Lord Varek Azzur is one of the essential faces of the Fighting Fantasy universe, mentioned in many gamebooks but never directly confronted. He is the mysterious and despotic governor of Port Blacksand: the infamous City of Thieves, who rules from the shadows without involving himself more than he must, though he becomes much more proactive in the Scholastic relaunch of the series, but from afar as always. Both the wretched hive and its governor 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. He soon displayed an unhealthy interest for the twisted sect of the Adepts of Kukulak (the Khulian name of the Storm God Sukh). At sixteen years old, he sneaked into the temple of Kukulak but got 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. Azzur then became a devoted adept, wearing the adept's black robes.
He ran away from his parent's reactions, but the ship he boarded was raided by pirates, who abducted him as a cabin boy.
During the following nine years, Azzur rose in rank among the pirates based close to the Arrowhead Archipelago; (probably the same Chaos Pirates who allied with the Lich Lord Mortis of Balthor), until he gained his own pirate galley, the Face of Chaos.
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.
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 and Zharradan Marr themselves never making a move against him. Some villains would go as far as to welcome the prospect of his allegiance, as seen in Crypt of the Sorcerer.
He is touted as a formidable fighter, though he is never faced and his statistics never known. Still, his life of battles and his very ascension from nothing to the summit confirm his exceptional skills as warrior and leader. The cover of Assassins of Allansia depicts him wielding a great sabre in a threatening manner, hinting clear expertise.
Lord Azzur 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, ready to die for him without hesitation. They never leave the palace, constantly watch over their lord, and kill any intruder. 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. His highest-ranking agents are three beings clad in black furred robes and hoods: Lord Azzur's Mouth (with no face but a large glowing mouth), his Eyes (with no face but many mismatched eyes), and his Ears (a humanoid bat).
No one knows their exact nature, origin and the extent of their link with the tyrant, but they are an extension of his will. The Mouth is his spokesperson who carries his orders. He can fire magic blasts that can either destroy or teleport people. The Eyes and Ears can see and hear everything in town, keeping their liege informed.
Lord Azzur almost never appears in public, except at the gladiatorial arena. When 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 his Eyes, Ears and Mouth, who carry his words to the visitor.
He covers his entire body with black robes (sometimes gold-trimmed navy-blue garments ornate with brooches and belts), and conceals his face under a turban. Only the priest of Kukulak bound to his service knows his face. The bold thief Drogo Widemouth succeeding in sneaking into his palace and see his face, but never lived long enough to gloat, and his dismembered remains were scattered all over the city as a warning.
Lord Azzur is described as unshakably calm, regal and assured. He is confident and very secretive, speaking only when he must, but ruthless and hard to please, viciously screaming at servants who displeases him, and fanatically devoted to his gloomy cult and his lord. Yet, he is well-read and erudite, in addition to a gifted leader, an intelligent strategist, and a very charismatic and inspiring figure for every scoundrel in Titan.
He is not entirely heartless though, and can prove generous, as 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 keeps an impressive collection of rare, and often deadly, plants in the city gardens. He gives favours to his people amid oppression, 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 is located on the northwestern 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 full of the vilest scoundrel, nicknamed the City of Thieves: unclean, filthy and dangerous, with many corpses hanging from gallows, and people in suspended cages or pillories all over, inside or outside.
Among the most dangerous towns of Titan, (Port of Crabs and Kharé, City port of Traps in the Old World, Tak and Ashkios in Khul), Port Blacksand is doubtless the deadliest and far and away the most loathsome.
No one is safe in 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 capture people as slaves in broad daylight, thieves of all sorts swarm the place, and the militia is corrupt to the core. Each morning, corpses with slit throats and stolen pouches can be found on every street. Most passers-by must pay to avoid getting shot by archers from the nearby windows. Flaunting one's wealth there is downright suicidal, for it paints a big bullseye for thieves and crooks. There are even witches, wizards, ogres and monsters all around.
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, he clearly lets this happen only because he wants to and could crush them anytime he wants.
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 care little about the rampant crime rate. Justice 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. Wizards and scholars there should know better than flaunt their skills, for Lord Azzur has anyone who so much look like they can challenge his rule captured and mutilated until they can no longer use their art, and throw them on the streets.
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 gained wealth in those "charity executions" can very well find themselves targets to the next one. Despite this, the city remains prosperous, as Azzur carefully keeps some 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 harmless) 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 people in dire need. He has more than enough power not to fear anyone in the wretched hive, Lord Azzur included, and they all leave him in peace.
Gamebooks featuring Port Blacksand
In all these stories, Lord Azzur is never directly faced and never even fought, meaning that he remains firmly in power, with the best any hero can do being thwarting his short-term schemes. Until the day, perhaps not so far in time, that will see justice be served at long last…
City of Thieves
The playable character is a famous adventurer who must venture in the City of Thieves to learn from Nicodemus how to defeat the dreaded Night Prince Zanbar Bone. They must first bypass 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, crooks, and even monsters, it had yet to be described as dire as it would become in later gamebooks. The hero 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 them to exit the city, voluntarily or not.
