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.
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 somewhat 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 faces and 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 twisted cult of Kukulak, 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 taken in by the captain as a cabin boy.
During the following nine years, Azzur was accepted into the pirates operating out of the archipelago of the Arrowhead Islands; (probably the very same Chaos Pirates that waged permanent war against the Varadian Alliance governing the islands, who at one point allied themselves with the Lich Lord `Mortis of Balthor) and rose in rank 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 hundreds of fanatically devoted pirates.
One day, Azzur decided to take 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 have a new one built 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.
Lord Varek Azzur’s rule is enforced by a ruthless militia, with powerful and surprisingly intelligent trolls and ogres as elite soldiers. He employs giant warhawks as messengers and carriers, and Chaos Warriors as his generals. He 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 resides in the highest tower of his gloomy palace, being served by people whom he had had taken from home at a very young age, and raised to be elite warriors fanatically loyal to him. Most of them 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.
Lord Azzur almost never appears in public, except at the gladiatorial arena or when he absolutely must. When going outside, he is driven around in an ornate, horse-drawn coach with tinted windows, driven by one of his devoted 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 scarce 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 covering his entire body (sometimes lavish gold-trimmed navy-blue robes), and always keeps his face concealed by 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.
It must be noted though that he is not entirely heartless 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.
Lord Azzur never cut ties with his past of piracy and he still frequently sails the "Face of Chaos" to raid a nearby port or attack one ship or two. He kept control of his pirate armada and every pirate in the Western Ocean very likely answers to him or his lieutenants. He also controls many mercenaries all over Allansia.
He is touted as a fearsome warrior, though with him never being faced in any gamebooks or extension of the Fighting Fantasy series, his overall statistics will never be disclosed. 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.
Port Blacksand is located on the north-western coast of Allansia. It was built on the ruins of Carsepolis, a prosperous city besieged and destroyed at the end of the Chaos Wars; in which the Demon Princes of Titan's forces of Evil attacked the continents of Allansia, Khul and the Old World, reducing the entire 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 would have to 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. Even the guards might arrest people and rob them under the pretence of identity control.
Worse yet, the guards clearly do little about the rampant crime rate that make the city a wretched hive in the first place. Anyone coming near the heavily guarded city gates must give a valid reason (or bribe the guards) to be allowed entrance. And being allowed entrance does not mean being allowed safe venture, even from the guards… Anyone found by the militia during curfew or without being able to show a special pass allowing them there is likely to get expelled, thrown in jail, put on a pillory, or worse. Should one pay their enormous bribes, they might get still thrown to jail or robbed of everything as a fine for "corrupting the guards". 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 someone running after a pickpocket who stole their purse for "troubling public order" than the pickpockets themselves. Most people thrown in jail are never seen again.
Lord Azzur rules with an iron fist and his militia is everywhere. He has imposed entrances fees that vary according to the guards' whims, or impromptu taxes, and given free rein to the Guild of Thieves. While the Guild of Thieves' 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 and could crush them at any time.
Among other strange institutions, Lord Azzur has several of the most prominent citizens executed at New Year Eve, before 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, and his tyranny as well as his "niceties" target all social classes, for he knows that fear alone is not enough to rule.
The Guild of Thieves' influence over the city is second only to Lord Azzur's. The Guild is led by a Grand Master whose identity is kept secret, seconded by three Guild Masters and five Master Thieves. It controls the pickpockets, the Guild of Beggars and the Guild of Assassins, most of the taverns, and rules supreme in the gloomy and dangerous district of "the Noose", among other things.
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 very 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.
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 a priceless gem from 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).
Many other 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 and its wretched governor are also mentioned in other gamebooks: such as in Crypt of the Sorcerer, in which 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...
Advanced Fighting Fantasy
Port Blacksand is at the centre of the plot of the role-playing game Advanced Fighting Fantasy set on the world of Titan. 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 the corrupt prince of the city-state of Chalice to gain enough military strength to invade the City of Thieves, but was thwarted by a group of adventurers.
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. Throg 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.
But 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.
The Port of Peril
Lord Azzur, who had until now remained neutral and focusing solely on ruling his wretched hive, plays a direct villainous role in this sequel to City of Thieves, for he is revealed to be Zanbar Bone's 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.
Lord Azzur and the Spirit Stalkers captured Luannah, the wife of the stone carver Horace Wolff, threw her to the dungeons and held her hostage, to force him to carve from black granite the bewitched keystone that would bring Zanbar Bone back, more powerful and more 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 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. 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…