Mkali Moto Kipande Njia’yawazi awoke to the unsettling feeling of her entire home shaking around her!

Still suspended somewhere between her dreams and full wakefulness, the young elven woman opened her eyes in alarm at… at what?! The only sources of sound or movement were the roaring flames and the dancing shadows that they cast from the fireplace before her. 

“Maybe it had been nothing?’ she thought. But then the loud rumbling returned and the tall glass windows in the foyer to her right began rattling in their frames!

Mkali Moto Kipande attempted to sit up from against the foot of her family’s living room sofa only to find she could hardly move. She was pinned, not by fear or injury, but by her younger sister who had snuggled halfway on top of her in order to share the soft, warm blanket she’d wrapped herself in earlier that evening. The rumbling around the two of them intensified further until it felt as if the house might shake itself apart. Mkali Moto Kipande gripped the edge of the blanket tightly with one hand and braced for something bad to happen… only for the rumbling to quickly echo off into the distance leaving a still silence in its wake.

‘It was only thunder,’ Mkali Moto Kipande realized, laughing gently at herself, only to flinch an instant later as a distant bolt of lightening appeared far past the kitchen windows to her left.

The bright, enigmatic display of power forked down from the dark night sky to the forest treetops below and lit the rooms around Mkali Moto Kipande in a harsh blue glow as the bolt lingered, strobing in place for a moment, before it winked out just as quickly as it had appeared. A new wave of thunder rolled in just in time for the next flash of lighting to streak into existence. Over the next few minutes the distant flashes moved ever closer and the waves of thunder came ever sooner. Before long, the lightening and thunder was joined by a heavy rain.

The storm which had been lingering out past the overcast horizon for the past couple of days was finally rolling in. But aside from her brief, post slumber startle, Mkali Moto Kipande wasn’t worried. She’d seen her way through harsh weather many times before. Warm and content in front of the nearby fire, with her sister sleeping sweetly against her side, Mkali Moto Kipande leaned back against the sofa and watched in wonder as the storm intensified. Soon, the sky remained lit more often than it was allowed to grow dark, and loud, sharp, immediate cracks of thunder took the place of the comparatively gentle rumbles she’d felt earlier. The heavy rain hammered the roof and pelted the windows while gusts of wind whistled through the forest outside and buffeted the walls of sturdy home Mkali Moto Kipande had watched her parents build two decades before, back when she herself had been well and truly young.

“Wha..?” Mkali Moto Kipande’s sister asked drowsily a few minutes later as a particularly loud crash of thunder shook the house and finally woke her from her post supper slumber. She raised her head from the comfortable spot it had found resting on her older sister’s stomach only to quickly bury it again as a nearby bolt of lightening flashed before her wide, frightened eyes.

“It’s all right, Inapita Sasa. It’s just the storm we knew was coming,” Mkali Moto Kipande answered as she stroked her fingers soothingly though her sister’s shorter walnut colored hair. “Sshhhh, it’s ok,” Mkali Moto Kipande repeated as more thunder had her sister grabbing hold of her waist and whimpering quietly into her shirt. 

Inapita Sasa was some twenty-six years of age now and had already started her long journey chasing her older sister towards adulthood. She too had certainly been through similarly powerful storms before, but at times like this Mkali Moto Kipande could not blame her for reacting like the child she still by and large resembled.

The storm raged around the Njia’yawazi sisters for well over an hour before the heavy rain and strong gusting winds began to die down. Mkali Moto Kipande moved to get into a more comfortable position, but there still wasn’t much she could do with her sister draped over her. They’d been in the same spot since they had concluded their celebratory family dinner some three or four hours before, and the lack of movement had begun to take its toll on Mkali Moto Kipande’s neck, legs and back. Inapita Sasa had even fallen asleep once more despite the waining storm. She looked so peaceful that Mkali Moto Kipande delayed waking her for a time but eventually she simply had to move.

“Sit up, Sasa. You’re hurting me,” Mkali Moto Kipande whispered to her sister as she gently rocked her awake. 

Her sister groaned and almost went to asleep again, but reluctantly rolled fully onto the floor… after playful shifting more of her weight onto her older sister first, of course. Apparently unsatisfied with her new position, Inapita Sasa sat up so her back rested against the sofa, just as her older sister’s did. A few moments later she leaned over so that her soft cheek and heavy head found their way to her big sister’s warm shoulder. This new position would not remain comfortable for long, either, Mkali Moto Kipande knew, but she could not help but smile at the tenderness of the moment.

