In the murky eternity of space, inspiration is everywhere. Everything, no matter how intangible, comes from somewhere. Before it can be the spark which lights new ideas, inspiration begins as star seeds. These seeds grow in a place called the Hearth of Inspiration.

From the gravitational safety of a planet, the mind perceives the Hearth as just another glimmering crystal star radiating light in the cosmos. Up close, the Hearth is a giant sphere with fourteen orderly spikes protruding from its core.

Spikes at the northern and southern most points serve as the dual palaces which govern this magically charged satellite. Under the guidance of two rulers known as the Majestics, the North and South Palaces oversee all daily functions of the Hearth. As second opinions are always in demand, all main departments are headed by two leaders. Each lives in an opposite palace. They meet for discussion whenever a second opinion is required.

Twelve more spikes contain the gardens where the star seed bushes flourish. Three buildings ring around the base of each spike. They house the residents of the Hearth and provide ample space for social needs.

The Hearth spreads inspiration through the universe. In turn, it recruits creatures throughout the universe to aid in the care of the star seeds and maintenance of the Hearth. All creatures are welcome. It's any wonder that the Hearth of Inspiration is full of life in strange yet mundane ways.


An ice cream cone passed from a hoof to a trunk.

"Thank you, Groundy."

"Always a pleasure to serve a lovely fereglizod like you, Dovely," the grass-covered sheep replied as he peered over his counter.

Despite its chill, the fereglizod curled her trunk around the cone to keep it steady. "I've been all over the Hearth and no one has ice cream quite as good as yours."

"Aw, you're only saying that cause it's true."

"How do you keep that grassy coat of yours from shedding in the food?"

"Sorry, that one's a family trade secret passed from lawn sheep to lawn sheep," Groundy grinned. "I suspect that you can relate to that."

That knowing smirk on Dovely's fuzzy lips was answer enough for Groundy. He chuckled as his customer turned her attention down to the tiny fereglizod waiting on the floor beside her. Instead of being greeted by her daughter's expectant gaze, Dovely was faced with the small tuff of feather-white fur that graced the top of Scarlet's tiny round head. She seemed to be focused on something else in the room.

From wavering scents of steaming hot meats to various chilled juice concoctions, the food mall had plenty of sensory experiences to hold the curious attention of any fereglizod inchillet.

"Here's your ice cream, sweetie," Dovely said as she gently inched her long cylinder of a body back down the side of Groundy's Chillfectionaries counter. Once back on the floor, she offered the cone to her daughter. When she didn't respond, Dovely leaned down. "Scarlet? Scarlet!"

Finally, Scarlet looked up at her mother. Her doe-brown eyes glistened with youthful amazement. "Momma, dose keetures are kissing like you 'n' Daddy do."

Dovely's gaze followed Scarlet's pointing trunk over to a couple sitting at a nearby table. They leaned over their drinks and touched lips.

Hearing a soft snicker from behind the counter, Dovely felt the warm flush of embarrassment redden her wing-white cheekfur. She thrust the ice cream cone into her daughter's small trunk. "Yes, dear. Eat your ice cream and leave the Majestics' guards to their private time."

Scarlet immediately swung her small tube shaped body around in order to use her tail as a cone holder while she licked the ice cream. All fereglizods used their tails as a secondary appendage. The tiny proboscis of an inchillet wasn't known for being fully coordinated. They tended to use their tails far more frequently than adult fereglizods did. It was as common as a blade of grass. Yet, Dovely was always fascinated by her daughter's continued ingenuity in movement.

Of course, it also meant that inchillets required gunk to be picked out of their body fuzz and unknotted from the tuffs of fluff that extended along the back of every fereglizod.

While Scarlet concentrated on turning her silk-red fur into a messy ice cream blue, Dovely looked back towards the guards.

What Dovely had assumed were drinks on the table between the pair were actually two puddle filled bowls. It was doubtful that mall temperature alone had created those puddles.

This couple was a good example of what Hearth residents called "harmonic opposition". Both guards shared the goal of protecting the Hearth's rulers. Their methods of doing so contrasted greatly.

Modestly covered by a chainmail shirt and a grape-purple skirt, the servalkyrie was a feline body clearly built for agility. Every so often, her small cheeks blushed which triggered her striped tail to twitch. The large ears sticking out of her helmet faced forward, intently listening to whatever her companion might have to say.

