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Lord Varek Azzur numbers among the most important faces of the Fighting Fantasy universe, mentioned in many gamebooks but never met in person. He is the mysterious and tyrannical governor of Port Blacksand: the infamous City of Thieves. Both the wretched hive and its governor eventually became major recurring aspects of the world of Titan.

Background

Varek Azzur was born in a noble and influential family from the city-state of Arion, in the continent of Khul. Very early in his life, he displayed an unhealthy interest for the less savoury religious cults around, especially the Adepts of Kukulak (the Khulian name of the Storm God Sukh), devoted to a twisted worship of the Storm God.

One day, when he was sixteen, Azzur sneaked into a temple of Kukulak and witnessed one of their ceremonies, only to get spotted. The priests forced the initiation rite of the adepts on him: applying burning brands on their body and killing them if the resulting scars did not form the runes of Kukulak. Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for Titan) he got admitted. From then on, Azzur devoted his life to the gloomy sect, wearing the adept's black robes. Fearing his parents' reaction, Azzur fled the country. However, the merchant ship he was on was raided by pirates, and he was abducted by the captain as a cabin boy.

In the following nine years, Azzur rose in rank into the pirates of the Arrowhead Archipelago; (probably the same Chaos Pirates in permanent conflict against the Varradian Alliance governing it, who allied themselves with the Lich Lord Mortis of Balthor), until he became the captain of the dreaded pirate galley the Face of Chaos. Eventually, Azzur established himself in the southern coastland of the continent of Allansia. For six years, his reputation and influence grew until he became an extremely wealthy Pirate Lord, ruling over a fleet of galleys and thousands of fanatically devoted pirates.

One day, Azzur took over Port Blacksand, for reasons only known to him. He stormed the city from the sea and hanged its ruler Baron Illios Valentis from the highest tower of his palace; which he razed to build a new one following his design. Since then, he rules unopposed and no one ever dared another coup d’état. At some point, he swore fealty to the Night Prince Zanbar Bone, becoming his most faithful servant.

Characteristics

Varek Azzur

Azzur as a pirate

Lord Varek Azzur is much feared and reviled all over Allansia, and Titan as a whole, with even dreaded Dark Wizards as powerful as Oldoran Zagor, Balthus Dire, Zharradan Marr and Razaak themselves never making a move against him, and welcoming the prospect of his allegiance, as seen in Crypt of the Sorcerer.

He is touted as a formidable fighter, though never being faced in any gamebooks or extension of the Fighting Fantasy series, his overall statistics remain unknown. Still, the very fact that he survived so many battles and rose to the summit from nothing gives enough evidence of his exceptional skills as warrior and leader.

He resides in the highest tower of his gloomy palace, being served by people taken from home at infancy, raised to be elite warriors fanatically loyal to him. They never leave the palace, in which none can enter uninvited, and keep a constant watch over their lord, giving their lives protect him without a second thought. It is said that his palace is so heavily guarded and full of traps, that trying to sneak there is outright suicide. He formed a ruthless militia to enforce his rule, with powerful and surprisingly intelligent trolls and ogres as elite soldiers. He employs Chaos Warriors as his generals, and giant warhawks as messengers and carriers.

Lord Azzur almost never appears in public, except at the gladiatorial arena. When going outside, he is driven around in an ornate, horse-drawn coach with tinted windows, by one of his most trusted servants. Those allowed audience with him are led to special rooms divided in two by carved wooden screens, behind which Lord Azzur stands, listening to complains and whispering his replies to one of his men, who carry his words to the visitor.

Even the few who saw him in person cannot tell what he looks like, save from the priest of Kukulak bound to his service, since he wears ornate black garments (sometimes lavish gold-trimmed navy-blue robes) covering his entire body, and conceals his face under a turban. The thief Drogo Widemouth, the only one bold enough to sneak in his palace and see his face never lived long enough to tell the tale, and it his dismembered remains were scattered all over the city as a warning.

