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Balthus Dire

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Balthus Dire is the primary antagonist and final enemy in the second gamebook of the Fighting Fantasy series, The Citadel of Chaos. He is a powerful wizard and warlord, and arguably the Fighting Fantasy villain who puts up the most detailed final battle. He was apprenticed alongside Oldoran Zagor and Zharradan Marr, and he fought against the latter in the infamous Trolltooth Wars, described in a spin-off novel.

Background

Balthus is part of a dynasty of evil sorcerous warlords, rulers of the dangerous kingdom of Craggen Rock, solely populated by chaotic monsters, from the dreaded castle of Craggen Heights, also known as the Citadel of Chaos. Balthus is the grandson of Gandor Dire, the founder of the kingdom, and the son of Craggen Dire, who groomed him as a ruthless conqueror. He is cruel, ruthless, greedy and power-hungry, with a regal and imposing attitude and a strong sense of sarcasm. Yet, he can recognizehis foe's worth, and the novel states that he and his equally evil wife get along very well.

Balthus learnt dark magic, swordplay and military arts since his early childhood, and spent his teenage years as an apprentice to the wretched wizard Volgera Darkstorm. There, he met two fellow apprentices named Oldoran Zagor and Zharradan Marr, who rivalled his power and his malevolence and soon became his friends and his rivals. The trio, who would later be known as the Demonic Three, excelled under Darkstom's expert tutelage.

However, Darkstorm came to fear his apprentices' ambition and malevolence, thus limited their lessons and tried to exert a calming influence. This would lead to his demise, as his irked apprentices killed him with a Rain of Knives spell, before ransacking his library and sharing his possessions between themselves. The Demonic Three then parted ways, likely entering a competition to take over the continent of Allansia before the others.

Balthus Dire came back to Craggen Heights and as his father embraced him to welcome him back, he stabbed him in the back with a poisoned dagger, claiming the cursed kingdom as his own. Balthus then married a powerful and beautiful witch named Lady Lucretia and ruled his domain for many years. He solely concentrated his efforts towards the conquest of Allansia, worsening the fear he already caused in the population of the neighbour kingdom of the Vale of Willows, the first target of his plans of conquest.

Balthus Dire increased his armies and crafted his battle plans, but he also entered an open conflict with Zharradan Marr when their ambition got the better of their friendship. This conflict would be remembered as the gruesome Trolltooth Wars, as it mostly took place in the dangerous Trolltooth Pass.

Powers and Abilities

Balthus Dire is a highly powerful sorcerer, who not only masters every spell featured in the gamebook Citadel of Chaos (and many others), but who can also counter or even take full control of the spells used against him by a weaker mage. He is an accomplished expert of Battle Magic and Spiritual Magic, as demonstrated when he summoned many Ganjees (powerful and evil shadowy spirits) into the Earthly Planes, later doing the same with the the even mightier Sorqs.

Balthus is also skilled with transformation magic, as his signature spell turns his face into that of a Gorgon to grant him the creature's petryfying gaze. This spell alone, apparently a skilful mix between a partial metamorphosis and a kind of summoning, is a sufficient demonstration of Balthus' vast mastery of magic, though it must be noted that it puts a strain on him.

Balthus Dire is able to perform telekynesis; to hypnotize people; to crush someone's will, turning his victim into his devoted slave; to create invisible walls; to create a motion as if the room he is in was shaking like a ship in a storm, which only affects selected people; among other impressive magical feats.

As if it was not enough, he is a formidable warrior who uses a scimitar and sometimes a dagger in battle, wielding both with impressive proficiency. (Proficiency increased by the magic Ring of Swordsmanship he wears on his hand.) He also has great physical strength, being able to lift a man with one hand. Finally, he is an expert warlord and a very talented strategist.

However, Balthus Dire has one fatal weakness, which runs in his wretched family due to their practice of the Dark Arts: He cannot stand daylight, which can kill him by prolonged exposure. This being a way for the player to defeat him without fight, should he prove too strong. It is not known if this weakness was taken into account in the Trolltooth Wars novel.