‘…me and my sister, quiet and warm and cozy in front of the fire…’

“The storm is ending, it is time for bed you two,” Mkali Moto Kipande heard her mother’s soft voice say from somewhere off to her left a short time later. She looked around, but did not spot anyone until she noticed her mother’s beautiful long white hair move past the dining room window.

‘How long had she been watching us and the storm? All along?’ Mkali Moto Kipande wondered with a small smile.

“Time for bed,” her mother said again as she gently separated her younger daughter from her older one’s side. 

Thankful for the help, Mkali Moto Kipande extracted herself from the tangled blanket and stretched long and tall before moving over to the fireplace’s hearth. The fire was still roaring with life even though she had built it four or maybe five hours ago. In truth, she’d probably built it too big in response to a long, hard day’s work helping her father out in the cold, but it felt great in contrast to the chilly air that had greeted her as soon as she’d pulled free of her blanket. Mkali Moto Kipande held her hand and arm out near the fire for a long moment, basking in its heat, before drawing back as the heat began to sting her finger tips. She drew her hand away then moved back to the edge of the hearth where the temperature was a bit more reasonable.

“I want to sleep down here tonight,” Inapita Sasa complained over by the sofa as her mother worked ineffectively to get her to stand. Mkali Moto Kipande could not help but laugh.

“There might be more storms to come, Sasa,” Mkali Moto Kipande chimed in, but her sister held tight to the covers that were now wrapped around her body and refused to move.

“All right,” their mother said, relenting. “But I do not want you too close to that fire,” she said to her younger daughter while giving her older one a decidedly incredulous look.

“…I’ll clean it up first thing in the morning,” Mkali Moto Kipande confirmed, before quickly looking away from her mother’s disapproving gaze. She rose and pulled the heavy, cast iron screen in front of the fireplace then tried to angle past her mother but was unable to resist being pulled into a loving hug.

“You did good today. I know you would have rather been off hunting or exploring these last weeks, but your father was very grateful for your help,” her mother whispered lovingly into her ear. 

Mkali Moto Kipande returned her mother’s embrace then pulled away and continued on to the straight staircase built into living room’s back wall. She quietly scaled the twelve steps that led to the short hallway that, along with her room on one side and her sister’s on the other, made up the entirety of their house’s second floor.

A long rumble of rolling thunder to the southwest drew her tired eyes to her small window once she’d climbed the stairs and entered her room. The streaks of lightening that flashed far in the distance seemed to confirm her prediction of the approach of a second wave of storms, but by now Mkali Moto Kipande’s fatigue of a hard day’s work had caught back up with her and she was too tired to give the idea much care. She climbed into her cool, welcoming bed and within minutes found her dreams once more.


Mkali Moto Kipande drifted back awake some minutes or hours later to a strange, pungent smell. At first, she thought maybe an animal had died somewhere nearby. A bird that had found its way inside, maybe? But there was something more to it, something… sweeter… that nagged at her in the darkness of her room. Wood? Was somebody cooking downstairs? In the middle of the night?

The odor itself was odd enough, but even stranger were the solitary little specks of hot, irritating dust that kept finding their way into her mouth and nose with every few breaths she took. She tried to ignore it all, at first, but soon found that she could not. Every time she would near sleep she would be jolted back to wakefulness! Fed up, Mkali Moto Kipande sat upright in her bed, thoroughly perplexed by the strangely warm air she tasted around her. It was still dark outside, and still raining, but the lightening and thunder had passed on by… Or so she thought until a muffled crash shook her room!

“That was not thunder!” she told herself, now fully awake.

Whatever it had been had sounded more like a tall tree crashing to the ground. Or maybe it had felt like one hitting the house? Still more curious than worried, Mkali Moto Kipande slipped out of her bed oddly thankful she had not taken the time to change out of her sturdy work clothes. She took a few moments to properly lace her ragged shoes then opened the door to her bedroom and… nearly choked on the hot, foul air that rushed in past her. Her eyes went wide as the smell that had been so hard to place hit her full force. The air was hot and thick and smelt of wood and ash and smoke and… FIRE?!

‘The house is on fire!’ Mkali Moto Kipande realized as she slipped into a panic.

