The 2015 PARAGON annual (still on sale here or FREE to download here!) contains a prose Spencer Nero story revealing the Civil Centurion’s darkest secret – he’s actually Scottish! Clearly, this is a shameful state of affairs for such a bastion of civilised Englishness (and murderous Romanosity), but it was always part of my plan for the character. In fact, it’s even in the original pitch for the series I made to PARAGON editor Dave Candlish, which is preserved for posterity at the back of the Spencer Nero Compendium
However, what’s not so well-documented is the fact that ‘Spencer Nero’s Secret’ was originally a chapter longer, and featured a fight with an ungodly Orcadian stoor-worm. I cut this chapter, because I felt the story was going off on too much of a tangent, and taking too long to get to a key conflict, but on reading it again, there are bits I quite enjoy, so I thought I’d stick it up here as a piece of Nero apocrpyha. One aspect of the lost chapter is alluded to in the published story, but sadly, there was no room for the stoor worm. Enjoy.
[Afflicted with a spiritual virus which he’s keeping at bay by wearing the Janus Mask, Spencer heads to Orkney, to fight the mythical beast that’s infected him.]
Part Four: The Flying Scotsman
Teddy Talbot had many unique qualities, but ‘tactful’ and ‘restrained’ were not amongst them. His blithe disregard for other people’s feelings or personal comfort was made all the worse by his position as in-house pilot for some of the more obscure civil service bodies, including the Department of Collusion, the Department of Oversight, and the Department of Contingency. Not only did Teddy frequently regale his passengers with the grisly details of what might happen in the case of a catastrophic engine failure, he often had the privilege of flying Spencer Nero to his latest destination, and would spend most of the trip speculating cheerfully on ways the Civil Centurion might meet his fate. When dropping him off over the invisible Island of the Naztecs, for instance, he’d expressed his sincere wish that Spencer wouldn’t drown. When taking him to the Alps to tackle the North Face of the Eiger, he’d invited Spencer to consider the possible impact of below-the-belt frostbite, and to decide in advance whether he’d “keep them in a jar if they fell off from the cold.”
Thankfully, however, Teddy wasn’t even slightly Scottish, which made it safe enough for him to transport Janus. It was a rather like delivering a temperamental and highly explosive bomb to its target. As such, Teddy was sure to treat his cargo with the care and respect it deserved.
“Crikey, you’ve got a shiny face, haven’t you?” he asked, once the plane – a sleek and single-winged Percival Gull - had taken off. “Haven’t you, though? You have, haven’t you? What do you polish that with then?”
“The skin of the fallen,” replied Janus, who was seated directly behind Teddy, his impossibly baritone voice redolent with menace.
“Oh, right. Do you ever use someone’s face to shine your face?” asked Teddy. “That’d be funny, wouldn’t it? It’d be a bit like kissing them, I suppose.”
Janus’s fists clenched visibly. “Tace,” he intoned – a simple request for Teddy to cease talking.
“Was that Latin?” asked Teddy. “Of course, you’re Roman, aren’t you? Reminds me of a joke: what’s behind Spencer Nero’s mask? Only a Roman knows. Get it? Knows? Nose? Get it? Get it? It’s good, isn’t it?”
“Listen,” commanded Janus, his voice so deep the fuselage shook. “Janus delights only in carnage or the promise of carnage. Survive by silence.”
Teddy’s eyes widened and he nodded his head, looking oddly thoughtful for a moment. Janus did not relax – such a thing was virtually impossible – but his fists became a measure less clenched.
“On the Good Ship Lollipop!” exclaimed Teddy suddenly, apropos of nothing. Janus simply stared at him, a disturbing twitch visible in his left eye.
“You know, the Shirley Temple song about the airplane?” asked Teddy. “Go on, sing it! With your voice, it’d be bloomin’ hilarious! Go on, sing it. Sing it! I’ll start you off. ‘On the good ship Lollipop, it’s a sweet trip to the candy shop, where bon-bons play...’ Come on, join in!”
Janus began to grind his teeth together, producing a noise that sounded like tectonic plates shifting.
It was going to be a long flight.
They were headed for the northern cluster of islands which comprised Orkney, near which the beast was known to lurk - a fact suggested by folklore and confirmed by the tarot cards of Mr. Alabaster.
It is probable that Teddy avoided dismemberment only because the idea of dismembering the Nuckalavee (a much more interesting creature, anatomically speaking, with multiple limbs, torsos and heads, all ready to be ripped off) proved more tantalising. It was, however, a close-run thing. A stop-off for fuel in Aberdeen provided Janus with merciful respite, and when a vast Stoor Worm erupted from the sea near the isle of Hoy and nearly plucked the plane from the sky, it came as a particularly welcome distraction.
The Worm was a horrid, segmented, rubbery thing. It was almost as tall as the Big Ben clock tower, though not nearly as thick, dripping with brine and tipped with a monstrous gnashing maw. Its black, oily skin was covered with projecting jelly-like fronds, which flapped unpleasantly as the creature spiralled and writhed, lunging at the plane.
“Blimey – does that thing work for the Knuckle bloke you’re after?” asked Teddy, veering the Percival Gull sharply away from the snapping worm. “Or did it just wake up on the wrong side of the reef?”
“Num importatis,” stated Janus flatly, and began to open the plane’s canopy.
“If you say so,” replied Teddy. “This is the bit where you hop out and I clear off, right?”
“Well, chances are you’ll get eaten or crushed - or you might just expire from that plague of yours first - but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you anyway,” Teddy told Janus, as the latter scrambled out, digging his fingers into the very metal of the fuselage itself to maintain his position. “Won’t put any money on you surviving, of course – I mean, I’m not that stupid – but stranger things have happened. Cheerio!”
And with a profound and all-consuming sense of relief, Janus leapt from the plane and straight into the Stoor Worm’s mouth. As its warm, wet gullet enveloped him, and its many rows of teeth began to tear into his flesh, one thought resonated above all others in Janus’s mind.
His day was finally starting to get better.
Part Five: The Rammy
At the foot of the merciless cliffs of Hoy, from which Jock Numinous had plunged the previous night, an odd vessel eventually floated to shore. Someone well-versed in both folk and nautical lore might have suggested it looked like an impromptu dinghy, constructed from the insides of a Stoor Worm and using its uvula as a sail, but no such person bore witness.
Janus emerged from the fleshboat and clambered onto land. His skin was cut, his clothes were torn, and he was covered in a thin, semi-transparent layer of pharyngeal mucus, but if anything, there was a spring in his step. Swiftly, he traversed the rocks and began gathering up flat blades of mustard-coloured seaweed, heaping them together in a pile...