By Moe Lane


Every organized group in the universe (except the most misanthropic) will eventually come up with an excuse to have a party. Servitors of Divine Fire and the Sword are no exception.

Gabriel's Feast is a tradition that's about five thousand years old: his Servitors began it as a simple gathering of all Servitors of Divine Fire that could make it, the better to catch up on the news and, well, visit. Gabrielites are very often working solo, which can be somewhat lonely: it's not a bad idea to touch base every so often. This gathering quickly evolved into a somewhat formal affair, complete with a full banquet. Needless to say, the entertainment was usually spectacular: Servitors of Gabriel have a knack for attracting true artists to their functions.

Fast forward a few millennia. Once Laurence came into his own, he made it a point to formally honor most (if not all) Catholic feast days and holidays. The Archangel of the Sword has an especial fondness for the story of the Annunciation, so his Servitors began celebrating that holiday with a celebration of their own. It proved to end up being the one festival in Heaven that every Servitor of the Sword made sure to attend. Aside from the deep religious significance that it has for Catholic angels (a reminder of God's special regard for humanity, and thus a reaffirmation of the rightness of the War), the cooking is incredibly good. Laurence himself presides over the kitchen for this one.

Yes, of course the Archangel of the Sword knows how to cook. Everyone needs a hobby, he learned from the best (Novalis and Eli), and Laurence takes very seriously the idea of feeding the hungry. He never sets his Servitors a task that he doesn't do himself, after all.

Anyway, these two festivals are very close together, by corporeal standards (in fact, at first they overlapped). Both groups had an open admissions policy: the Gabrielites needed performers (and an audience), and the Laurencians would sooner touch a steel blade with bare hands than turn away somebody who wanted a meal. After a century or two, it became fairly clear that the two parties had become linked in everybody's head, anyway, so they might as well make it official. Besides, this way each group would be able to relax for part of the weekend.

For the purposes of this discussion, we'll accept that the Festival begins on Friday night (and just ignore that "Friday" is a somewhat meaningless concept in the celestial plane). The festivities start with a firework show, courtesy of the Volcano, then proceed with the ceremonial lighting of bonfires throughout the slopes. The attendees begin arriving around this time, and immediately head to their favorite spot. The rule is, "Check your Word at the door", so this is one of those times where one can get away with hanging out with those deemed normally ... inappropriate ... to know. Even those Dominicans that show up are a little more relaxed about things.

The bonfires last all night, and so does the entertainment. On Friday night, it's usually amateur, in the sense that there's no set list of performers. There's no lack of volunteers, however. Some bonfires will have themes, some are catch as catch can, and a few won't have anybody lower than a Master or Mistress playing the crowd. A sizeable contingent of celestials and blessed souls will wander the slopes of the Volcano for the entire night (often with suitable liquid refreshment), checking out the performances pretty much at random. The bravest go look for the bonfire where the Superiors are: most years, Novalis can convince Jean to sing.

Yes, of course Jean can sing. Exquisitely well, in fact: remember that comment above about how everyone needs a hobby? Well, now you know Jean's.

Anyway, this stage of the Festival lasts all "night" (see above comment on ignoring the essential meaninglessness of that concept, for the purposes of this description): it officially ends with the daily rush of Essence. At that point, the various attendees have a choice: the more religious flit over to the Church of the Sword (or Halls of Worship, or in these happier times, Khalid's Mosque) for a series of vigils and hymns. The rest are welcome to hang around for the rest of the day: there isn't much in the way of formal activities, but there's always a lot of impromptu exhibitions going on. For example, Michael and David have gotten into the habit of getting their Servitors together and having a good old-fashioned tourney on the Volcano's slopes. The place looks almost like a carnival at times.