The hero can learn about Lord Azzur by the first guard they meet; and might scarcely avoid being run over by his coach, driving him through the streets with no care for pedestrians. They can also enter the house of Lord Azzur's protégée the Serpent Queen, who will mistake them for a thief and attack. Unless they can give her flowers, saying Lord Azzur sent them and getting a tip, she is best avoided, as she is a dangerous foe with 9 in skill (power level) and 7 in stamina (life-points). Before fighting, her venomous bite might cost 4 stamina points and 1 skill point.
A rare gamebook featuring a villain protagonist. The playable character is a young thief-in-training wishing to enter the Guild of Thieves of Port Blacksand. As an acceptation trial, the Master Thief Rannik the Red gives them one night to steal the priceless Eye of the Basilisk gem from Brass, one of the wealthiest merchants in town. This story emphasizes the omnipresence of the Guild; and shows that the city is dangerous even for thieves; given that the merchants know how to protect their wealth and the militia shows no mercy for any thief they arrest.
The anti-hero must enter the Guild of Merchants, the merchant's house and many other locations to find their loot. They 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).
Several gamebooks have their playable character spend some time in Port Blacksand, usually during the book's introduction. This happens most notably in Night Dragon, in which the hero has an appointment there with a Dark Elf, who tells them about the incoming threat of the titular Night Dragon.
In Temple of Terror, the hero can embark a boat there to reach the Desert of Skulls and track down Malbordus.
The city is mentioned in Deathtrap Dungeon and the hero 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 the hero with a vital clue to defeat Razaak. Moreover, they introduce themselves to Razaak's right-hand as an emissary of Lord Azzur sent to pledge his allegiance, something that the vile lich would very much appreciate.
Also, in Legend of Zagor, the Great Mage Gereth Yaztromo evokes 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 have always been 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 enforcers, the Spirit Stalkers, to revive 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 Gereth Yaztromo's tower, where the keystone must be placed.
Fortunately, a hero and Hakasan Za, 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.
The hero must pay friendly villagers to get ferried stealthily into the wretched hive, lest the guards imprison them for life and "confiscate" their "stolen" goods. There, they must search for Arakor Nicodemus, in a call-back to City of Thieves. They must also buy a Merchant Pass to avoid being captured as slaves by pirates. There, they learn that Klash, a Chaos Warrior and agent of 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.
The hero must sneak into the palace, after the loathsome tyrant's coach has exited it, impersonating a guard to infiltrate the jail and rescue both Nicodemus and Luannah. The hero and their allies later destroy Zanbar Bone, depriving Lord Azzur of the liege he worked so hard to resurrect and inflicting him his first major loss.
The Gates of Death
As a Demon Plague is spreading all over Allansia, turning people into demons and contaminating anyone they wound, a young Acolyte from the Guardians of the Crucible (a community of mages experts in healing potions) is tasked to bring vials of the antidote to the temple of the Earth Goddess Throff for mass replication. A storm sinks their ships, leaving only the hero and their mentor Brother Tobyn stranded in Port Blacksand.
Lord Azzur does not want the plague to wipe out all life (and his rule). He sent his men to the Temple of Throff to counter it, but to no avail for only the pure of heart can reach it. If the guards capture the hero, they throw them in jail and take their belongings, and they have no choice but kill Brother Tobyn who fell victim to the plague.
Then, they bring the hero to an audience with Lord Azzur, in which his Mouth, Eyes and Ears carry his will. They tell the hero that he will keep all their antidotes save one, but will help them by providing them precious clues about their quest and a magic khopesh (an Egyptian sickle-sword) granting a hefty power boost.
The hero can avoid Azzur's palace and get help from Nicodemus, who disguises himself as a demon to avoid the plague, and gives them priceless potions.
It turns out that Azzur's khopesh is one of the two forged by the Dark Queen Ulrakaah, the source of the plague who must be destroyed, and that they are the only weapons that can kill her. Azzur covets Ulrakaah's treasure and wants to steal her power through the khopesh he gave the hero. Another hero named Hikaz Mandeera has found the second khopesh, but was killed by Sinna the Sly, the assassin sent by Azzur to kill Ulrakaah. If the hero was not given Azzur's khopesh, they must find this one.
The hero must find a way to enter the fabled Invisible City and reach the Temple of Throff, giving the antidote to the High Priestess Alesstis. Then, they must talk to every remaining citizen, hidden from Ulrakaah's monsters through magic, and gather all information about the Gates of Death behind which Ulrakaah is sealed. At the Gates, the hero finds the dying Sinna the Sly, who recognizes them as worthier and helps them.
In the end, the hero uses magic to leave their body behind and get past the Gates of Death, taking the second khopesh there if needed, and confront Ulrakaah. After killing her, they must destroy the khopesh in the magical fire to ensure that no evil could use them, Lord Azzur included.