How one could find love in the eyes behind an elongated snout of a barboarian, Dovely wasn't sure. The large tusks sticking through his cheeks concealed whatever expression that his mouth displayed. This was a creature whose armored jerkin could barely contain his well muscled barrier of a body. Yet, he sat casually with his chin resting on one wide hoof as he leaned on the table. Metallic studs along his leather arm bands jiggled occasionally in similar coordination with the servalkyrie's movements. The barboarian's undersized helmet hung off to one side of his head. To Dovely's mind, it gave the powerhouse of a guardian an endearing quality.

"It's nice to see young love blooming in the Hearth," Dovely sighed as she coiled a protective circle around Scarlet. The inchillet was too busy enjoying her treat to notice.

"Probably going to bloom into quite the argument when their colleagues catch 'em," Groundy noted sagely.

Some cries of "DAAAAAD!" followed by rushing hoof beats across floor tiling made Groundy's face contort into a grimace. "Too bad that's not all that blooms around here."

A pair of lawn lambs approached Groundy's counter.

"Daaaad!" one of them whined as he pointed a hoof at the other lawn lamb. "She took my horn buffer and won't give it back!"

"Those dingleberries on your head don't need buffing," snarled the other lamb. Some of the flowers in her grassy coat looked like they'd seen better days.

"They're HORNS, fertilizer butt," the first lamb snapped.

"They're a couple of poop bumps on your dumb head," the second said.

"At least they look better than your urban blight coat." The first lamb stuck his tongue out at her.

"That's cause YOU cut up my flowers!" she reminded him.

"ENOUGH!" Groundy's voice rose over the two of them. He pointed his hoof at each lamb as he spoke. "Lawnrence, don't touch your sister's lawn coat with your hooves or anything else! Landice, give Lawnrence back his horn buffer and for the love of the Hearth, don't refer to your brother's horns as fecal matter – especially not in the food mall."

Both lambs looked sullen. "Yes, Dad."

Landice reluctantly handed the horn buffer to Lawnrence. As he accepted the device, his eyes suddenly noticed something else. "Uh, Dad? Why are the walls turning red?"

"What?" Groundy tensed up instantly as he spun around. An alarming red hue poured down the wall like a thermometer's mercury rising downwards. It wasn't just in Groundy's own serving area. Every corner of the concourse began to ooze the warning color down the walls. Some of the creatures were already abandoning their meals.

All others were immediately brought to action as an alarm bell screamed across the ceiling.

Brief love-locked longing passed between the servalkyrie and barboarian before they parted ways. Then each guardian disappeared into the fleeing crowds to make their way back to the North and South Palaces.

Groundy opened the door to his dessert counter. "Lambs, in here NOW!" His duo wasted no time in obeying their father. Groundy looked towards Dovely who was scooping up a crying Scarlet in her trunk. He yelled to be heard over the alarm. "You two can come in too if you'd like."

Dovely appeared to consider it for a moment. With Scarlet bawling over the noise and the fact that she'd just dropped her ice cream, Dovely thought it best not to try to get to her third floor home. She dashed forward through the doorway. Groundy closed it behind them and quickly went about closing the after hours shutters.

Around him, all of the food vendors did the same thing.

Creatures ran, slithered, flew and even hopped along the concourse of the social level. Many ran for the safety of their apartments. As the bottom level crowds ran upwards, the top level crowds vacated the recreational area set into the building's roof. Every now and again, one creature would risk a glance upwards.

From all sides, illumination clustered in the skies above the Hearth of Inspiration. This wasn't a natural star show. It was the lights of a hundred spaceship invasion.

The scene was the same in all three buildings which rung around Spike Four. In fact, it was the same on each of the Hearth's twelve spikes. Hearth residents both large and small rushed for their homes or for the nearest warp booth to take them back to their own apartment.

Each of the twelve gardens always had sentries on patrol anyway. However, an attack of this size would require all of the Hearth's defenses to be ready. Every off-duty defender headed to their assigned garden to aid their comrades in the Hearth's protection.

For the moment, the Hearth was shielded within a protective sphere generated by the two palaces' combined effort. But the overwhelming assault of so many lasers strained the crystals powering the shield generators to their limits. Once a crystal shattered, it took several minutes to replace. That was plenty of time for trespassers to enter the Hearth.

One particular flash of light brought one of the Hearth's least wanted creatures to Spike Four.