The Citadel of Chaos

Balthus Dire and his fearsome chaotic army are ready to invade Allansia. To prevent this, King Salamon, the ruler of the Vale of Willow asks the Grand Wizard of the Forest of Yore for help, headmaster of the most famous wizarding school of the entire world of Titan. The Grand Wizard himself his too old to take part in the battle, but he sends his best student (the playable character) in his place. You are tasked to invade the citadel of Craggen Heights, to kill Balthus Dire and destroy his battle plans, so that his armies would collapse from infighting and be easily disposed of.

You can use a determined number of magic spells (being able to cast one twice or more) such as a spell of Strength, a spell of Weakness, as spell of Fire, a spell of Mind-Reading, a spell of Protection, a spell of Creature Copy, a spell of Illusion, a spell of Levitation, among others, which prove extremely useful.

Needless to say, the citadel is full of traps and monsters, and you must fight dangerous creatures and know several passwords to find your way in. You can meet Balthus’ evil wife Lady Lucretia, who can kill you by shooting fire from her eyes. You must offer her a gift that she really needs and steal her Golden Fleece. You must also find the library to learn precious indications about Balthus Dire, his citadel and his creatures.

Balthus himself is heavily protected. To reach him, you first have to pass the fearsome Ganjees, demonic spirits of shadow.

  • Weapons cannot harm the Ganjees, and casting a spell is equally useless. Then will hurl you through the window after cancelling your powers, so that nothing can save you from plummeting to your doom. You need either a Jewel of Light (to neutralize them) or an alchemic balm (to use as a bargain) to pass safely.
  • The next obstacle is a gigantic, six-headed Hydra, invincible in a regular fight (a nod to the Red Dragon in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain). If you can cast three spells of Creature Copy, both Hydras will fight to the death, but if the normal one wins you are dead. The only items able to defeat the Hydra are the Golden Fleece taken from Lady Lucrecia herself, and a magic Myriad (an artifact that can transform in any object made of metal).

Then, you must know the secret code and avoid a levitating trident, before finally reaching the wizard.

If you win the final battle, the ending paragraph states that you will set fire to the citadel before (trying to) escape. With Balthus dead, King Salamon’s armies and the other mages from Yore would then be able to destroy his decapitated army. As for Lady Lucretia, it was later stated that she fled, never to be seen again.

Fighting Balthus Dire

Balthus Dire

Balthus Dire, as depicted by the book's illustration

Balthus Dire first sends a dangerous Clawbeast that you must fight.
  • The beast has 9 in skill (level of power) and 14 in stamina (life points) and can take away your sword, becoming harder to kill, but if you can cast a Weakness spell, you will be able to kill it without fight.

Then, you can immediately challenge Balthus Dire, who is a very powerful and dangerous foe with 12 in skill (the maximum level) and 19 in stamina. You can also cast a spell at Balthus, but his power far exceeds your own and he will cancel any spell used, before launching a dangerous counterattack. However, every spell cast on Balthus leads to different possibilities and situations, which can turn to your advantage.

  • If you try to read Balthus' mind, the wizard retaliates by making the room move like a ship in a storm to make you fall, and win the fight by either stabbing you to death or brainwashing you. Using an Illusion spell is only leads to the same fate, you need a Levitation spell to escape. You can then choose to dive on Balthus to battle him. (You can try to take off Balthus' Ring of Swordsmanship, to decrease the wizard's skill to 10 for the upcoming fight.) You can also dive towards the weapons stored by Balthus, and take a magic sword that grants you 2 stamina points. The best choice is to head for the window and take out the curtain, so that the daylight kills Balthus without fight. (Do not hide behind the curtain though; otherwise Balthus will bewitch it to choke you to death.) Never try to hide under the table (you would end up trapped by invisible barriers) or use an item. (No matter what you choose, Balthus casts a Creature Copy spell and if you defeat your magical clone, Balthus kills you from behind with a dagger.)
  • If you cast a Fire spell to light flames at him, Balthus grabs them and throws a fireball back at you, forcing you to duck or lose 4 stamina points. Then, you have the choice to challenge Balthus in a swordfight, to use an item (which prompts Balthus to cast a Creature Copy spell leading to a game over), or casting another spell. No matter which spell you cast, Balthus blocks it and retaliates by turning his face into that of a Gorgon. You must win a test of Luck and hide immediately, or get turned into stone and perish. Then, if you lack a mirror, you will not be able to exit your hiding place and Balthus will call his guards to capture and execute you. If on the contrary you have a mirror, you will circumvent Balthus’ fearsome spell and can chose to hide under the table, to head for the stored weapons or to head for the window, leading to the possibilities listed above (capture and game over, battle, or instant win/instant death).
  • Cast a spell of Creature Copy proves useless, as both wizards take over the Balthus-Clone when it comes near them. Balthus then retaliates with his Gorgon metamorphosis, leading to the situations listed above.

Trolltooth Wars

Balthus le Terrible

A different depiction of Balthus Dire in Trolltoth Wars

The events described in the gamebooks Citadel of Chaos and Creature of Havoc, both written by the co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy series Steve Jackson, were later retconnected by Jackson himself in the novel Trolltooth Wars. In this novel, the conflict between Balthus Dire and Zharradan Marr, only hinted in the gamebooks, is developed into a full-fledged war between both dark wizards’ armies.

It all began when one of Balthus Dire’s patrols of goblins mistakenly ambushed and took over a convoy of Cunnelworth (a powerful magical herb used in rituals to communicate with the Spiritual Planes) destined to Zharradan Marr. Marr retaliated by declaring war to his former friend, rushing their now inevitable clash.

This risky situation had a priceless strategic advantage, as the victor would be able to take over his enemy's forces and gain more than enough military strength to invade Allansia. Both armies fought more or less evenly, as if Balthus Dire was a better warlord and strategist, Zharradan Marr’s very powerful and talented generals could turn the tide of a battle by themselves.Marr managed to take control of Balthus' dreaded Ganjees, but Balthus used the Cunnelworth to summon the even more dreadful Sorqs, who laid devastation on Marr's armies until the Sorqs and the Ganjees battled directly. The battle was such that it tore open a path to the Spiritual Plane, where they were all sent back.

Balthus soon drove Marr into a corner, but the necromancer launched several desperation attacks, having his best troops led by his mightiest generals target Balthus' commanders, to incapacitate their hordes while Balthus was trying to summon back both the Sorqs and the Ganjees. Eventually, Marr pierced Balthus' defences and was about to win. Then an unexpected turn of events happened.

King Salamon, the ruler of the Vale of Willow, rightfully feared the wars' outcome, so he tried to make sure that neither army would emerge victorious. To do so, the king ordered his own army, and especially his most skilled captain, the famed hero Chadda Darkmane, to neutralize both wizards and incapacitate their forces.

Chadda Darkmane, grudgingly aided by the last of the Demonic Three Oldoran Zagor, managed to set foot on the Galleykeep, the flying ship that Marr took over. There, he threw overboard the magic mirror that Marr used as a gateway to his pocket dimension. However, this was not enough, and the former captain of Galleykeep destroyed the mirror with a Crystal Club, trapping Zharradan Marr forever in his own netherworld and freeing himself from the wretched necromancer’s curse. (He does the same in Creature of Havoc.)

As for Balthus Dire, he ended up trapped forever in the Spiritual Plane, probably by Darkmane or the mages of the Forest of Yore. (Instead of being slain by a student of the magic school of Yore, as in Citadel of Chaos.)

With both wizards sealed away, the Salamonian army and the student mages of Yore could destroy the infighting remnants of their armies, securing the Vale of Willow and Allansia as a whole. However, Marr's and Balthus' defeat also served the interests of Oldoran Zagor, who found himself without rival and with his own army intact.

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