A soft cool breeze swept through the wisely nodding branches of the trees; sunlight filtered down onto the rippling viridian grass; small figures hovered in the yellow shadows, beauty radiating from the flitting silhouettes; soft music played and bright laughter swam through the air. A small wooden box lay amongst the dancing shadows, the honey coloured wood glowing warmly in the sunlight. Intricate carvings swirled over the wood, almost seeming to move like water. The carvings told a story, a story of what was on the inside.
There were ten in the box in the beginning. All of them, crushed, smothered, trapped. All except two. The twins. Nadie and Nadia. The sisters of Hope. Wondrous creatures that shone with a golden light. A warm, radiant light that sent the shadows scurrying for cover, gave the inside of the box a feeling of gloaming, warm and rich. The sisters were tall and willowy, slender waists and lissome limbs. The slight frames of the twins seemed to be made of ice; palest, pellucid skin emitting the golden glow. Fine-boned faces radiated pulchritude and magnanimity; large crystal blue eyes twinkled; long flaxen hair cascaded in softly shining golden waves; small elfin ears twitched and feline pupils contracted in the golden light. They both wore simple silk shifts, milk white, and knee-length black suede boots, wrapping tightly around their slim legs. Identical in every way, yet exact opposites in their core. Nadia was whole and bright, her long hair plaited down her back and her eyes sparkling, golden flecks shining brilliantly through the dazzling blue. Nadie seemed like a reflection, pale, sallow, and yet still as intense, black streaking through the cobalt iris of her eyes, hair hanging loose, tumbling down her back.
Cowering in the writhing shadows stood the others; Lust, Vanity, Envy, Hate, Disease, Pain, Misery and Crime. Envy slithered forwards, blood-red slits glaring at the sisters. Raven black hair hacked off unevenly hung limp, slimy and oily. She smiled a warped, smile; black lips parting, a red forked tongue slipping out between the white daggered teeth. Waxen skin hugged her emaciated frame, jagged bones nearly tearing the paper-thin skin. Standing hunched, her body twisted painfully away from the light, fingers and toes contracted into claws, dirt and blood caking the torn nails. A torn black cloth, wrapped around her body, black on white. A macilent tail flicked around Envy's torso, sable fur greasy and patchy; single hairs drifting to the floor in slow spirals. Envy hissed at the twins. Nadia flinched, drawing back from Envy, her expression full of fear. Nadie leant forwards, leering at the creature of darkness.
"Speak your mind, Envy." Nadie murmured in a silken voice. Envy recoiled from the light that crept towards her, scuttling back on hands and feet, her tail slashing about.
"The dangerousss twinsss," she said, the sounds catching in her mouth and rolling around before being spat out, "identical but oppositesss. Equal yet at oddsss. Related though strangersss." Nadie nodded, and seemed to reach for the shadows, but the movement was small and unnoticeable.
"The twins of beauty." A frangible desperate voice quavered from the shadows behind Envy. Snarling, she scuttled away, seeking refuge among the crepuscular shadows.
Lust stepped to the front and leered at the twins. Chalky skin slid over old bones, drooping off the face, sliding through sunken cheeks. Large milky eyes hid in hollows, shadows creeping around. Wrinkles covered forehead, right up to the hairless skull. Muscles starved of movement wasted away; flesh starved of food hung limply, hanging off the ancient frame like a badly fitting sheet; withered limbs grasped for the twins with trembling fingers tracing the outline of their bodies. There was a hunger and thirst in the old man's opalescent eyes. Crooked yellow teeth peered from the black abyss of his mouth; a blackened tongue slowly curled over pallid lips; squalid and soiled his loin-cloth hung off his emaciated body, barely covering the skeletal frame. His bloodless lips moved jerkily as he muttered a mantra to himself; 'I want, I want, I want'.
"Beauty. Bah!" a loud woman said, stepping forwards, pushing Lust aside. "That Nadie is no more beautiful than I." Nadie glared, mordacity gleaming from her eyes, the clear blue colour dimming as she took a step forwards.
A voluptuous woman, Vanity stood next to Lust, her ample assets pushing away from the light into the winding shadows; a black velvet dress clinging to her body and dark black eyes sparking maliciously. Misery peered through the gap between Lust and Vanity, crystal tears shimmering in her faded brown eyes; pellucid skin giving her the look of a wraith and spindly arms wrapped around scraggy legs as she rocked.
"But only one will escape, only one twin of Hope may escape this cage." Misery murmured in a muted mumble.
"And only one twin will succeed." A pained voice whispered from the shadows, pushing past to come stare at the twins.
