The man struggled mightily against his restraints. Eyes darting wildly in terror, bulging muscles straining in hopeless desperation, he could do nothing against the complex of knots wrapped about his body builder’s physique.
“Look how strong he is,” said the leader, adorned in his crimson robes. “He will make an excellent sacrifice to the mighty Jugann.”
The cultist to his right shook his head in annoyance. “I don’t know why you insist on using these dumb oxen, Xannath. Certainly their empty heads are too high a price for the power you so enjoy.”
“Bah! Enough with your scheming Sahamish. Jugann himself enjoyed feasting on such strong flesh. So then shall we.”
The man was lowered onto the heavy iron bars of a large brick grill, his attempts at screaming through the gag seeming pathetic to those surrounding him.
“We begin,” the leader’s voice boomed out. The others formed an unbroken circle and began chanting in unison as Xannath stepped forward, raising the ritual knife.
“We dedicate this sacrifice to Jugann, the great Feaster whose name is known to but a precious few.”
A quick flash of the blade left a raw wound in the victim’s side. As soon as the dripping blood touched the surface of the grill, Xannath stepped back with a grin.
The grill itself came to life. Blades flashed from within. Rope and skin flew from the side. Blood splattered about amid near-inhuman screams. Bones flew and the occasional organ splattered. And then the flames shot up, sending that most delicious mixture of smells, charcoal and fine pork, wafting into the air.
At the end, several perfectly cut and cooked chops lay on the cooling grill. After Xannath chose the finest piece, the other cultists set to with little ceremony as they savored the meal.
“You see, Sahamish,” Xannath said, exposing and flexing biceps that had grown in the last few minutes, “Jugann smiles upon us.”
Until it acquired the Altar, the small cult of Jugann survived many centuries by maintaining secrecy and limiting the number of sacrifices. The core tenants of the cult held that Jugann gained power through consuming the flesh of the strong. By emulating the demon, the cultists believed that they too could grow in strength and thereby gain favor.
The high priest before Xannath conceived of the idea for the grill as taking another step toward the way of Jugann. It was he who built the device, he who imbued it with the power to prepare the sacrifice and to transfer the attributes of the sacrificed to the consumers of the flesh.
After the grill was finished, Xannath turned on his predecessor and secretly ate him.
Xannath’s lust for power could not be controlled. He went after more and more powerful prey, becoming obsessed with the feeling of drawing another’s life force into his own. Eventually, his activities became too blatant to be kept secret and the cult was brought to heel.
Members who were able to flee did so, although most died under the executioner’s axe or the headsman’s noose. Xannath, drunk with power and believing in his own invincibility, went down under the combined might of a score of city guardsmen.
Though the authorities became aware that the cult was consuming its victims, they were never able to uncover the existence of the Altar. Thus it was that the abandoned Altar became a curiosity once discovered, with no knowledge of its powers or history. Only that it was excellent at cooking whatever was placed upon it. There are no arcane markings of any kind upon the Altar. It looks like an innocuous cooking device of brick and iron.
If an animal of any kind is placed upon the Altar and blood drips upon the bars, the Altar will dutifully dress, butcher, and cook the meat. Most who have used the Altar discover no more than that.
However, if a live animal of any sort is placed upon the Altar, an additional power comes into play: attributes of the animal will be transferred to whoever consumes the meat.
The altar does not distinguish between desirable and undesirable attributes. The amount and duration of the transfer can vary considerably.
- Cow: Added strength, “bull”-headedness, herd mentality.
- Fish: Ability to breathe underwater; unfortunately, breathing air becomes difficult.
- Human: Depends on the individual. This can be added strength with reduced intelligence or vice verse.
- Troll: Regeneration, difficulty speaking, susceptibility to fire
- Vampire: Sudden hunger for blood, allergy to sunlight