Pacts

What is the price of power?   How far are you willing to go?   How much are you willing to change?
  Pacts are contracts between mortals and monsters, an exchange of power or favor to be marked in the core of their being. They are primordial things, perhaps the magic ever woven, something inherent to the soul of both humans and the terrible entity with whom they barter for power. No matter how grand or small, every pact leaves an indelible mark on those who make them, like the threads of a tapestry being unwound and remade. To be Pacted means becoming different than they were, forever changed from their very core.   Whether that's a good or bad thing is a matter of perspective.  

Making a Deal

Well nobody wants to burn in hell
But everybody's got a soul to sell
When I was young my mama gave me some advice
She said, 'boy don't you know everybody's got a price?'
 
  Making a pact can be as easy as finding the right creature and making the right offer. In reality, it is often much more complicated. While every magical creature seems to possess the ability to form such an agreement with mortals, many have no desire to do so. Magi must often convince, cajole, or even coerce spirits and monsters to the negotiation table, where the real test can begin. The process is part bartering, part duel of wits and will, and part magical ritual.  
The same quirk of magic that allows pacts to be bound in the first place also prevents them from being coerced. As with many things with magic, intent and will to change reality matters more than spoken words.
 
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by Rawpixel.com (Freepik)
Before any of that can take place, a monster must be found and convinced to talk. In the Shadow or Prime, Magi often perform rites of summoning. Others, more elusive entities must be tracked down to the dark corners of the earth - or beyond. For the most powerful pacts, magi must venture into the Beyond and seek gods or devils in their own homes.  
Such journeys are trials in themselves, forming the first step of the pact.
  Assuming the magi has found the appropriate entity and survived the encounter, terms are negotiated. Despite depictions in popular media, these are typically straightforward, to the point things rather than long documents shrouded in legalese, designed to trick the unwary and foolish.
  More often than not, it's a matter how what and how much, when and how often, duration and conditions. Exactly what the spirit wants depends on its nature, ranging from regular sacrifice to specific acts. Demons always deal in human souls, piecing them up like loose change, while vampires will almost certainly demand a tribute of blood.   Even the most treacherous spirit, once bound by the pact, will abide by its terms. More often than not, it is the human part of the deal that reneges on the arrangement.  
Before terms are sealed is another matter entirely. Many monsters have it in their nature to trick, trial, deceive or even devour those who challenge it, and while the terms are always straightforward, the conversation can be anything but.
  Once agreement is reached, the entity imparts a piece of itself within the mortal. For most, the transaction is never noticed, but powerful creatures sometimes leave physical marks on their favored mortal. These can take the shape of anything from sprawling and intricate tattoos or elaborate scarification to small physical changes such as changed eyes, hair color, or stranger mutations still. No matter its shape, they brand the magi as touched by a great power.   For some, the change is more subtle. Those who make pacts with vampires might find themselves growing pale, or grow to dislike the touch of the sun, or any other number of small aberrations and quirks. Pacts are never without consequence.  

Empowered

Don't mess with me, I've got friends in low places.  
  Pact can offer many things, ranging from permanent to fleeting. Magi barter for raw magical power to fuel their rituals and spells, strange or blasphemous secrets to develop their art, artifacts, and a dozen things more, from grand to petty.    

Power

Magic requires power - sometimes, more than a human can muster in a lifetime. For a price, magi can find this power through the pact.   Spells and rituals cast with such borrowed power are often colored by the essence of its origin. A Vampiric pact-cast spell might leeches life from the world around it, while that of a storm-spirit might raise whipping winds and the rumble of thunder.   Such power is sometimes given as a physical token - a fang, a sealed contract, bottled lightning, or whatever else suitable for the entity in question. Some rites can only be cast with the aid of some specific essence

Knowledge

Even lesser spirits hold secrets mortals can only hope of understanding. To a creature of living fire, the essence of flame is more than just fuel, oxygen and heat, but the universe in microcosm.   To magi who wish to develop their magic, such secrets are more precious than gold. Such arcane knowledge has allowed a thousand kinds of magic to flourish in the shadows, and a thousand more wait to be discovered.   Other desire less esoteric secrets; the location of someone or something, history long since lost, or even details on some other monster, either to slay them or for another pact.
 
Some think such specific rites or styles of magic were invented by spirits and demons, hoping to lure more magi into dealing with them.
   

Service

Some magi bind spirits and monsters to act as muscle, assassins, or temporary servants. Such creatures often possess powers hard to match by mortals, magic or not, making them formidable assets.   Walkers often make pacts with minor spirits to act as guides when they travel into unknown parts of the Shadow, or any part of the Beyond.

