The Kerberos Club
As Victoria’s Empire grows larger and more Strange, the well-bred beasts of Science and Industry mate freely with the ill-tempered curs of Occultism and Myth, begetting uncanny marvels that demonstrate the most pernicious mongrel vigor. As Her divinity becomes indisputable, and Her government is shown how to once again properly bow to a true Monarch, the Empire teeters on the brink of chaos. The prosperity brought by Industry and the Might of Her Armies are both transformed by the Strangeness which has touched the world.
In famine-ravaged Ireland the roads to Faerie open and the wonders and horrors of the Otherworld spill out, mingling with man and politics, with magic and Church. But good English will, good English steel and brave English soldiery push into the Lands of Tears and Honey, where the old bones of the Celtic gods are home to their weird kith and kin, arisen from their flesh as it dying became starlight. Through the colony of New Birmingham, Victoria Divinus asserts her Rights and Prerogatives to the Summerlands and the Winterlands, and names as her subjects all the races of the Fae, from the least phooka to the greatest Lord.
Armies are raised against Her, and the gods and powers of old march with their human comrades, but as with the Indian Rebellion, they are smote soundly by Her legions, and the sometimes unsettling weapons of Strange origins they bring to war. Lovelace’s mechanical servants become mechanical riflemen. Albert’s gift of wolf-belts from his native Coberg becomes Her Majesty’s 13th Lupine Rangers. The skies belong to her Aero Navy and its airships carry exploding bombs and fighting-craft perfected from Félix du Temple’s Albatross design.
The pace of change is unsettling, and many have marked that which would have been witchcraft in their father’s age, and would have been deemed impossible just years previous, is now commonplace. No sooner is one innovation or uncanny revelation or Wonder of the Age accepted and become familiar than another arises, more perturbing than the last.
In January of 1860 a man sprouted whirring hummingbird wings and flew from his home in Middlesex to his offices in London as if borne by angels, outpacing the express train on his way. Slowing only to fetch down a kitten from a roof, he arrived at his place of work hardly out of breath. He was lauded in the headlines for a week, then began selling a patent Lifting Tonic promising that the “Seventeen effusions and potent compounds of exotic and mysterious origins” would grant a “lightness of step and mind which if practiced diligently would grant wings of spirit.” But at 5s 5d a bottle it only served to lighten his customers by relieving them of the weight of their silver. By the first of March, he was already defending his reputation in the courts, and fighting prosecution under an obscure Act governing the practice of witchcraft to “cause a public skeptycal in purpose to profet unjustly” — proving that there are few things so wondrous and awe-inspiring that London pragmatism can’t reduce it to its basest element.
In short, the Empire is Touched, and so too are its citizens. The wonders of Science and the horrors of its misuse walk alongside the great mysteries of the elder ages, Oriental religions and cults grow in popularity beneath the veneer of Christian England, and London, always faintly pagan even before the Strangeness, has become something else again.
When Victoria rose to the throne in 1837 the Strange was upon Her already, in small ways, and it was upon her Kingdom as well, though hidden and mostly unknown. By the middle years of Her reign, when her Divinity is revealed by the bleeding wounds in her side and hands during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 — stigmata which only healed when the rebellion was put down — the Strange has entered the public consciousness, and is reported in the news. The lines between Invention, Occultism, God, Monster, Magic, Mesmerism, Science, and Industry become blurred, and there is only the thrumming engine of Progress to which society clings with white-knuckled hands. The Future is Now, and the World is remade daily. There is no shortage of news for London’s dozens of papers. By the end of Victoria’s reign the pace of change and the Strange wonders she portended have become oppressive and crushing. It is impossible to bear Her gaze any longer without falling down and weeping, so She remains out of the public eye. She has made pets of Parliament, the Lords are her parakeets, singing whatever tune she wishes, and the House of Commons her beaten cur.
And then there is the Kerberos Club, refuge for the Empire’s monsters and broken heroes, those who have gazed too long into the darkness, and those who have been Touched and remade by the Strange. Early on, the Kerberos Club guards the gates of hell, keeping ordinary folk ignorant of the Strangeness, then as the Strange becomes known, they marshal to confront those weird menaces that are too much for ordinary authorities. In the last years of Her reign the Club is at the height of its power, working against enemies foreign and domestic to bring the full force of its Strange potencies against them: The Three Heads of the Kerberos Club.
The Club welcomes any who’ve been Touched, and early on this egalitarianism is itself more shocking than the rumors of dark dealings, blackmail, pagan practice, sexual perversion, and smoking in the company of women. Within the walls of the Club’s main house on the Square of Saint James, just off Pall Mall, no member is forbidden any access or denied any privilege because of race, creed, class, color, sex, or predilection. This shocking transgression of the natural order of things might seem the hardest of the Club’s many eccentricities to accept, but it only seems this way because one has not yet seen the Blue Chamber or the Atlantis Room, or sat down at table with Doctor Archibald Monroe and heard Darwin’s theories of Speciation and Natural Selection so perfectly and amusingly explained from the lips of a chimpanzee ape. The doctor is quite proud of his waistcoats, which he has tailored by Mertoy and Sons in colors to inspire thoughts of Birds of Paradise, and a compliment will surely win his friendly attention.
The Kerberos Club is where the Strangers come to relax, have a meal, read the paper, and socialize with those who truly understand the burden , the power , and the duty that the Touch of Strangeness imparts. And of course, to engage in the sorts of dilettante meddling by which the Kerberans address some of the Empire’s gravest and subtlest threats.
Special Branch, Victoria’s steely-eyed secret police, despise the Kerberos Club, and would happily see the lot of them banged up in irons and locked in a hole where the sun never shines (assuming the Kerberan in question wouldn’t find that treatment quite delightful). But Victoria dotes on the Kerberos Club, even if She never publicly meets its officers in any official capacity. She likes Her creatures to remain strong and occupied, and some harmless exercise from rivalry can only serve the good of all. When She needs clean, fanatical, reliable, and rigid, her Special Branch will do. But when she needs a Stranger’s abilities or warped perspective — when she needs the insights of a controlled evil to understand a loosed one — then the three-headed dog is the beast she whistles for, if the clever monster isn’t already on the right trail.
There is every good reason for the club’s motto: