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Balthus Dire

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Balthus Dire is a dark wizard who serves as the primary antagonist and final enemy in the second gamebook of the Fighting Fantasy series, The Citadel of Chaos. Balthus is not only a powerful wizard, he is also an accomplished warlord and arguably the Fighting Fantasy villain who puts up the most detailed battle, as there is many possible actions and outcomes when fighting him. He was once a wizard apprentice alongside Oldoran Zagor and Zharradan Marr, and he fought against the latter in the infamous Trolltooth Wars.

Background

Balthus is part of a dynasty of dark wizards and warlords, who rule 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, meaning that evil and dark magic runs in the family.

Balthus learnt dark magic, swordplay and military arts since his early childhood, and at some point, his father sent him to Volgera Darkstorm so that he would be the wretched wizard's apprentice. 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 apprentice's ambition and malevolence, and tried to limit their lessons and to exert a calming influence. This would ultimately lead to his demise, as his irked apprentices ended up killing 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 his son to welcome him back, the vile wizard treacherously stabbed him in the back with a poisonous 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. During all these years, all of Balthus Dire's efforts were solely concentrated towards his goal to take over Allansia, worsening the fear he 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, in which 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 Trolltooth Pass.

Powers and Abilities

Balthus is a highly powerful sorcerer, who not only masters all the spells featured in the gamebook Citadel of Chaos, (and many others) but who can also counter, if not take full control of, said spells, should they be used against him by a weaker mage. Balthus Dire 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 even more dreadful spirits known as the Sorqs.

Balthus Dire is also skilled with transformation magic, as his signature spell enables him to turn his face into that of a Gorgon in order to gain the creature's petryfying gaze. This spell alone, being 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 casting 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. But he is not only a powerful wizard, he is also a considerably skilled warrior and swordsman, who uses a scimitar, and sometimes a dagger in battle, wielding both with impressive proficiency. (Proficiency increased by the magical Ring of Swordsmanship he wears on his hand.) He has also great physical strength, being able to lift a man with one hand. Finally, he is an extremely skilled strategist and warlord.

However, Balthus Dire has one fatal weakness, which he shares with all his ancestors: he cannot stand daylight, which can kill him almost instantly if he were to be exposed to it. This weakness was crafted so that the player could defeat him without fight, should he prove too strong for him or her. 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 for the help of the grand wizard of the Forest of Yore, headmaster of the most famous school of magic 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 in his place. Said best student (the playable character) is tasked to invade the citadel of Craggen Heights, to kill Balthus Dire and to 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 who cancel their enemies’ magic. You need either a Jewel of Light or an alchemic balm 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 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, but if you can cast a Weakness spell, you will 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 counter or take over 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.

  • Using an Illusion spell would only lead Balthus to take complete control of your mind and make you his slave, winning the fight.
  • If you try to read Balthus’ mind, the wizard retaliates by making the room move like a ship in a storm to incapacitate you. 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 magical sword that increases your skill by 2 points. The best choice is to head for the window and take out the curtain, so that the daylight kills Balthus immediately. (Do not hide behind the curtain though; otherwise Balthus will bewitch it to choke you to death.) Never, ever try to hide under the table (you would end up trapped by invisible barriers) or use an item. (No matter what item you choose, Balthus casts a Creature Copy spell and if you defeat your magical clone, Balthus will kill you from behind with a dagger.)
  • If you cast a Fire spell, Balthus takes it over and deflects the attack, forcing you to duck or lose 4 points of stamina. 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 what spell is used, 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 else you get turned into stone. 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).
  • If you cast a spell of Creature Copy, it 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, which is only hinted in the gamebooks, is developed into a full-fledged war between both dark wizard's armies.

This conflict began when one of Balthus Dire's patrols of goblins mistakenly ambushed and took over a convoy of Cunnelworth (a powerful magical herb which can be used in rituals to communicate with the Spiritual Planes) that was destined to Zharradan Marr. Upon learning this, Marr declared war to his former friend, rushing the inevitable clash between the two. This risky situation had a priceless strategic advantage for both wizards, as the victor would be able to take over his enemy's armies and would then gain more than enough military strength to invade Allansia. Both armies fought more or less on an equal footing, given that if Balthus Dire was a better warlord and strategist, Zharradan Marr could count on extremely powerful and talented generals, who could turn the tide of a battle by themselves.

At first, Marr managed to take control of Balthus' dreaded Ganjees and used them in the war, but Balthus retaliated by using 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 gathered so much spiritual energy that he tore open a path to the Spiritual Plane, where they were all sent back.

Balthus soon gained the advantage and drove Marr into a corner, but the necromancer launched several desperation attacks. He sent his best troops, led by his most powerful generals, to target Balthus' commanders, in order to incapacitate their hordes, while Balthus was trying to summon back both the Sorqs and the Ganjees. Eventually, Marr managed to pierce Balthus' defences and was about to win the war. Then an unexpected turn of events happened.

King Salamon, the ruler of the Vale of Willow, rightfully feared the outcome of this war, so he tried to end it so that neither army would be able to invade the kingdom right after emerging 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, Marr's flying ship. There, he used a Crystal Club to shatter the magical mirror, trapping Zharradan Marr forever in his own netherworld. (A feat performed in Creature of Havoc by the former captain of the Galleykeep, whom Marr turned into a monster through the use of Marrhanga.) 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 dark wizards sealed away, the Salamonian army and the student mages of Yore were able to destroy the remnants of their armies, securing the Vale of Willow and the entire Allansia. 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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