Despite its near-artic locale, the island is a literal hotbed of volcanic activity; its central peak spews forth a constant plume of sulfuric gas and smoke, lighting the evening sky around the land with a steady crimson glow. It is a contradictory place; obsidian glass darkens the beaches of a coastline warmed by undersea hotsprings. Fierce forests have grown and thrived on the island, a contrast to other areas made desolate by destructive rivers of magma. It is both beautiful and dangerous, a place harsh and filled with daily risk in spite of its picturesque scenery.
So why, then, would these people choose the island as the center of Minotaur culture?
Understanding this requires an understanding the multi-layered aspects of modern Minotaur culture, an amalgamation of the different sub-races that have been forced together. Xenophobic by nature, the Minotaur had sought solitude from the other races long before the disappearance of the Eternals and the ravaging by the V'lalek. Unlike the other races, the Scattering - the period of time when the races fled before the hungering vampyri - served not to spread the Minotaur throughout the world, but to bring them together and define them as a single culture.
Your average Minotaur male stands somewhere between 6' and 7'-5", with weights ranging from 200lbs on upwards. They have thick manes of hair which often stretch down to their backs; some of the more cultured Minotaur males will often keep the mane tied in a thick ponytail, often braced by metal rings. Skin colorations vary among the various sub-groups.
Typically, the life-span of a healthy Minotaur will end around 70 years of age; a Minotaur comes of age at a very early 13 years, marking them for a life of exhausting exercises and constant training. Rare is the Minotaur who is not in the very best physical condition; those who are, are ridiculed and shunned by their peers as examples of sloth and gluttony.
Each Minotaur has a pair of horns atop their heads, with shape and size varied by groups. The female of the race have considerably smaller horns, and often decorate them with jewelry or plaits. The size and care of a male's horns is a status symbol among the people, with the larger and carefully polished ones marking the warrior as a mighty individual.
There are four sub-cultures of Minotaur people, based on the regions they had settled before the Scattering:
Northern MinotaurAlso called the Arctic Minotaur, these beast-men can be distinguished from their bretheren by the thick spiralling horns on either side of their heads. They tend to be slightly smaller and thinner than their southern cousins, with coloring ranging from pale yellow to grey to white. Their hides are thick and shaggy, acting as protection against the cold. What they lose in bulk, however, they make up for in dexterity and skill. The Arctic Minotaur love the mountains and hilltops, able to spring nimbly among the crags and crevices of their chilly tundras with surprising ease. Their wider hooves with a thicker, hair-covered base are ideal for skimming across icy surfaces, the underside of each hoof having a natural "pitting" which aids in keeping their balance. Expert fishermen and whalers, they share a deep respect for the ocean and its inhabitants. Omnivores, their diet consists mainly of fish (raw or cooked) and sea plants.
Southern MinotaurAmong the most common of the Minotaur people are those of the South, also called the Woodland Minotaur. They are the most sociable of the Minotaur classes, having lived close to other races for most of their existance. Their horns are thin, long and curved slightly upward at the tips. Their thin, sleek coats vary in color from browns and reds, to black and white, and mottled combinations in between. Unlike other Minotaur types they enjoy the wildness of the woodlands, preferring to hunt and fight rather than settle in one place. These Minotaur often hire themselves out as mercenaries, sellswords, or pirates, keeping themselves constantly on the move and exploring the world. Omnivores, they nevertheless have a strong preference for meat.
Eastern MinotaurThe most xenophobic of the Minotaur races, the Eastern Minotaur tend less towards social interaction and physical activity and more towards mental and spiritual pursuits. Their horns curve sharply downward alongside their heads, curling back just above the shoulders into a loop. These are the historians, the philosophers, the sages and priests; while wide-bodied and heavier than the Southern and Northern races, they revere intelligence and wisdom over physical strength. Their long, stringy coats tend towards dark greys and black, their somber coloring matching their aloof, almost elven demeanor. They are strict vegetarians.
Western MinotaurThe Western, or Plains Minotaur tend to shy away from largely-populated cities, preferring to live under the open sky of a flat plateau. They are very family-oriented, with clans living together in large communal clusters; decisions for the group are made by a patriarchial head. Comparison can be made to the human gypsy camps, such is the closed-circle mindset of these people. Large and thick-bodied, they are perhaps the strongest of the Minotaur races - and the slowest (some say in mentality, as well as of foot). They are fiercely loyal, however, and will band together to protect - or avenge - a clan member. Their horns are short and squat, curling up above the head. Their thick but short, curled coats can be found in shades of brown, black, and red, with the rare white-haired calf being doted upon as having been blessed by the gods. While omnivores, they prefer food of the earth over cooked flesh
Very few of the other races have taken the time to understand the Minotaur lifestyle, taking the easier route of seeing the stereotyped version of the "bull-headed Minotaur". They are seen as a war-like race, bent on wrathful destruction. In fact, the Minotaur are a militarized people, taking great pride in the defense of their homeland, their people, and their principles; they enjoy battle for a cause, not war for the sake of warring.
