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74 Aquatic Lord

 As more players continued to arrive, the frogmen village became ever more crowded.

Eleena and the village elder kept everyone calm, so that the frogmen just stared in bemusement as the players ran about the place. Some foolishly delved into the sea, looking for treasure, but never made it very far before sea monsters made a meal of them.

If not for the forbiddingly cold weather, and the thick layer of snow that lay upon the ground, the players might even have turned the beach into an archaeological dig site, and not a single crab would have been spared.

It wasn't that the frogmen had never seen humans before-but these players were of a different breed.

How could they throw their lives away so eagerly? Why did they insist on causing such a ruckus? The frogmen neither knew nor dared to ask. They simply let the players do as they pleased.

Truth be told, if not for Xi Wei's foresight on this matter, following up on Vela's successful formation of an alliance with the frogmen by designating them as friendly units which could not be attacked... no doubt some of the more belligerent players would already be testing their blades on these hapless bystanders.

Fortunately, Princess Leah's arrival soon brought an end to the players' assorted antics.

Because they recognized her as the quest-giver NPC from the last raid on the Rotten Bones Church, and remembered her spectacular entrance towards the end, the princess was now well-regarded among the more experienced players. Considering how the newcomers had themselves been brought in under the close tutelage of these more-experienced players, she enjoyed a fair bit of second-hand renown as well. As such, they were hanging onto every word she was saying.

Angora, who had never commanded such influence with the players, was on the verge of tears. He'd been there all along, leading them, training them... he'd been doing all of that before her! Damn it, why?

After the players had settled down (if ever so slightly), Edward introduced Princess Leah to the frogmen elder.

Certainly, in their exploration of the area, many players had noted this unusual-looking member of the frogmen tribe. Some of the most audacious players had even wanted to go up and have a laugh at his expense, but Edward and the others had grimly shooed them off.

\"Greetings, elder. I am Leah Yakaran, Princess of Tierra.\"

Grandpa Registrar, who had also been a majordomo for such functions before, stepped in to remind the princess of the proper etiquette. As a noble lady from Tierra meeting with the leader of another species, there were certain pleasantries to be exchanged.

\"Well met, human princess. We are honoured to receive you in this humble place,\" the frogman elder said gently. \"Not a single blade of grass to be found here, such is our naked hospitality, heh heh heh...\" Amused at his own wit, the frogman elder chuckled.

Leah could only smile politely. \"Well, it is a sandy shore.\"

The elder carried on about one thing after another for a while, but it was all just insubstantial small-talk.

If the old man-old frog-kept going on like this, they wouldn't be finished even by sunset.

And so, the young woman came right out and said it, \"This may be blunt of me, but I must know: Why is it that you would rather fight a hopeless battle than abandon this stretch of beach?\"

This Warty Tidal Flat along the Grey Fjord Port held some strategic value to the Society of the Secret Eye, but only as a landing point for private traders. They wanted to build a port here for their own exclusive use, for no other reason but to boost the flow of goods through the region.

Besides the advantage of the terrain itself, the beach basically held no worth. No mineral wealth beneath the ground, unsuitable for growing crops in the salt-soaked sand... there was some fishing to be had in the shallows, but any further out to sea and you'd be beset by monsters.

Just as the elder had said, it was a humble place.

Which was why it was so odd that the frogmen had elected to remain, in the face of these attacks by the Secret Eye Society.

As far as she was aware, the frogmen were not the sort of people to get too attached to any particular piece of land. More at home in the water than any human could ever hope to be, they could easily retreat to the bottom of the shallows to evade the Society of the Secret Eye, and then find themselves a new home along some more prosperous stretch of the coastline.

If they could tell her more about their side of the story, she'd be better able to make a plan, such as helping to transfer the frogmen to another place, so that their abandoned village here could be used to set an ambush for the Secret Eye. Time permitting, they could even construct defense works and traps.

The frogman elder was silent for a while. Just as the princess was thinking that he wouldn't answer the question after all, he quietly said, \"Young lady, are you familiar with the Aquatic Lord?\"

\"The Aquatic Lord?\"

\"That's right. That's the god we frogmen worship. Little human girl, have you ever heard about him?\"

Leah was at a loss. She tried to summon all her knowledge of theology, but after much rumination, she still couldn't recall ever hearing about such a deity.

As the successor to the rulership of Tierra, Leah had studied a great many things, including matters of gods and religions. One could say that in a world where the power of gods was manifest, this was an essential topic.

However, not even she had ever heard of a god like that.

She could pretend to recognize the title, and then ride along with whatever he had to say about the subject-but she chose not to do such a thing.

\"I beg your pardon,\" she apologized, \"I don't believe I know of such a figure.\"

\"That's to be expected,\" the elder murmured. \"It's been almost a thousand years since this god last demonstrated any of his powers. There are even some who believe that he was slain during the last Divine War!\"

This information left Leah a little shocked.

However, she recovered quickly. Was this relevant in any way to her question of why they were choosing to hold the beach?

\"We've always been here,\" the elder explained. \"In spite of the wind and the rain and the stormy sea, we've lingered here for a simple reason: A long, long time ago, our ancestors were entrusted with a task by the Aquatic God: As long as we remain here, and keep the faith, the day will come when our great deity will return to us, to lead our people once more.

\"This past millennium, we've suffered endless hardships without a god watching over us, and we've been ridiculed and mistreated by other religions and races... but we've never once lost faith that our god will return to us, and make everything alright again. No matter how dangerous or hopeless the situation may seem, we won't budge. This is our holy ground!\"

The princess gasped, a sense of admiration welling up inside her, and she bowed slightly to him.

She understood their plight better than anyone. During the fall of Tierra, the God of Games had done nothing. For a long time afterwards, the survivors had been pushed around by the other religions, until they finally retreated into the underground sewers. Even so, the princess continued to hold on to her faith in the God of Games. Now that she'd finally summoned him with her prayers, it felt as though her life, which had been at a standstill this whole time, was finally in motion once again.

However, compared to her scant few years of waiting, the faith of these frogmen had endured through the generations for close to a millennium!

Small wonder that even an overwhelming foe such as the Society of the Secret Eye had failed to scare off the frogmen. Compared to a faith that had persisted for a thousand years, something as mundane as death held no terror for them.