However, the Gabrielites do not share in this part of the Festival: they've all gathered in Conclave. It's at this time that business is discussed, formal rewards are given out, and those chosen for Words revealed. The day starts with all the Servitors of Divine Fire present gathered in one place to listen to Gabriel (who is usually remarkably lucid during Festival) speak to them, then breaks down into the various hierarchies, committees and groups that make up Gabriel's organization. Soldekai is one busy Chamberlain on this day, as he tries his best to be present at every group for at least part of the time. These meetings are usually informal enough, but very important: real business gets discussed here.

However, it would take the invasion of Heaven itself to make a meeting last past a certain point in the day. At that point, the Gabrielites gather (along with everyone else that can fit - which is to say, everyone) on the lip of the Volcano to eat. The food isn't that spectacular (for that, wait for the next day), but no one is here for the food. They're here to listen and watch as Heaven's best artists demonstrate their craft. The performances are usually grouped by Superior Word, and every Archangel is represented. Other than that, anything goes: there's dancing, singing, playing of various instruments, dramatic performances (Marc always does a comedy skit, performing personally - yes, that's his hobby) and a few things that have no human analogue. The highlight, however, is Israfel: she has been a fixture of Festival since the very beginning, and always performs a different original piece each year. It is said that the sound of her voice and lyre on this night can remove dissonance.

The party breaks up after this (who could go on after the Angel of Music? Who in his/her/its right mind would want to?). The next day is going to be more serious, anyway.

Laurence's part of Festival starts, naturally enough, with a sunrise Mass (sunrise being defined as "morning rush of Essence", of course). Those souls and celestials who are not Catholic often attend their own services, or simply sleep in. Many entities do attend, however: this is Heaven, after all. Religious fervor isn't precisely rare, here. At any rate, the Mass itself could be defined as a work of art: the music and singing would be enough to knock a living human unconscious from sheer sensory overload. Pleasant sensory overload, mind you, but it would still be overwhelming.

After services (and a short time to let all the impious heathen make it back to Festival in time for the food), the feast begins. Words simply fail to describe the cooking. There are a _lot_ of cooks in Heaven, all of whom have their own (very firm) idea of what is properly Divine food, and they think that Festival is the best way to prove their point. Only in Heaven (with its cheerful disregard of the laws of physics) could such a table - nay, a veritable mountain - of food be prepared.

Now, it should be borne in mind that this is not a feast for Gluttons. People do eat, true, and eat quite well - but nothing is wasted, and Laurence has made arrangements for Novalis to cart away the remainder as part of her ongoing duties of relief for the poor. He even insists on making up a plate of the best items (a reasonably sized plate, to be sure) for the hungriest entity in Hell: how it gets there is one of Dominic's better kept secrets. Laurence, when asked, insists that it's simple Christian charity: however, such a pious sentiment doesn't really jibe with the nasty smile that creeps onto his face when the subject comes up. Haagenti hates Festival with a passion - but he cleans his plate, and even sends it back, washed and everything (the last time he didn't, he didn't get sent another one for a full decade).

The Prince of Gluttony isn't the only demon to loathe this holiday, of course: theoretically, most of Hell would like to shut it down, once and for all. Unfortunately, the assorted Demon Princes have discovered that getting volunteers (or draftees) isn't all that easy. It's a fairly reliable rumor (it should be) that coming to the attention to either Gabriel or Laurence during this period is an excellent way of also coming to the attention of the Order of the Eternal Sword, with all the drawbacks that that entails. That takes care of the rank-and-file.

Those of sufficient power to be undaunted by this are usually smart enough to consider the benefits of not rocking the boat. Sure, you can't do anything over the top, but even a demon can appreciate having a nice, *quiet* three day weekend where you can watch TV or get a meal without worrying that a Ofanite strike team will be busting down the door. Quiet is an underrated quality. That leaves the seriously crazy - and trying to get a bunch of lunatics to do anything useful enough to justify the inevitable backlash is all too often a waste of time.

Besides, Hell is usually too busy recovering from its own solstice parties to be up for corrupting humanity, anyway.


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