Other

Gods and demons can do things that no one else can. Restore lost youth, impart new abilities, remake mortal flesh into new and improved shapes, among a hundred other esoteric things.   Through pacts, magi can become something different than human, both lesser and greater. They trade away pieces of humanity in exchange for power - or healing. Sometimes, there's little choice.
  The greatest pact, requiring the greatest price, is the gift of Immortality. Only few spirits possess the necessary power to turn a human into an immortal... Most of the time, with terrible consequences that they really should've seen coming.
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by Pixabay
 

From the Beyond

The Beyond is a realm of monsters and magic, of wonder and horror, far from the mortal world. Here, spirits, gods, and demons dwell among impossible, myth-shrouded lands. Getting there is difficult, and getting out can be even worse.   Almost all entities of power worth sealing a pact with lives in the Beyond, in castles made out of dreams and nightmares, in fear-shadowed forests of primordial glories, or among a thousand different hells.    
The Beyond
Geographic Location | Jul 3, 2021

The world beyond all other worlds, a place of wonder and horror in equal measure.

While rare, earth-bound spirits exist - usually locked away in forgotten places, waiting for some damnable fool to go poking around where they shouldn't.
 

The Martezi Family

Experts in Pacts, the Martezi is either a venerable line of knowledgable magi, a masterful scam, or maybe both, depending on who you ask. The Martezi barter their expertise in spirits and pacts to any who will pay their exorbitant prices, saving Magi the trouble of doing anything but pay two entities; the spirit, and the family.   Exactly what the Martezi do with their treasure trove is anyone's guess, and that guess is 'nothing good'.    
The Martezi Family
Ethnicity | Jul 8, 2021

Experts in dealing with demons, sealing pacts, and getting paid for it.

 

Familiars

A common pact to make is for a Familiar - spirits housed in stolen flesh. Anchored in a corpse prepared for it to inhabit, spirits that would normally struggle to remain in the Prime has a sanctuary. From there, they can serve the Magi who bound it.    
Familiars
Species | Jul 11, 2021

Spirits from the great Beyond, clad in stolen flesh and bound by arcane Pacts. Get yours spayed and neutered today.

   
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by Pixabay
Some pacts are one and done; payment is made and the boon is received. Others, more powerful pacts, bind the magi to make regular tribute to maintain it. Failure to do so usually results in whatever boon was granted being suddenly and violently withdrawn, as well as earning the animosity of an ageless, magical monster - and they're not particularly known to be forgiving.  

A Perspective On Pacts

"So, you'll help us kill those... Monsters?" Amelia said.   "No," the monster said, its broad smile revealing a maw of oversized, jagged hypodermic needles. "I will teach you to be a killer of monsters."  
— Excerpt from Shedim book that's possibly happening at some point
  Few magi can claim they've never made a pact. In the Shadow, they're often a fact of life - to survive, to learn, to thrive, one needs to make sacrifices. Some witches and warlocks owe their very magical awakening to pacts made as mortals on the cusp of understanding with some thing that went bump in the night. Others make them when there is no other choice; others still pursue dreams of ambition and glory. For most of occult society, pacts themselves aren't the problem, but the price.  
Of course, being marked by the brand of some genocidal god or patron spirit of murder isn't going to make you many friends, either.
 
If a price leads to immortal, destructive, or threatening behavior, that's when there's a problem. A pact that demands murder is a magi made dangerous and unstable, and that's when action is taken. So long as a magi can keep their hands clean, they're free to make as many pacts as they care to, though most mentors caution against the dangers. Relying on a power other than their own is a quick road to damnation, where one failed payment can make the whole house of cards collapse.   Despite their power, pacts can be exploited. Magi forced to miss payment suffer just as much as one who's reneged on their deal, or the essence they've taken into their soul has imparted some sort of weakness or flaw. Others are just personal, embarrassing, or salacious. For that reason, most magi keep the exact details of any pacts they bind themselves to secret.  
In polite occult society, asking about someone's pact is considered a considerable breach of etiquette.
  Most adopt an attitude of just not talking about it, at least in public. Behind closed doors, pacts are a frequent topic, from those looking to learn more to bind one, to those who need help making payment, and everything in between.   Other than that, pacts are an accepted, if hidden, part of magical life. Sooner or later, everyone needs a helping hand, and aren't in any position to turn it down just because it's got claws.
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by Unsplash (Jaroslav Devia)
  Of course, some people just can't leave it alone.  

