Kuja called them black mages, dark spawn of the Mist.
Black mages are autonomous, man-sized magician dolls mass-produced as weapons of war by Queen Brahne of Alexandria due to Kuja's influence. Final Fantasy IX is the only game that has black mages as a distinct race, rather than a job.
Black mages' faces are dark with two glowing eyes and they always wear the distinctive steepled hat.
Black mages are created from Mist to be the soulless magical arm of their master. They are similar to the Genomes in being artificially produced life organisms and Kuja teaches Queen Brahne how to manufacture them due to his knowledge on how Genomes are made. The Final Fantasy IX Ultimania explains that the black mages differ from the Genomes in that they are made out of Gaian elements, whereas Genomes are made out of Terran elements.
The black mages are being produced in the secret factory underground the village of Dali where the mages appear to be first produced as types of eggs. Finished products are stored in barrels and quietly shipped to Alexandria on a cargo ship.
Black mages are manufactured as a type of magical soldier capable of casting powerful Black Magic. Black mages come in three ever more powerful variants, called Type A, Type B, and Type C. Black mages are used, in tandem with human Alexandrian soldiers, by Queen Brahne as the grunt forces for Alexandria's invasions of Burmecia and Lindblum, and the destruction of Cleyra, as well as piloting the Alexandrian air and sea-ships, most notably when Queen Brahne attempts to kill Kuja at the Iifa Tree.
The black mages appear to be born without a will and mind of their own, and passively obey their masters' orders. It is unclear as to how aware they are of themselves and their surroundings at this initial stage, as when the party boards the cargo ship the black mages are unresponsive and keep going on about their work uninterrupted, ignoring the stowaways, and despite Vivi's best efforts, do not react to him. At this stage black mages appear as soulless dolls, incapable of speech. However, when the ship is attacked by a Black Waltz, the black mages react to the change and gather around Vivi to protect him.
The Black Waltz variant of black mages are different than the regular black mages in many ways. They appear "custom made" as opposed to mass-manufactured, and are cognizant from the get-go, capable of speech and acting out on their own without needing constant orders from their master. Once given a task, the Black Waltzes won't rest until having completed it. Their magical powers surpass those of the regular black mages. The party encounters three Black Waltzes during their travels and as the name "waltz" suggests there might never have been more than three.
The average black mage has a limited life expectancy of about one year. The reason for the limited life expectancy is unknown; it could be anything from a technical limitation, to a deliberate method taken to keep the mages from having enough time to become self-aware, like those of the Black Mage Village and Vivi have.
Vivi, one of the game's main characters, is a prototype black mage, and as such, has powers rivaling that of the Black Waltz "brothers" and possibly a longer life expectancy. Unlike the other black mages, Vivi has experienced a "childhood" in the care of the qu Quan, whom Vivi refers to as his "grandpa". This may have allowed him to develop his cognitive skills beyond those of other black mages. At the end of the game black mages identical to Vivi are seen in Alexandria, dubbed as Vivi's "sons", even if by that time the flow of Mist has been stopped. It is unknown who manufactured Vivi's children and how they did it without Mist.
The exact method of how a black mage individuates is unknown. Vivi remembers nothing of his birth, and his first memories are of living with Quan. The other black mages describe the moment of becoming conscious as an abrupt event, as if coming out of a daze.
We became aware one day, each under different circumstances. It was the same with me. I just woke up one day... ...and there was a human body lying next to me. His body was covered in blood. It scared me... I didn't know what it meant. I ran as fast as I could. When I looked around, I was far away from the front line. There were many others like me, and we decided to escape together.
- —Black Mage No. 288
After gaining awareness the black mages escape to the Outer Continent and set up a village. It appears that the black mages' true personality is similar to Vivi's: timid and gentle. In their village the black mages live simple, peaceful lives away from the wars they were built to fight in. The dwarves of neighboring Conde Petie refer to them affably as the "Pyntie-Hets".
The black mages, never having had someone to mentor and teach them like Vivi had with Quan, are naive and ignorant of the world. They don't, for example, really understand what death means, and after the mages started "stopping" due to reaching the end of their life expectancy, the others were confused and set up a cemetery but many still struggled grasping why their friends had "stopped" and why were they buried. The acceptance of death is something the black mages have to come to terms with, and Kuja manipulates the mages by exploiting this fear by telling them he knows how to expand their lifespan, and only a few stay behind.
The black mages realize Kuja had tricked them and return to their village. The Genomes from Terra, similar to the mages in many ways, move in the village as well and teaching them about the world seems to give new meaning to the mages. It appears that at least some of the black mages have come to terms with their existence and come to accept death as part of life, and that life's inevitable end doesn't make it meaningless.
...You're right, but I don't think we build cemeteries for the dead. Sure, it may seem pointless to you, but... How can I describe it? It's so that we can think like this: 'We'll never forget you. We'll remember you every time we stand at your grave. And we won't let the fear of death, which each of us knows, stop us from living our lives. ...Because my friends will remember me when I'm here.'
- —Black Mage No. 288
Different types of black mages are fought in the game as enemies. Type A are fought in Gizamaluke's Grotto and Burmecia, Type B are fought in Cleyra and Type C are fought in Alexandria. The Black Waltz variants are boss battles.
Vivi Ornitier is a black mage playable character. He can utilize Black Magic in battle and when paired with Steiner allows the latter to use Sword Magic. Vivi wields staves but his physical attacks are weak. In Trance he can cast two spells in one turn.
Type C black mage appears as an enemy in Pictlogica Final Fantasy.
Type A, Type B and Type C black mages appear in Final Fantasy Record Keeper.
- Some of the concept art for the black mages gives them more visible facial features than is seen in the final game. They are shown maniacally grinning with a wide mouth full of pointy teeth.