Airports were such seas of harried and unfriendly faces. Maya was shy at the best of times, but in major airports she tended to look at the floor while hurrying from gate to gate rather than risk getting a nasty look from someone having a bad day. It occasionally disconcerted other people, but on the other hand she tended to find a lot of change on the floor, even if it was often too hazardous to retrieve.

Raleigh-Durham wasn’t the worst offender among the airports she frequented; that was O’Hare, or as she sometimes called it, O’Harried. But with a divorced parent on either coast and a scholarship to Southern Michigan’s pharmacy program, airports were an unfortunate necessity of life, as were the frequent layovers at various hubs.

Near Gate A13, Maya noticed an earring on the floor near one of the peoplemoving sidewalks crowded with those who probably could have used the exercise. It looked like costume jewelry, with three bright crystal beads around a central wire and a bangle of black-veined red at the end. Maya thought of picking it up and turning it in to the docent at the nearby Super Executive Platinum Club, but the swarm of people about it, and the notion–somewhat irrational, in light of that interesting bangle of stone–that it was a cheap fake. She passed, and continued her downlooking way toward distant Gate A113.

After passing about three harried families shouting in foreign tongues, Maya came into an open patch between throngs across from the River Rock Books by Gate A31. She was startled to see, nestled between a discarded ticket stub and a gum-filled wrapper, the earring’s twin. Curled up around itself and dusty, but unmistakable.

“Huh,” Maya said to herself. “If I’d picked up the other one I’d have a set. Oh well; who cares about an earring on the floor anyway?”

Eighteen gates later, she nearly collided with the hurrying form of a man in a kilt. Maya muttered a passive-aggressive threat and continued on her way. Ulberth the Stone-Shaper of Dumfries did the same, frantically searching the ground. How could he have been so careless?

The Chaos Earrings were lost, and the fate of the universal balance hung on their safe recovery from the Raleigh-Durham airport’s cheap tiles.

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