Lord Azzur is cold, regal, confident and very secretive, speaking only when he absolutely must, but also ruthless, unforgiving and wrathful, mostly addressing his servants to scream at them in anger, and fanatically devoted to his gloomy cult and his lord. Yet, he is a talented leader and an intelligent strategist, as well as a charismatic and inspiring figure for every scoundrel in Titan as a whole.

He is not entirely heartless though, and can prove generous, as evidenced when he rescued a woman turned into a snake-human hybrid by worshippers of the Demon Princess Sith, giving her a nobility title, the Serpent Queen, and a life of luxury. He dishes out favours and niceties to his people among oppression, and always to all social classes, for he knows that fear alone is not enough to rule.

Lord Azzur never cut ties with piracy, and he still sails the Face of Chaos to raid a nearby port or attack one ship or two. He kept control of his armada, and all pirates of the Western Ocean likely answers to him. He also controls many mercenaries all over Allansia.

Port Blacksand

Port Blacksand is located on the north-western coast of Allansia. It was built on the ruins of Carsepolis, a prosperous city destroyed during the Chaos Wars; in which the Demon Princes of Titan's forces attacked the continents of Allansia, Khul and the Old World, reducing Allansia to city states surrounded by hostile wilderness.

Port Blacksand never was a safe haven in the first place, each ruler "succeeding" their predecessor by killing them and usurping their place, bringing more corruption after each coup d'état. Still, it remained prosperous, thriving and somewhat peaceful... until Varek Azzur seized control. Now it is a wretched hive populated by scoundrel of the vilest kind, and nicknamed the City of Thieves: unclean, filthy and dangerous, with many corpses hanging from gallows, and people locked in suspended cages or pillories all over, inside or outside the city.

Among the most dangerous towns of Titan, (Port of Crabs and Kharé, the City port of Traps, in the Old World, Tak and Ashkyos in Khul) Port Blacksand is doubtless the most dangerous and far and away the most despicable. No one is safe there: the merchants are crooks, the beggars are in league with the thieves, crowds are full of pickpockets, pirate ships rest freely on the port and would gladly seize people as slaves in broad daylight, thieves of all sorts swarm the place, and the militia is corrupt to the core.

Every morning sees new corpses with slit throats and stolen pouches all over the streets. There are even witches, wizards and monsters around. Most passers-by must pay to avoid getting shot dead by archers from the nearby windows. Flaunting one's wealth there is downright suicidal, for it paints a big bullseye for thieves and crooks.

Lord Azzur rules with an iron fist and his militia is everywhere. He has imposed entrances fees that vary according to the guards' whims, impromptu taxes, and given free rein to the Guild of Thieves. While the Guild’s influence matches his own, and rich businessmen and aristocracy hold a lot of political power, sometime in hardly veiled opposition, it is quite clear that he lets this happen only because he wants to and could crush them at any time.

Anyone coming near the heavily guarded city gates must give a valid reason, show a pass, (or bribe the guards), to be allowed entrance. And entrance does not mean safe venture… Anyone found by the militia during curfew or without a pass is likely to get expelled, imprisoned, or worse. Even the guards might arrest people and rob them under the pretence of identity control. Should one pay their enormous bribes, they might get still imprisoned or robbed of everything as a fine for "corrupting the guards". Worse yet, the guards clearly care little about the rampant crime rate that make the city a wretched hive in the first place. Things like fair trials do not exist and while any criminal caught red-handed is sure to be thrown in jail to be hanged without trial, they are more likely to arrest a victim pursuing a thief for "troubling public order" than the thief themselves. Most people thrown in jail are never seen again.

Among strange institutions, Lord Azzur has one of the wealthiest family executed at New Year Eve, distributing their riches to the poor, (probably to prevent the wealthiest families from gaining too much political influence). It must be noted that the poor who became rich during those "charity executions" can very well find themselves targets to the next one. Despite this, the city remains as prosperous as ever, as Azzur keeps a sort of balance.

