Well, this was it; the first challenge. I'd learned a few things in the last few days. For starters, Epithymia's strand of hair was, in a way, my link to the dream realm. With it tied to my ring finger, all aspects of my dreams became amplified. I was more aware of the dream, the dream was more vivid, I could act consciously within the dream and most importantly, I remembered key parts of the dream for longer periods of time during my waking hours. For practicality, the hair wasn't always fixed to my second-shortest digit. While at school or anywhere else, I slipped the hair into a small plastic case, once reserved for a collectible quarter.
The dream's scenery today was vastly altered from last night's. No longer stranded in an eternal ocean, I was now instead in the middle of a narrow, dimly lit cave. The area reminded me of medieval times and had torches to boost that theory. I grabbed a torch from the nearest wall and took a look around. There was no obvious entrance or exit in sight, and the ceiling seemed infinite. "The first challenge, Avaritia awaits", someone boomed.
I flinched and turned around, instinctively holding the torch like a weapon. The section of the cave wall behind me was oddly face shaped. I realized that this was the source of that voice. "Are you ready?" the wall-face asked, shifting its rock eyebrows and mouth with shockingly real grinding effects.
I noticed that the wall had the same voice as the angelfish from the night before, a rough feminine one. I nodded and the wall split vertically in half with a surprising crack. The two halves of the rock wall receded to the sides to form a passageway, presumably deeper into the cave. I headed deeper, torch in hand. I felt nervous and checked my heartbeat, but was startled to find that I didn't have one - a heartbeat, that is. At the end of the corridor (which was even narrower than the main passage), a beautiful young woman awaited my arrival.
"Hey, uh, you're not Epithymia", I blurted.
She smirked. She was pretty, but not as stunning as Epithymia. Her entire body was adorned with gold and jewels. Over four necklaces, a radiant tiara, a dozen bracelets, bejeweled golden slippers, what seemed to be a gold-plated dress and more decorated this strange, black-haired girl. "My name is Avaritia," she introduced in a soothing voice, "This is the first challenge."
She stepped aside and a massive mountain of golden treasures appeared behind her back. She held her decorated hand out and motioned me towards the pile of loot. "Pick one," she instructed, "Any one of them will do."
I gazed in awe at the majesty of the massive stash of treasures. Immediately, a shining crown caught my eye. I took it and wore it. The weight of the golden ornament pressing down on my head would take a bit of getting used to, but it felt really good. Avaritia smiled slyly. "Now," she began, "Would you rather have that crown, or Epithymia?"
"Epithymia", I answered instantly, removing the crown from my head as confirmation.
Suddenly, the cave around us decomposed and we soon stood in the middle of a lush field. An entire kingdom began building around us at impossible speed. Within seconds, I was sitting on a polished throne inside of a sturdy castle. Avaritia smirked again. She was kind of getting on my nerves, as pretty as she was. "Now," she continued, "This kingdom, with over one million subjects, or Epithymia? What will it be, your majesty?"
"Epithymia, of course," I answered again, "This kingdom isn't even real. It's a -"
I remembered that Epithymia was also a creation of my subconscious. The only thing that separated her from this castle was the form of the dream. Avaritia leaned down until she was right beside me ear. "Did you know," she whispered, "If one has a high enough mental ability and wants something bad enough, he can pull it out of his dreams and bring it into reality? Just think... an entire kingdom of real people, catering to your every whim."
"But how do you know I have a strong enough mental ability to pull things out of my dreams?" I inquired.
"You have Epithymia's hair, right?" she replied, pointing to my ring finger, "You weren't even trying to do that. With a bit more concentration and practice, you could pull out a planet if you really wanted to."
Together, Avaritia and I walked out to the balcony, on the highest floor of the castle. With the clouds blocking the afternoon sun, I got a clear view of the kingdom below us. Thousands of people, crawling around the streets like ants; right now, I owned them all. Having always been pushed around, I can't say that it didn't feel good. Turning around, dozens of beautiful girls held silver platters with the most delicious of delicacies, all my favorites. The strand of hair on my finger urged me to resist, but my heart seemed lost in the excitement. For the first time in a long time, I was unsure of what I wanted more.
"What do you say?" Avaritia whispered alluringly, kissing my cheek.