Nadie was leaning further and further forward. A vile smile slid over her lips as she moved forwards, her golden glow flickering as she drew closer to the rippling shadows. Another step took Nadie to the edge of the shadows. She paused, staring into the deep darkness before fear flew across her face and she danced backwards. Nadia had pressed herself fearfully against the wall of the box but still she stared at the cowering creatures, her face set. Disease brushed past Vanity and she recoiled from his cold clammy touch weathered, wrinkled skin broken and weeping; yellow and green pus oozing out and congealing in the air while white writhing maggots feasted on his cancerous skin, burrowing deep into the muscles and flesh.
"Poor little Nadia. The poor, poor girl, remaining trapped for all eternity in this black hole of Hades." Hate spoke softly, silken words slipping through the air towards Nadia. Nadie's eyes slid over Nadia and she studied her twin, disgust drawing across her porcelain face as she watched Nadia cower.
Hate was tall; olive skin shining golden in the light; raven black hair hanging low over his atramentous eyes and a long coiling tongue slipped between his lips, tasting the stale air of the box. Small and wiry Crime crept closer, crawling across the floor like a spider. Reaching out for objects to relieve others of, large metal cuffs clinked quietly on his chafed wrists and ankles.
"But there is a price to pay to escape this box, Hope." A deep sonorous voice spoke from the stygian shadows, bright eyes glinting, hiding the speaker.
Like a wave the others parted, leaving a corridor for the mysterious figure to walk down. Death strode forwards confidently, a black robe billowing around his tall slender body. Unlike the others, upon reaching the golden light Death kept walking shadows scurrying after him, trailing from his rippling robe. The darkness advanced on the twins, pushing down oppressively. Even Nadie, who up till now had been leaning forwards, recoiled from Death's chilling touch. She joined Nadia by the edge of the box, her expression fearful. Death approached like an oncoming storm, black writhing shadows coiling around his lithe wispy body. His obsidian skin melted seamlessly into the entwining shadows; a bald head glistened darkly; ebony eyes pierced daggers through the twins, keeping them from fleeing.
"Look, even Hope has learnt to fear death." Death said in a terribly soft voice. A malicious laugh quietly ran through the group.
Nadie had overcome her initial fear and approached Death cautiously. Holding out his hand, lissome fingers invited Nadie in. Tentatively, she pushed her hand past the dark boundary, the light on her skin fleeing as she entwined her spectral digits with his tenebrous claws. Nadie's face and hair lost their glow, turning a shade darker and more mysterious than ever before as stepped fully into the shadows, turning to her doppelgänger.
"What are you doing?" Nadia asked incredulously.
"Being true to myself." Nadie smiled a horribly twisted smile. Death smiled along with Nadie and pulled her willow body closer to his. "You see, my dearest sister, we are both Hope. Yet we are not the same hope. My hope is a lie. It is born from misleading optimism and brings disappointment in the wake of pointless struggles. I am a creature of the darkness."
"Very well." Nadia whispered in a firm voice. "If this is the path you wish to choose, I will not stop you."
The lid was lifted, light flooding into the box, bringing a taste of freedom. Cheers filled the box as the creatures realised what was happening. One by one, the creatures leapt out of the box, swarming past the trio standing together, leaving the box empty and still. Screams and cries suffused the air as the demons got to work. Sadistic, bloodthirsty laughter twisted amongst the screams as Death stepped away from Nadie.
"Goodbye, Hope." Death smiled at the two girls, before following after the rest of the creatures.
"No, wait! What about me?" Nadie screamed as the lid was slammed shut, plunging the box back into the depths of captivity. "What about me!"
Hesitantly, Nadia took a step towards Nadie. Nadie shot up, whirling around to face Nadia. Her bloodshot eyes glowed with vehemently as her blonde hair snaked about her head, writhing in her turmoil.
"How can I be trapped here with you? I'm not meant to be trapped, I'm meant to escape!" She screamed, foaming at the corners of her mouth as Nadia recoiled from the stranger who once was her sister. "Let me out of here! I'm Hope, you have to let me out!" Nadie pounded the wall, grazing her skin, scarlet blood contrasting sharply with her ivory skin.
Just as suddenly as it had come, Nadie's energy fled her and she crumpled to the floor, rocking like a young child. Nadia watched as her doppelgänger slowly cried herself out. The box fell still. An empty calm descended, like the calm before a storm. Terrible sounds permeated the box, sounds of a world in pain, a world without hope. Once more the lid of the box cracked open, satiating the box with the fresh taste of freedom. Nadie leapt to her feet, desperately pushing her frail and bloodied hands out of the gap. Nadia sat quietly, simply watching.
"Please. Please let me out." Nadie implored quietly.
The crack opened wider and Nadie sped through, leaving Nadia utterly alone inside the dark prison. Once more the lid closed. But this time, the box was flooded with the golden light of hope. Hope seeped through the cracks, pouring out into the world, flowing through the hearts of people ailed by the creatures of darkness once trapped inside the box. Nadia smiled, knowing that as long as she remained in Pandora's Box, remained in Pandora's heart, Hope would always continue to conquer.