The Price of the Deal
There is always someone looking for the easy way of obtaining more pleasure, wealth or power. I always find it fascinating the lengths some will try just to achieve what they desire most. So some turn to making a deal to the devil. A deal with the devil, compact or pact with the devil is a cultural motif, best exemplified by the legend of Faust and the figure of Mephistopheles, but elemental to many Christian folktales. You know how it works. Want to be a millionaire, Take over the World, gain infinite power, or just to get back at that obnoxious Jerk? Well travel down to those crossroads and the demon will guarantee your wildest dreams, if you just sign on the dotted line with your own blood. This trope is Older than Steam, and does not even require the Abrahamic Devil; any trickster, demon, or evil deity roughly equivalent to Satan can be used.
According to traditional Christian belief about witchcraft, the pact is between a person and Satan or a lesser demon. The person offers his or her soul in exchange for diabolical favors. Those favors vary by the tale, but tend to include youth, knowledge, wealth, fame, and/or power.
It was also believed that some persons made this type of pact just as a sign of recognizing the devil as their master, in exchange for nothing. Nevertheless, the bargain is considered a dangerous one, as the price of the Fiend's service is the wagerer's soul. The tale may have a moralizing end, with eternal damnation for the foolhardy venturer. Conversely, it may have a comic twist, in which a wily peasant outwits the devil, characteristically on a technical point. The person making the pact sometimes tries to outwit the devil, but loses in the end (e.g., man sells his soul for eternal life because he will never die to pay his end of the bargain. Immune to the death penalty, he commits murder, but is sentenced to life in prison).
This story includes both literal Magically Binding Contracts with a literal devil-like figure, and crooked deals between any corrupt exploiter (the Mephistopheles role) and a desperate pawn (the Faust role). The exploiter can be offering anything from the wealth of the world, making a high school nerd popular, to saving your life moments before death. Sometimes it has no practical value whatsoever. But whatever the service, whatever the offer, when making this kind of deal, nothing comes without a price. This price can be anything — the Faust's soul, their conscience, their firstborn, their loved ones, their voice, their eternal servitude, or even something that seems completely innocent — but whatever the price, it's something that will render the Faust a lot worse off when it is paid, if not bring them to complete ruin.
Note that actual devils will always follow through with their end, even if their end is a sinister bastardization of the terms. Thus always remember to Read the Fine Print and have an experience in law with you if you try to do this. We never see Mephistopheles simply take the soul and run like an amateur scammer; he gave his word, narrated the fine print, put his name on the dotted line and made the wish come true.
“Dr. Johann Georg Faust was an itinerant alchemist, astrologer and magician of the German Renaissance. His life became the nucleus of the popular tale of Doctor Faust from ca. the 1580s, notably culminating in Marlowe’s The Tragically History of Doctor Faustus (1604) and Goethe’s Faust (1808). Legend has it that Faust wanted a life of pleasure and having been involved with the occult learned how to summon the devil. So he made a deal with him for his soul in return for 24 years of service from Satan. Unfortunately, after 16 years he regretted his deal and wanted to withdraw it. The consequences of this attempt to withdraw the deal are well known to any who have read the various fictional tales of Faust’s life: the devil brutally murdered him.”