For a brief moment, all she could do was recall the tragic scene of the burnt out home she had seen years before, during one of her family’s trading trips to the nearby city of Dutos. The townspeople had told of how the bucket brigade had formed in time to prevent the fire from spreading. Of how they might have very well saved that section of the city. But how the family trapped inside, a husband and wife and their children, had, tragically, not survived. The thought that her family might soon suffer the same fate pulled Mkali Moto Kipande back to the present and pushed her out into the hallway that separated her room from her sister’s.

“Wake up Sasa!” Mkali Moto Kipande called out as she reached for her sister’s door.

Not waiting for a response, she began to turn the handle. That it was hot to the touch did not register in her mind until well after she had begun to push the door inwards, but by then it was too late. A swell of smoke and fire swirled then surged out into the hallway with enough force to slam the door shut even as it knocked Mkali Moto Kipande backward into her own door frame. It was all she could do to remain standing after the harsh, unexpected impact.

Mkali Moto Kipande could hardly see, her eyes were watering so badly, but the realization that her sister was trapped with those flames pushed her forward once more. She sank low and braced herself this time before attempting to push the door open. Fire and smoke again briefly rushed out into the hallway, but Mkali Moto Kipande pushed through it only to have her heart broken when she opened her eyes.

“Inapita Sasa!” Mkali Moto Kipande half screamed, half sobbed, not willing to believe the scene in front of her.

Before her, her sister’s room was fully ablaze and had been for multiple minutes. The wood paneled walls were all but consumed, her sister’s oak desk and dresser had both already collapsed and been torn apart by the flames, and worst of all, there was smoke pouring up through a large hole to the left of her sister’s burning bed. Mkali Moto Kipande wanted to believe she was trapped in a nightmare, but rationally she knew that her here and now was all too real. But… there was no body! Mkali Moto Kipande checked a second time. Her sister’s room was all but destroyed, but her sister was not in it…

‘She had wanted to sleep downstairs!’ Mkali Moto Kipande remembered. ‘Please have let her slept downstairs…’ she pleaded before pulling back out of the doomed room. 

She turned to the nearby stairway but could not seem to take the necessary steps forward. She had been so worried about her sister she had somehow missed the column of smoke and glowing embers that rolled up the slanted ceiling above the stairwell. The thick black clouds billowed up towards her before spilling out onto the wider hallway ceiling overhead. Mkali Moto Kipande clenched her fist and summoned her courage then forced herself to move to the top of the stairs only to cover her mouth at the sight she saw.

The stairwell that had been her way down to a new, promising day each morning and her way up to the comfort of a good night’s rest each evening now looked more like a passage descending down into hell itself! Many of the stairs had been been blackened by soot or ash while a dozen small streams of smoke were pouring out from cracks up and down the supporting wall to her left. Worse, the floor below that should have been too dark to easily make out was disturbingly visible, lit orange-red by the constantly shifting light of unseen fire somewhere below.

Mkali Moto Kipande hesitated. The staircase was her only way to safety, she knew that, but already she could feel the heat carried upward by the smoke. How much worse would it be down at ground level among the flames themselves? Another loud crash shook the floor beneath her feet and the entire house seemed to try to lurch out from under her. The thought that the house might come down around her spurred Mkali Moto Kipande back into action.

“All I have to do is make it outside. I’ll be fine no matter what happens as long as I make it outside…” she told herself before she took one last clear breath and started her descent.

She moved quickly, surefooted even amongst the heat and smoke, but Mkali Moto Kipande knew she was in trouble from her very first step. What had always been a solid, sturdy staircase creaked and shifted as soon as she put her weight onto it. The wall to her left groaned under the added stress and the smoke that had been streaming from multiple points was quickly joined by small licks of fire as what unburned material remained within the damaged wall caught fire.

Mkali Moto Kipande grabbed hold of the railing to her right, sure the stair beneath her feet was about to break way, but instead the entire staircase tore free of the gutted wall with a long sickening crack. It leaned for a moment then fell sideways and smashed apart on the hard floor below. Mkali Moto Kipande hit the ground hard then screamed in silent agony as a large section of the staircase crushed her right ankle. She could actually hear the meaty snap as her bones broke!