The Guild of Thieves' holds enormous grasp over the city. It is led by a Grand Master whose identity is kept secret, seconded by three Guild Masters and five Master Thieves. It controls the Guild of Beggars and the Guild of Assassins, the pickpockets, most taverns, and rules supreme in the gloomy and dangerous district of the Noose. Despite all this, there are still honest (or at the very least non-dangerous) people remaining in Port Blacksand, probably because the guard prevents them from leaving. (Thieves need victims after all.) As such, they remain extremely wary of anyone and know very well to defend themselves and to protect their valuables.

Strangely enough, Arakor Nicodemus, one of the most powerful, benevolent and renowned mages ever seen on Titan, chose to settle here to spend his retirement away from adventure. He built himself a house under a bridge and does not take kindly to strangers, although he remains willing to help those in dire need. He is powerful enough not to fear anyone in the wretched hive, Lord Azzur included, and the citizens leave him in peace. Lord Azzur himself seems to respect him enough to comply the rare times he intervenes in favour of the oppressed.

Gamebooks featuring Port Blacksand

City of Thieves

The gamebook in which Port Blacksand is first featured; you play as a famed adventurer who must venture in the City of Thieves to learn from Nicodemus how to defeat the dreaded Night Prince Zanbar Bone. You must first pass through the guard blocking the entry, who can be either bribed or killed, to enter the wretched hive; then search for Nicodemus and for the many items required.

While Port Blacksand is indeed filled to the brim with thieves, pickpockets, pirates and crooks, it was not yet described as dire as it would become in later gamebooks. You can meet several helpful people and honest merchants, and the major threat around is more the City Guard; especially the very dangerous trolls Fatnose and Sourbelly, whose encounter forces you to exit the city, voluntarily or not.

You can learn about Lord Azzur by the first guard you meet; and might scarcely avoid being run over by his coach, driving him through the streets with no care for pedestrians. You can also enter the house of Lord Azzur's protégée the Serpent Queen, who will mistake you for a thief and attack. Unless you can give her flowers, saying Lord Azzur sent them and getting a tip, it is best not to meet her, as she is a dangerous enemy with 9 in skill (power level) and 7 in stamina (life-points). Before fighting, her venomous bite might cost you 4 stamina points and 1 skill point.

Midnight Rogue

You play as a young thief-in-training who entered the Guild of Thieves of Port Blacksand. To become a full-fledged member of the Guild, the Master Thief Rannik the Red gives you one night to steal the priceless Eye of the Basilisk gem from Brass, one of the wealthiest merchants in town.

This gamebook puts an emphasis on the omnipresence of the Guild; and shows that the city is dangerous even for the thieves; given that the merchants know how to hide and protect their wealth and the militia shows no mercy for the thieves they arrest. You must enter the Guild of Merchants, the merchant's house and many other locations to find your loot. You can even sneak into Lord Azzur's palace (and get quickly slaughtered by the governor's bodyguards) or Nicodemus' house (and get turned into a fish and thrown in the river).

Miscellaneous

Several gamebooks have the player spend some time in Port Blacksand, usually during the book's introduction. This happens most notably Night Dragon, in which you have an appointment there with a Dark Elf, who tells you about the incoming threat of the titular Night Dragon.

The city is mentioned in Deathtrap Dungeon and you spend some time there in the sequel, Trial of Champions, before competing in the titular trial.

In Crypt of the Sorcerer, a blind scholar who was tortured by Lord Azzur but freed by Nicodemus provides you with a vital clue to defeat the vile necromancer Razaak. Moreover, you introduce yourself to Razaak's right-hand-skeleton as an emissary of Lord Azzur sent to pledge his allegiance, something that the necromancer would very much appreciate.

Also, in Legend of Zagor, the great mage Gereth Yaztromo speaks about the town and its ruler, among other description of the world from which the warlock Oldoran Zagor has been banished.

And many others...

