|“||The blackness could have been drawn with a compass. The boundary was as sharp as a penstroke. Charred skeletons lay within the black. Swordblades and spearheads looked like wax imitations left too long in the sun. I caught One-Eye staring. "When you can do this trick you'll scare me." "If I could do that I'd scare myself".||”|
–Croaker and One-Eye witnessing the Limper's sorcery, Raven, chapter 2, The Black Company
Abilities and limitations Edit
The full range of magic capabilities is never detailed in the Annals, even during the Book of Lady, although a very wide variety of spells and powers are observed. Powerful sorcery includes: "sendings" that kill outright; summonings that bring terrible creatures over from the demon worlds; spells that can prolong lifespans and heal terrible wounds; glamours that make someone appear to be a different person or altogether invisible; and, difficult shape-changing spells (and corresponding "release" spells) which genuinely transform a person's body into an entirely different shape.
The maximum extent of talent is inherent in the individual, for example: minor wizards like Goblin and One-Eye could never immediately summon the level of power at the disposal of a mighty sorceress like the Lady. Wizardry is limited primarily by the magnitude (innate power) of the caster, their inventiveness and training, and how long they have to prepare the spell. Even a relatively minor wizard like One-Eye was able to, given enough time, forge a weapon that was capable of wounding the demigoddess, Kina. A mighty sorcerer like the Dominator might have been able to forge such a weapon in weeks or perhaps even days, instead of it becoming the obsession of many years.
Word, gesture, or sometimes both, are required for the casting of apparently all spells. Words in the form of singing also apply: Raker began singing a spell to protect himself from his killers in The Black Company. Lady reflects that strangulation is one of the most effective ways to kill a wizard since it precludes the possibility of them vocalizing a spell. And, even the powerful practitioners Limper and Whisper are fully neutralized when Croaker and Raven gag them and bind their fingers in the Forest of Cloud.
However, it is possible to use magic by binding it to objects or ones body. For example, Longshadow keeps a trump card in the form of a Shadow, bound into one of his fingernails after being cornered towards the end of She Is The Darkness. Although he is unsuccessful in escaping he wounds Soulcatcher and severely injures Howler in the process. Equally, Goblin successfully tricks Soulcatcher during Water Sleeps resulting in her loosing one of her feet after falling for a magical, pyrotechnic trap.
Lady summarised this as follows:
|“||Strangling a sorcerer is a good way of disposing of him. One of Spinner's magnitude relies heavily on voice spells and, secondarily, gesture spells. Stick him with a knife or sword or missile and he can still use both voice and hands unless you kill him instantly. A Narayan could take away the voice. Assuming he could break a neck as fast as he claimed, gestures would not matter.||”|
The "release spells" used to bring a shape-shifted person back to their original form are described in She Is The Darkness as having "terms" and "postulates". These geometrical descriptors presumably apply to other types of complex spells.
True name Edit
The most significant limitation faced by all wizards is their own true name. Anyone who knows the true name of a wizard can render their spells powerless. An arrow inscribed with a wizard's name can pierce through complex protective spells to deliver genuinely dangerous wounds, whereas a normal weapon would be ineffective. And, most importantly of all, there is even a simple ritual that an enemy can perform which utterly strips away a wizard's innate magical talent forever. This ritual can be performed by a insignificant wizard against a sorcerer of god-like power. The final portion of the ritual simply involves invoking the target's full name within earshot of the target.
Life extension and immortality Edit
Perhaps the most remarkable power attributed to magic in the Black Company series is the extended lifespan of even some minor of wizards. One-Eye, a minor "hedge wizard", apparently passed the two-hundred-year mark before the end of the Annals. Goblin, another wizard of comparable strength, was younger than One-Eye but not by much.
Very powerful wizards seem capable of genuine immortality. The Lady seemed to think that living forever was a realistic goal for her when she was in the fullness of her power. Still older was the Howler, who was "ages" older than the Lady. The Master was another extremely ancient sorcerer who antedated the Lady and the Dominator. He was an immobile, obese glutton who lived uninterrupted for centuries. Longshadow is also apparently very ancient, although details are lacking. Despite the mystery of his origins, and even though his powers were not of particularly high magnitude, he survived enough to: rise to power in his unspecified native world; be exiled from there; conquer Hsien; be exiled from there as well; and conquer the Shadowlands in the homeworld.
Extreme durability and vitality Edit
For the most powerful practitioners, advanced magic provides far more than simply an extended life-span. Some are so well protected by their spells, that they can survive a wide variety of otherwise lethal wounds. A few of the more noteworthy ones are as follows:
- the Hanged Man survived the bite of the noose (albeit with lasting, gruesome wounds);
- Soulcatcher not only survived decapitation, but was able to control her body below the neck, and later reconnected her head to it;
- the Limper survived numerous different kinds of horrendous attacks that would have killed a normal person countless times over. This includes being buried by a collapsing building, brutally hacked to pieces, outright decapitation and even the destruction of his body below the neck.
- Howler survives crashing into the Tower at Charm and subsequently falling dozens of feet. He also was capable of preserving his body despite being frozen solid in the Charandaprash Mountains after being betrayed by Soulcatcher in She Is The Darkness.