For the first few moments Mkali Moto Kipande was unable to think, she was in so much pain. But the pain in her leg quickly gave way to the stinging heat she felt on her face, arms and legs. Forcing her eyes open, all she could see were the flames that surrounded her with only glimpses of the fireplace where she’d built her large fire visible between them. Horrifyingly, the thick metal screen, with its curving, flowery patterns, was not where she had placed it. Instead, it had fallen… no… it had been pushed outwards and off the brick hearth. And there on the scorched floor, past the screen, was what could only have been the charred ash of spent firewood.

‘Am I responsible for this? Did I destroy my home and kill my family?!’ Mkali Moto Kipande asked herself as the heat from the nearby fires began to scald her face.

She coughed and choked on the fumes and screamed at the pain and pulled her legs up to her chest as instinct forced her to curl into a ball in one last, ineffective attempt to protect herself from the burning heat.

‘It hurts! It hurts it hurt it hurts it hurts!’ Mkali Moto Kipande cried out in her own mind until the pain became so overwhelming that even her thoughts were pushed aside. Her only instinctual hope now was that the pain would come to an end… and then it did… though not in the way she expected.

The intense heat that had been smothering her lungs and eating at her skin and bones vanished in an instant. A moment later, a familiar surge of energy passed through her body and the pain from both her grievous burns and her smashed leg was simply gone! Somewhere, deep within her overwhelmed mind, a memory surfaced of how it had felt to jump into a cool lake on a hot summer day.

For a long instant, Mkali Moto Kipande relived that jump from the tall grassy hill down to the swimming hole below. She squinted into the blinding sun, and felt the hot grass crunch beneath her bare feet as she ran. Her mind latched on to the warm whistling air that blew her long white hair back away from her face as she jumped and fell towards the water below. She clung to the memory of the sudden forceful upward jolt of the water as it broke her fall and enveloped her within its shockingly cool weight. Mkali Moto Kipande hung there for a long moment within the cool waters of her memories then went to open her eyes expecting the see the muted browns and greens typical of the murky lake, only to find herself back in the hell that was the burnt remnants of her house with… with her mother’s burned and bloody face unmoving inches above her own!

Initially, Mkali Moto Kipande tried to recoil away, but there was no where to go. She was pinned on her back, forced to stare helplessly past her mother’s face at the rain clouds beyond through the charred debris that had come down on her mother and herself. She could hardly draw in a breath much less move with all the weight pressing down on her, though she tried and struggled anyway, of course. Finally able to wrench one arm free, she brazenly pressed her hand to still smolderingly hot sections of wall and ceiling and pushed with all her might, but she felt no give. But neither did she feel any heat or pain. How could that be? 

Lightheaded and confused, Mkali Moto Kipande did the only remaining thing she could. She embraced her mother and began to cry. It was only then that she felt the shallow movement of her mother’s chest. Her mother was still breathing!? She was alive!? Mkali Moto Kipande’ joy was short lived, however, as she again began to cough on the fumes still rising up around her. Soon, she found it difficult to keep her eyes open. It felt as if the world were spinning around her even though she couldn’t move. For a long minute she fought against the terrifying darkness that slowed her mind and dulled her senses as it welled up around her, but soon her world again faded dimming and narrowing until everything went to black.


There were strange moments and sensations before Mkali Moto Kipande woke again. Half remembered dreams of bleary vision and muffled sound. Of being pulled from her hell. Of looking back at what little remained of her home as she was carried away. Of her father and sister hovering worriedly over her. Of having cool water flowing over her parched lips and down her aching throat. None of it seemed real. And all of it did…


The first thing Mkali Moto Kipande felt when she finally awoke was radiating heat. The first thing she smelt was smoke. The first thing she heard were soft snaps and pops. The first thing she tasted was burnt wood. The first thing she saw was FIRE.

Without even thinking, Mkali Moto Kipande flinched away from the flames leaving behind the old, patchwork blanket she’d been covered in. She could hear someone calling her name behind her but it didn’t matter. She had to get away from the fire!

Wet, rain soaked ground squished beneath her feet as she tripped and stumbled her way blindly forward only to fall to her hands and knees as she came to the edge of what had been her family’s home. All that remained was ash and glowing embers and a single tall pane of glass that somehow did not shatter as the house had come down.

A smaller hand gripped hers then her sister swung around to stand between her and the devastation. Inapita Sasa was dressed in one of their father’s old set of work clothes, like she herself was, Mkali Moto Kipande realized.

