and scholars out of those orphans… Now, as the grandchildren of these priests return to the mainland, they find their homes still ravaged by war. Things seem even worse than before…”
“Larger families, merchants, and churches would take in a certain number of children before, but now… The market is full. Lonce and the rest have nowhere else to go, and they can only starve to death…” While this was but a simple statement, Anya could see the glint in the saintess’ eyes brighten.
“Anya!” Barbara suddenly yelled.
“Yes!” Anya went forward apprehensively.
“Are you willing to change the north with me?”
‘She wants to break away from the chaos of war and help the commoners recover?’ Anya was shocked, not expecting these desires from the saintess. But another thought occurred to her right after, leaving her shocked. ‘Wait… with her status, it could very well be an order from the Lord.
‘Maybe… Is a divine battle more terrifying than that of the mortal realm about to descend upon us?’ Anya’s heart filled with fear in that moment, but she still managed a stiff nod.
“Good! I believe in the loyalty of the Bane Family, as well as your faith in the Lord.” Barbara nodded in satisfaction.
“Umm… Saintess, may I know how the church intends to end this war?” Anya asked cautiously.
“First we focus on the trade of sacrifice blood between your family and the Blackblood Tribe. That batch of blood essence will be dealt with…” Barbara glanced over at Anya.
“Does the church know everything already?” Anya’s voice showed her uneasiness. After all, not all churches could tolerate such things.
“Massacring commoners, buying slaves to be killed, and pandering to evil gods of other races…” Barbara counted with her fingers as large beads of cold sweat fell from Anya’s face, “Any one of those sins is enough for your family to be consigned to eternal damnation. However… thankfully, the Bane Family is still of some use to our master…” The threat in her voice was obvious.
“Yes!” Anya guaranteed, “The family will adhere to the church’s instructions!”
“Good!” Barbara smiled slightly, though Anya had no right to resist, “Continue the trade with the Blackblood Tribe. I just need our people to take over…”
“It shall be as you say… But…” There was a rare hint of hesitance in Anya’s voice.
“Speak. Is there any issue?” The smile on Barbara’s face did not lessen, but Anya could sense the atmosphere chilling in an instant.
“Well… Our family is only in charge of the collection and processing of the blood essence. The main power still lies with a large business. They’re also in charge of helping us contact the Blackblood Tribe, and take profits from us in exchange for being the middlemen…”
Anya’s words implied that the smuggling into the orc empire had flourished in the darkness of the north. It was such a joke that even the higher-ups of the Silverymoon Alliance were in on the action, rumours abound that Old Mage Elminster had shares in the operation and priests of wealth were acting as guarantors.
“All trade with the Moonwood is controlled by the Blackmoon Merchant Group. We’re only wandering merchants…” Anya’s lips curved in a wry smile.
“Blackmoon Merchant Group? It doesn’t seem to be all that powerful in the north, though?” Confusion shone in Barbara’s eyes.
“It’s a large business group set up in secret, formed in the black market by offshoots of the other large-scale businesses. It controls over 60% of the trade in the north.” Anya’s eyes reflected an obvious mockery.
“How gutsy… The queen of Silverymoon really is quite pitiful…” Barbara shook her head. Although she hadn’t met such situations in her life on Debanks Island, she still had enough experience to understand a great deal.
“Then… who exactly is it that stands in our way?” Barbara asked.
Anya took a deep breath before spitting out the name, “The master of the Blackmoon Merchant Group, Shadow Hound Gloff!”
“Shadow Hound? What an interesting nickname…” Barbara began to laugh.
“He’s always hidden in the shadows, like a hungry wolf not letting go of even rotten meat. Even the savages fear his greed and violence…” Anya’s shoulders trembled, as if she had thought up something terrifying.
“How interesting!” the smile on Barbara’s face grew, “Help me make an appointment with him…”
Dark businesses like the Neon Merchant Group and the Blackmoon Merchant Group had channels to transmit information in secret despite the surface ban on the Bane Family. It didn’t take long for Anya to receive news that Gloff had agreed to meet.
The venue for the meeting was an underground bar. The owner was an intelligent person, and they’d avoided using a place where paladins could find them here. The smell of cheap wine permeated the place, mixing with tobacco and cheap perfume to cause Anya to cringe.
Once they saw Gloff’s true appearance, however, even Barbara looked slightly surprised. Anya just cried out in shock.
The Shadow Hound just looked far too powerful. Canines protruded from his mount, and he had a spotted black nose that complimented red, bestial eyes. His skin was bunched together and wrinkly, full of fat and flesh.
‘A mixed-blood with a Shar Pei? It’s a rare combination too…’ Anya thought to herself. Such beings were normally exterminated at birth, and those who even survived were rare, let alone someone growing to such heights of power. There was perhaps less than one in ten thousand who could do so.
“Please sit, beauties!” The rumbling voice coming from Gloff’s throat made it seem like he was speaking with his tongue stuck out. Anya needed to spend a great amount of effort to understand what he was saying.
“Many thanks!” she said as she bowed sincerely, but as she sat down she soon felt a disgusting gaze scanning across her. The feeling of greed and lust immediately caused goosebumps to rise on her skin. ‘Shadow Hound, the king of rotting meat… This nickname really was created aptly…’
“What is it, ladies? You don’t seem quite satisfied with how I’m attending to you…” Gloff gulped down a fried quail stuffed with little mushrooms and spices, the sickly crimson-yellow tongue that was wagging out causing Anya to feel nauseous.
“It’s about communication with the Moonwood…” She went straight to the point, forcing down the discomfort.
“So it’s about that…” Gloff was still stuffing food into his mouth, and a servant took a large black notebook and began to flip through it in front of him.
“We don’t really have any needs in this area now, so the noble merchants will have to wait a while…”
“Are there no other ways? Do you think we could discuss the allocation of profits here?” Anya asked, sounding him out.
“It’s not about profits.” Gloff seemed rather resolute. He had already finished off all the food in front of him, and a few female fox servants were using white serviettes to wipe his mouth for him.
“But… If Miss Anya insists, we could continue this conversation in private… haha…” The red glint in Gloff’s eyes brightened.
“Damn it… That stupid hound, swine…” Anya began to complain once they reached the street.
“I do find him rather intelligent…” Barbara pushed at her black cloak, revealing her charming face.
“Saintess, do you mean I should…” Anya immediately felt bitter, but she nodded with difficulty, “If it’s for the church, I’m willing to do it…”
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