Assassins of Allansia
Lord Azzur is the primary villain by proxy of this gamebook. Informed by his spies that the playable character has killed his liege Zanbar Bone in the previous adventure, he resolves to have them killed in vengeance.
Zanbar Bone being described as a Demon Prince and the playable character being still destitute at the start, make this gamebook a sequel to The Port of Peril instead of City of Thieves. Indeed, the latter refers to Zanbar Bone as the Night Prince and the hero is richly rewarded after their victory.
The story begins after the playable character accepts a bet of twenty gold coins to spend a month on their own on the very dangerous Snake Island. There, they find out that a bounty of a thousand gold pieces on their head has been issued by Lord Azzur, as they fight the first assassin sent after them.
The hero must explore the island, watching out for dangerous monsters like an undead decayer and a dragon, before saving the captain on a ship to sail with them to Port Blacksand.
During their journey, they must fend off the thirteen killers sent on their tracks by the Scorpion Guild of Assassins, and take their scorpion pendants. They include all types of enemies, from ninjas to dark elf priestess, elite swordsmen, and users of deadly magic tricks, and often lay trap, ambushes and other tricks, forcing the hero to always be on their guard. Their stats revolves from the easily managed 7 in skill to the powerful 10 and they have all around 8 to 10 in stamina.
On their way to the City of Thieves, the hero must fend off pirates. There, they learn that Azzur is visiting his old friend Baron Sukumvit Charavask, the ruthless but firmly neutral ruler of the city of Fang, for the ceremony starting the annual Trials of Champions: a game in which five volunteers venture into a labyrinth designed by Sukumvit, full of deadly monsters and traps and reputed unwinnable, for a reward of ten thousand gold coins.
As such, they travel there to confront Azzur and show him the pendants of the fallen killers, hoping to force him to call off the manhunt. They must sail the Red River and travel north across a forest, being saved from an assassin by the barbarian Throm, a contestant of the Trials of Champions, and face the final assassin, the very powerful Urzle Ironface with 12 in skill and 12 in stamina. Then, they must ask for an audience with Baron Sukumvit and Lord Azzur themselves. If the hero lacks the thirteen pendants, they are killed by Sukumvit's guards.
If on the contrary they succeeded, Azzur relents on the condition that they take part in the Trials of Champions, forcing them to face even direr perils. The hero has no choice but to comply, marking the most bittersweet ending of the series. On a positive note, this makes them the playable character of the author's early gamebook Deathtrap Dungeon, (but ret-connecting the introduction that stated that had been looking forward to it for years). This makes them the first to ever win the Trial of Champion and means they will pocket the reward.
Advanced Fighting Fantasy
Port Blacksand is a central plot point in the first and second books plot of the role-playing game Advanced Fighting Fantasy. In the first book Dungeoneer, 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 was built over the ruins of Carsepolis).
He stroke and alliance with Prince Barinjhar, heir to throne of the city-state of Chalice, who believed that his kingdom would be annexed by the Kingdom of Salamonis after his arranged marriage to Princess Sarissa, and plotted with Throg to kidnap her. But the playable group of adventurers, sent by the King of Salamonis 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 soldiers of Carsepolis whom he raised as skeletons, 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 wretched wizard. They ventured in Port Blacksand and, with help from Arakor Nicodemus, pursued him into the ruins of Carsepolis. The group then strikes a deal with the ghost of the priest Sargon, and following his advices they obtain a Crystal of Power in the sunken temple of the Ocean God Hydana.
The group later storms Xortan Throg's lair and fight him. He casts a Death Spell, only for the Crystal of Power to reflect it back at him and slay him for good. Alas, the fall of Xortan Throg led to the rise of a considerably direr threat, the return of Sargon the Black, who resurrected after touching the Crystal of Power. It now appears that Sargon is the evil high priest of Elim, the Primal Deity of Destruction, and wants to destroy Titan.
Sargon wastes no time in restarting his evil cult, recruiting his first adepts among the corrupt and easily swayed people of Blacksand, and further establish his power base. In the second book Blacksand, Nagrin, his High Priest in Port Blacksand, followed his orders and scammed money from the wealthy merchant Brass (former owner of the Eye of the Basilisk diamond from Midnight Rogue), and summoned a demon to kill him after he knew too much.
The group of adventurers start investigating and enter Port Blacksand. There, they strike a deal with Rannik the Red, the honourable lieutenant of the Guild of Thieves, and with his help they unveil Sargon's plot to animate a giant Brass Golem. They kill the Elimite Priests and destroy the Golem as it rampages through the streets.
Azzur first put a bounty on the adventurers' head, initially believing them responsible of this debacle, but retracts himself and leaves them be upon learning the truth.
In the third book Allansia, Sargon raises a huge army and spreads plagues in the land, but Yaztromo tasks the adventurers to put an end to his threat. They strike an alliance with an army of goblins, and the primal populations of the city of Kaad, destroying Sargon's forces and defeating the evil priest, but his final fate remains uncertain.