Her sister was hurt and limping, Mkali Moto Kipande saw. Even in the early morning light she could tell her sister’s face and arms were red with blisters and burns, but she was alive! They both were alive! In unison, they embraced each other, both trying and failing to hold back their combined tears of joy and sorrow.

“Are you all right?” Mkali Moto Kipande asked after a minute.

Her sister stepped back and took a deep breath before answering. “I used all my healing on mother…” she managed to say before her lower lip began to quiver and her brave facade fell away once again. 

Mkali Moto Kipande pulled her sister into an equally tight, but oddly different, hug. Before, they had been equals who had survived a tragedy. Now, she was the older sister again, and it was her job to stay strong and fearless.

“It’s not your fault. You did everything you could,” Mkali Moto Kipande said, even though she had not been there to see it.

“I’ll try more when I can tomorrow. I… I just don’t know if I can do any else.”

“But you saved her?” Mkali Moto Kipande asked. She felt her sister nod into her shoulder. “Then you did enough.”

“Inapita Sasa? Mkali Moto Kipande?” their father called to them from somewhere behind. 

Mkali Moto Kipande rose to her feet and turned to see her father emerging from the small animal pin and storage shelter she had helped him build over the last month. It was the accomplishment they had been celebrating at dinner the night before. And though it was a fraction of the size their home had been… it was their home now, wasn’t it? She slowly stood then led her sister trudging up the gentle slope to the shelter where their father embraced each of them in turn.

“I thought I’d lost you, my daughter!” he said to his older child as he gripped her tightly.

“I thought you had too, sir,” Mkali Moto Kipande replied. “Where is mother?” she asked after pulling back.

“Around the corner,” her father answered, indicating the only truly enclosed room in the small barn. “She is very badly hurt and cannot yet speak, but she will know you are there. Just let her know you are all right then let her rest, ok?”

Mkali Moto Kipande nodded, her throat suddenly going dry. Trembling, she left her father and stepped through the doorway. There, under a sheet, on top of an old dirty mattress, lay her mother, her crippled form easily the most shocking aftermath of the fire.

Just hours before, U’tulivu Nyeupe-nywele Malaika Njia’yawazi had been elegant and beautiful. What Mkali Moto Kipande had hoped to be in another fifty or one hundred years. She had been thoughtful and knowledgeable. Qualities Mkali Moto Kipande knew she herself was still working on. And she had been spiritual and magical. Two things Mkali Moto Kipande had long struggled to mimic with hardly any success. But now, her mother might not be any of those things ever again, Mkali Moto Kipande realized. 

The woman lying before her was burned and broken. Her face and skin were disfigured from the heat of the fire. Much of her long, glowingly white hair had been burned away and what few patches and strands remained only served to deepen the impact of her injuries. Even the way she lay at an odd uncomfortable angle, mostly hidden beneath the sheet, spoke to how severely she had been affected by the fire and the collapse of the house around her.

Mkali Moto Kipande stood frozen for a long while with a heartbroken expression on her face. She was too shocked to really cry but somehow could not turn away. Finally, when she could bear the sight of her injured mother no longer, she made to leave, but just then her mother turned her head and spotted her. Though obviously in a great deal of pain, her mother pushed the sheet partly aside and shakily raised one badly blistered hand up towards her daughter. Gasping in sorrow, Mkali Moto Kipande stepped forward and knelt down so as to allow her mother’s rough hand to stroke her flawless skin and hair and face…

It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t even close to fair what had happened! Mkali Moto Kipande wanted so badly to reach out and return her mother’s love, but at the same time she was far too afraid that her simple touch would cause her mother more pain. Instead, she sat down nearby, and rocked herself as she cried tears of guilt that seemed to burn her face nearly as badly as the fires had. That her mother was crying alongside her made it all the more worse. Slowly though, Mkali Moto Kipande’s sorrow turned to anger and determination.

“I owe you everything, mother. I… I caused this, so I promise you, I will find a way to fix this.”


After three long, hard years of helping to support her family, of helping them to rebuild and survive, Mkali Moto Kipande walked through the familiar gates of Sharlstown with a plan. Though it might take two decades, she would restore life and vitality to her hobbled sister and to their mother who had nearly sacrificed everything to save them both. 

Things didn’t exactly go as she had planned… but that is another story for another time.