Anti-Pact Sentiment

You've invited something unclean into your soul and befouled us all with it. I'm going to burn it out of you.
  Some groups or individual magi take a hard stance against pacts, usually for spiritual reasons. To them, there's a reason there are no happy endings to Faustian bargain type of tales, and people who truck with monsters are a danger to everyone. Others worry about the purity of the human soul and essence, or a purity of their magical art, untainted by the influence of 'others'. No matter the argument, these types tend to be vocal about their opinion and sometimes more than happy to express them with violence.   Others oppose pacts from a more practical mindset. Who knows what the endgame for these monsters is? Who knows what they do with all the power and favors they're accumulating through the pact? No, better safe than sorry. Fear and uncertainty color their perspective on pacts, but they're less likely to force the issue at spell-point.  
A variant on the anti-pact type are those who oppose all pacts... Except one. Cults are especially prone to this one, even requiring new members to take a pact to whatever patron they have as part of their initiation, binding them to the cult even tighter.
  The other side of the coin are those who view pacts and the changes they bring as steps on a road to power. These opinions range from transhumanists looking to ascend beyond humanity, to those who seek to become monsters themselves. A rare few don't even care about what they get out of the pact, but seek them out to be changed by them to something else.  
To these magi, change is not something to fear, but something to embrace... The chance to become something greater.
 
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by Unsplash


Cover image: by Unsplash

Comments

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4 Jul, 2021 14:13

All the details you described made me want to make a pact more than fear it! If I have to give away my soul for being something cooler than a simple human, I take it!

Am I writing or procrastinating? Take a guess and visit my galaxy
6 Jul, 2021 07:40

Heck yeah, transhumanism! :D   Sometimes, you don't even need to give away your soul!

4 Jul, 2021 19:32

Wow, this is so nicely detailed! While it might sound nice at times to be something other than human, to be something greater, i feel like that would be a trap in of itself, trying to change what we are, to become what we are not. Great article! :)

~TimeBender~Check out my Shipwright Challenge Entry: New Beginnings
4 Jul, 2021 21:21

A very in-depth article that gives the impression of a nicely fleshed-out world. The beautiful imagery heightens the experience of reading it. Can you make a pact with a fellow magi? Are there ways of 'cheating a pact', and if so, how is it enforced? What are the rules and rituals involved in creating a pact? Are there services that find magical beings that would be a good match for you? A deeply pondered piece of work, well done!

6 Jul, 2021 07:43

Thank you! :D   And you can't, only critters and creatures. Pacts tend toe be pretty straight-forward, so they're hard to really wiggle away from. And the enforcement is just that whatever you got is taken away if you fail to make payment.

Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
5 Jul, 2021 10:13

Great article! The society you've created seems really amazing and I love how you always tie back your articles to their cultural impacts.   Now you 'm wondering what is a soul exactly and if people can function without them or what would be the effects of doing that after selling it... Or do the demons only get them after the human death?   Seems like it's a world rip for serial killer/kidnappers. I' m even surprised it's not a full on dystopia with people kept as slave until they can be used in a pact. Or would the creatures not appreciate that?

6 Jul, 2021 07:45

Thank you! :D   I'll definitely write about Souls - and demons - eventually. As a teaser/spoiler: People don't really know much about them, as demons seem to be the only creatures capable of manipulating 'soul-stuff' - even dividing your souls into fragments, so you don't have to pay with the whole thing!   Mages and witches are very, very rare is the main reason. There's not a lot of 'em going around in the world, and they stay hidden. But there's definitely some among them who have absolutely no morals about where the payment comes from. Vampire wants some blood for a pact? Well, plenty of people have blood...   Thanks again :D

5 Jul, 2021 18:43

Beautiful article! I love the unique twist on the prompt!

Reading Circle Temple Because magic isn't just fiction
6 Jul, 2021 22:45

I love all the detail into people's differing opinions on Pacts, particularly that they're kind of a fact of life if you're a Magi. Really great article, though I had to read most of it with a cat bum in my face. :D

7 Jul, 2021 06:58

Your familiar! :D   Yeah, they're just kinda part and parcel. They're a good way to get things done, to find things out, and to develop your magical skill. And not all of them wants to eat your soul!

17 Jul, 2021 15:07

Ooooh. I am loving all the possible story threads you have left in this article. Well done. And ominous. Perfect.

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
20 Jul, 2021 12:23

An excellent write-up on something that crops up in a lot of fiction where it usually has much less detail.   Also, “Excerpt from Shedim book that's possibly happening at some point”, you say?

Drake's Dozen | Magic and Innovation and Identity, oh my.

12 Aug, 2021 07:38

Thank you :D   And probably possibly maybe! ...Hopefully

11 Aug, 2021 22:02

Great article and well thought out! I like how it is much more straightforward instead of long contracts and that it is often the humans who want to get out of it.   The different uses for pacts were also interesting, especially the immortality, which of course has a high price :p   "Don't mess with me, I've got friends in low places." was really a great quote :p

Feel free to check out My Ship entry if you want to see what I am up to!
12 Aug, 2021 07:38

Thank you! :D   Yeah, I wanted to do something different than the usual 'big scary contract' :D