By Nico Parros

The first thing Larz heard when he rang the doorbell was the sound of the toilet flushing down the hall. He waited. Moments later, Nova came to the door. She was wiping vomit off her lips with a wet rag. She looked like a mess.

"Use tissue instead, sister" he said absently, out of habit. It wasn't as if she ever listened to him. "It's better for your lips."

Nova stared at him for several moments as if trying to figure out who he was. When she finally recognized him, her face lit up with a brilliant smile. "Larz!" she said delightedly, giving him a hug that was as strong as ever. "You've come to see me! It's been so long!" She led him in through the door and into the living room. "Oh, it's been weeks since I had the strength to clean up around here... It's a mess! I'm so sorry."

"I helped you clean up last Thursday, remember?" asked Larz gently. "We washed the windows and everything. You helped do the laundry."

It hadn't lasted long. Dirty clothes lay scattered around the room in half hearted piles. A bra was draped over a screen, which was blasting a round of the peace tournaments at full volume. The windows were covered with a thin layer of dirr. One of the lamps, which had been given to her as a wedding present, lay smashed on the carpet.

His sister waved her hand dismissively and flopped down onto the shirt-covered couch. "Well, whatever." She looked up at him. "Larz, will you be a darling and make me some tea? Kettle's in the kitchen."

He turned off the screem, picking up the bra by the very edge and placing it in a laundry basket next to the wall. "Of course, neesan."

Nova groaned and clutched at her head. "And can you get me some painkillers?" she asked. "I'm getting an awful headache. And while you're at it, make me some toast. I just threw up breakfast and I'm hungry again. And turn off the lights. It's too bright in here."

"Yes, sister." Larz replied dutifully. He was used to her moods and her dependency on him by now. The old Nova, who was always good natured and responsible, had become a memory by the end of the first trimester. Now she was only a vague dream.

The kitchen was a similar mess. Dishes were piled high in the sink, and everything from the cupboards was spread out on the counter. Larz cleaned and replaced objects as he searched for the kettle. He finally found it in the fridge, which was otherwise empty, and began boiling her some tea.

He searched for a loaf of bread, but the only one he found was stale and beginning to mold. She had some ilfruit sitting on the counter. That would have to do.

When by the time he had discovered a bottle of painkillers that wasn't empty already, the water had boiled. He made the tea as quickly as possible and took a tray containing the fruits of his labour back into the living room. On the way, he flicked off the light switch.

Nova had curled up into a fetal position, her stomach protruding almost comically from the dressing gown she wore. Without even trying, Larz could tell that she was completely drained of magic. Tears streamed down her bright red face.

"He tried to do it again," she said softly as he placed the tray beside her. "He tried to get out. He's trying to get out more often now. Any way he can." Her voice broke into a sob. "I hate him so much."

Larz rolled her onto her back and began a healing technique that would at least take away some of the stress. "It's okay," he replied. "It's okay. Everything's okay. Would you like something to eat now?"

Nova nodded, rising back up into a sitting position. "Thank you," she squeaked, looking down at the fruit and beginning to eat it up ravenously.

"The family have been asking about you," said Larz cheerfully, trying to at least make her feel better. "They'd like to come and visit, but I said that you weren't at your best right now. Anyway, they're going to make you a Get Well card."

His sister's eyes filled with warmth at the mention of the rest of her family "Oh, my darlings!" she exclaimed, taking a swig from her mug of tea. "My babies! Are they doing well? Are they eating? Who's taking care of them? What are they doing in school? They're being good, aren't they?"

"Good as can be," responded Larz.

Nova giggled. "My little angels" she said happily. Then suddenly She broke into tears again. "Oh, I miss them."

"You'll definitely see them again soon," lied Larz with what he hoped was enough confidence to convince her.

It seemed to work. His sister brightened considerably, and with a smile polished off the rest of her ramen. "What about Raiden?" she asked. "My husband, my darling, dearest, precious beloved King. Is he well? Does he talk about me? Why does he never visit me?" She pouted. "He never does, you know. I haven't seen him in so long. Why not?"

'Because he's trying to forget that you exist,' thought Larz, although he didn't say it. "I don't know," he said instead. "I'll try to talk to him about it. Is that alright?"

Nova's expression shifted. An unnatural look of rage passed across her face. "If he does," she hissed, "I'll rip his balls off and eat them." Her fist connected with the wall, which cracked open to expose the insulation. "That bastard! That lousy, uncaring bastard! How could he do this to me? I've got a monster eating its way out of me, and it's all his fault! Aren't I supposed to be his wife?"

Her hair, Larz noticed suddenly, was greasy and unwashed. It stuck together in clumps, caked with grime and the ever present sand. A small patch behind her ear seemed to have been ripped out. She had probably ran out of shampoo again. He made a mental note to buy her some more.

With a cry of hatred, Nova smashed her empty tea mug onto the floor. In what seemed like slow motion, it shattered into countless pieces. He remembered that it had also been a wedding gift. The painkillers, little blue pills, were still lying on the tray. She picked them up and popped them into her mouth with a savage crunch of her teeth.

"You look so shocked," she giggled seconds later, as she swallowed. "Of course I'm only joking, Larz. I could never do anything like that to Raiden. I love him so much. He means everything to me. That's why I went through with this." Her voice had a slight edgy quality to it.

"Of course, sister," Larz said softly. He felt a sudden pulsing hatred for his brother-in-law. "I know that."

Nova giggled again. She sounded suddenly like a little girl. "Larz," she said playfully, "would you like to know a secret?"

"Hm?" Instantly suspicious, Larz nodded. "Sure," he replied.

His sister nodded and untied the cord of her dressing gown, letting it fall away from her belly. "Look!" she exclaimed with a sort of maniac glee.

Her stomach was swollen like an oversized blister. The skin was stretched seemingly paper-thin over her body. Purple-blue lines ran parallel to her body, covering the huge bulge of her torso like thin bruises. The nipples of her breasts were swollen as well. As Larz watched in horror, grains of dirt dripped out of them like water from a tiny faucet.

"Look," she said again, softly this time, caressing her stomach. "Larz, look. Those are claw marks."

Larz, inwardly scared but trying to control his face so as not to upset her, shook his head. "Sister," he responded very gently, "those are just stretch marks. You had them due to the pregnancy as well, don't you remember?"

"You're wrong," Nova said with a shake of her head and a sick grin. "You think so, but you're wrong. These are claw marks from the inside. He's trying to get out. All the time. Any way that he can. Claws, teeth, anything. I can't sleep anymore because," she made a gesture, "the minute I relax- snap! The monster tries to eat his way out of me."

Moving forward onto the couch, Larz enfolded his sister in a hug. There was nothing he could say.

Nova collapsed in his arms, tears beginning to fall from her eyes once again. He didn't want to look any closer, for fear that he would see dirt mixed into them. "He hates me," she whispered. "He hates everything but himself. He wants to kill everything but himself. He wants to get out of me. It hurts. It hurts so much."

Larz had previous felt sympathy and pain only for the old Nova, who had been an ever present force in his life and had been so happy on her wedding day. Now, he felt for the new Nova as well. This woman had gone insane because it was the only way to deal with the horror her life had become.

For the first time, but not the last, he wondered what kind of monster she was giving birth to.