Jabulani appeared at his side, tugging his arm. “Come now, Ndoro! The Ngwena comes!”
Ndoro snatched his arm away. “Let him come.”
Jabulani gave up on Ndoro and fled into the woods with the other villagers. The warriors remained, though their shifting eyes betrayed them. Their fears were answered as the Tacuma warriors returned, this time in flesh of ngwenas. They moved fast, driving back the Diaka, pushing them away from Ndoro but not attacking. Ndoro seemed oblivious to the reptiles as they swarmed around him, growling and snapping. He looked down at them, a smile creasing his face. Sarama and his unborn child were with the spirits. He wished to be with them.
The water churned again. A dark shadow approached, weaving its way to the shore just under the surface of the river, its large eyes focused on Ndoro. It climbed from the water onto the bank and slowly approached the reptilian circle. Even in his sorrow and rage Ndoro was moved by the size of the beast. The perimeter of the circle opened and the bull ngwena entered. Ndoro’s hands clenched about his assegai and shield, anticipation coursing through him. The ngwena let out a long bellow as it transformed, standing on its hind legs as its body took shape. Its hind legs extended as its fore limbs took the shape of massive human arms. The crocodile man’s eyes sparked as it looked down on Ndoro.
Ndoro charged the beast and was knocked aside by the sweep of its tail. He struck the ground and almost rolled into one of the ngwena, blocking its snapping jaws with his shield. He was coming to his feet when the beast struck at him with his claws. Ndoro ducked as he swung his sword. The blow glanced off its scales. It swung its tail again but Ndoro jumped over it, slipping behind his attacker. He threw his assegai and watched it bounce off the thick back scales.
The beast spun about. “What are you?” it hissed.
Ndoro extracted his sword again as his answer. The beast moved toward him then stopped, turning its head from side to side.
“You are no man,” it said. “A man would be dead by now.”
The ngwenas surrounding Ndoro rustled, edging closer to him. The beast was summoning them to attack, Ndoro thought. It could not defeat him alone. Ndoro smirked. This river spirit was not much to fight, let alone fear.
He charged the crocodile-spirit and it lunged at him, mouth wide and teeth glistening. Ndoro stepped aside and stabbed low, striking the beast in its underbelly. It howled and its servants fell still. The beast grabbed the blade before Ndoro could pull it out and dragged him toward the gaping jaws. He brought his shield about and jammed it between its teeth. The beast bit down, tearing through leather and wood. Its grip loosened on the sword and Ndoro snatched it free. As the beast reached for the shield in its mouth, Ndoro brought the sword down on the beast’s wrist. The blade hesitated then sliced through the joint, the paw falling to the ground. A cry came from the beast that tore at his ears. The crocodiles spun on the ground as they did when tearing a victim apart, but this time in pain. They fled to the river, transforming back into the still bodies of the slain Tacuma. The river-spirit held its damaged arm against its body with its good paw and ran for the safety of the water. Ndoro was not about to be denied his kill. He chased after the beast and grabbed its massive tail, lifting its hind legs from the ground. The Ngwena-beast fell to its front legs, tearing at the mud with its good paw and stub in a vain attempt to reach the murky river.