The Port of Peril

Lord Azzur, who had until now focused solely on ruling his wretched hive, serves as a major villain in this sequel to City of Thieves, for he is revealed to be Zanbar Bone's main vassal. Once again, the title of the gamebook is a reference to Port Blacksand. Lord Azzur conspires with the Night Prince's Spirit Stalkers enforcers to resurrect him, so that he could restart a second, even direr reign of terror, while still remaining out of reach in his palace.

Lord Azzur and the Spirit Stalkers captured Luannah, the wife of the stone carver Horace Wolff, threw her to jail as a hostage, to force him to carve the bewitched keystone that would bring Zanbar Bone back, more powerful and evil than ever. Wolff dies trying to escape and strands the keystone in the middle of nowhere, as one of Azzur's giant warhawks was taking him to the tower of the Great Wizard Gereth Yaztromo, where the keystone must be placed to serve its sinister purpose.

Fortunately, a hero and his female ninja companion who assisted him in his dying moments, learnt from him of Zanbar Bone's threat and swore to put an end to the Night Prince's blight. You must pay friendly villagers to get ferried stealthily into the wretched hive, lest the guards arrest you for life, and search for Arakor Nicodemus, in a call-back to City of Thieves. You must also buy a Merchant Pass to avoid being captured as slaves by pirates. There, you learn that Klash, a Chaos Warrior servant to Lord Azzur and Zanbar Bone, has kidnapped Nicodemus after stealing his ring of power, to execute him and remove him as a threat.

  • Klash is a powerful foe with 10 in skill and 11 in stamina, but he lacks special abilities to complicate the fight.

After slaying him, you must sneak into the palace after the loathsome tyrant's coach has exited it, and impersonate a guard to infiltrate the jail, to rescue both Nicodemus and Luannah.

While you and your allies fight and destroy Zanbar Bone, Lord Azzur is once again never confronted, and remains firmly in power. Until the day, perhaps not so far in time, that will see justice be served at long last…

Advanced Fighting Fantasy

Port Blacksand is a central plot point in the first book plot of the role-playing game Advanced Fighting Fantasy. There, the evil wizard Xortan Throg, a descendant of the rulers of Carsepolis, strives to regain the domain of his ancestors by overthrowing Lord Azzur and taking over Port Blacksand (which "replaced" Carsepolis).

He stroke and alliance with Prince Barinjhar of Chalice, heir to the city-state of Chalice, who believed that his kingdom would be annexed by the Kingdom of Salamonis after his arranged marriage to Princess and arranged for the wizard to kidnap her, in exchange for military help to take over Salamonis. But a group of thieves sent by the King to rescue his daughter thwarted their plan and exposed the prince’s treachery.

However, this defeat was just a setback for Xortan Throg, who was in fact based in the ruins of Carsepolis (the sewers of Port Blacksand) and preparing his attack from within. He was building an army of the local Fish Men and the dead city guards which he raised from the grave, and stroke deals with pirates under Lord Azzur's nose. He was building his power-base and was about to make his move anytime soon. Fortunately, the adventurers did not give up on defeating the wizard. They ventured in Port Blacksand and, with help from Arakor Nicodemus, pursued him into the ruins of Carsepolis.

They then stroke a deal with the ghost of the evil priest Sargon and following his advices, they obtained on a Crystal of Power in the sunken temple of the Ocean God Hydana. Xortan Throg confronted the adventurers and cast a Death Spell at them, only for the Crystal of Power to reflect it back at him and put an end to his ambitions.

Alas, the fall of Xortan Throg would lead to the rise of a considerably direr threat, the return of Sargon, resurrected after touching the Crystal of Power. He wasted no time in restarting his evil cult, recruiting his first adepts among the corrupt and easily swayed population of Blacksand, summoning demons and using dark magic to kill a rich merchant of Blacksand named Brass (the one you stole the Eye of the Basilisk to in Midnight Rogue), and further establish his power base.

Sargon would then raise a huge army of monster and spread plagues in the land, but the adventurers were sent by Yaztromo to strike an alliance with an army of goblins, and the primal populations of the city of Kaad, destroying Sargon’s forces and ending his threat, but with the evil priest himself unaccounted for.