"In days gone by men bathed their blades
in the streaming gore of a foeman's wound.
But now a wretch of all honour bereft
reddens his dastard axe in whey."
This Minotaur prose exemplifies the view the people have on warfare. Battle, and war, is an art; it is to be taken seriously, your foe respected as an equal. Even in death your enemy is to be treated with respect, so long as they fought bravely and honorably.
Perhaps as an outgrowth of the extreme climates the people have traditionally made their homes in, the Minotaur begin preparing for their combative lifestyle at a very early age. The young are heavily encouraged to participate in sports and competition; wrestling, boxing, swimming, and running are popular games among even the smallest of Minotaur children. Surprisingly the emphasis isn't only on winning, but also on the methods involved in the winning. Gamesmanship, honor, and fair play are the basic tenets of every Minotaur game; cheating is condemned and quickly punished, while the use of creativity and cunning is rewarded. The games are designed to enforce discipline, willpower, fitness, and intelligence.
By the age of 13 years, both male and female Minotaur children are required to take their Rite of Passage into adulthood. The details have been kept a closely-guarded secret; what is known publicly is that the youth is sent into the darker recesses of the Labyrinth, alone and unarmored. A single, small weapon may be taken - but often this right is waived, with the youth wanting desperately to prove their worth without such accessories. The concept is simple: find the exit, emerge alive - and you have proven yourself no longer a child.
There is one aspect of Minotaur life that is often hidden under their gruff, blunt exterior; their love of puzzles, mysteries, and problem-solving. The Great Labyrinth, the incredible creation of Tiikor, was an outgrowth of this craving. Puzzles are an integral aspect of Minotaur philosophy; in their view, life itself is a giant labyrinth. A great Minotaur scholar once wrote: "The journey through one's lifepath is filled with intricate twists, turns and pitfalls, sometimes ending in dead ends, other times intersecting paths we've walked before. The goal is to find our center, that core being within ourselves that is everything we've been, and have yet to be." A simple child's puzzle toy is a spiritual teacher as well as a mental one, unlocking the potential of the child within.
And here, again, we see another lesser-known facet of their society - their spiritual side.
It's because of these underlying beliefs that the Minotaur strive to avoid a reincarnated state, using this current life as a metaphor for the spiritual struggle within. They purposefully pit themselves against the toughest obstacles and opponents, constantly testing their willpower and strength. They believe that a life without struggle is tantamount to a death sentence, leading to damnation in the Underworld.
The vast majority of the Minotaur race follow Krag, the God of Strength, as their patron. Believing that the concepts of "good" and "evil" are subjective, Krag's priests teach instead that a Minotaur strong in mind, in body, in virtue and in spirit will overcome any obstacle placed before him and find himself on the correct path to redemption. A small handful of Minotaur combine the teachings of Krag with those of the God of Destruction, Kosduul. These few believe that the Minotaur can only grow stronger by allowing the demon within to take root and grow; they encourage the reincarnated state, their followers comprised mainly of the honorless and seedier members of Minotaur society.
The fact is, the Minotaur believe in being honest and direct with their feelings; the idea of hiding emotions to spare another's feelings is an anathema to the people. While they understand the need for stealth when the situation calls for it, they look down on lies and deception with extreme disdain.
Honor and respect is integral to the Minotaur personality. You can disagree with their views, so long as you respect their beliefs. There is a near-hypocrasy taking place here, as the Minotaur will be quick to point out the flaws in an opposing view - often using colorful descriptions of their opinions against it. Once angered, it is nearly impossible to reason with them as they allow their emotions to take control - often resulting in a fight.
Magick is considered a tool of the weak-minded by the Minotaur, and most have a mistrust of it bordering on fanatical hatred. Clerical magick is respected (again, note the duality of the Minotaur mindset) as a gift from the Gods, and is used as a sign of homage. Mages as a whole, however, will often set a Minotaur into a rage simply by having the gall to approach them in conversation.
In odd contrast to their xenophobic nature, many Minotaur enjoy traveling the world in search of adventure. It is perhaps this free-spirited mentality that began their far-ranging forays into the corners of Illusia. It also a reasonable explanation for the eagerness with which many Minotaur are willing to join adventuring groups, seeking to fufill some primal urge to roam the world.