The Shinozaki were never a large family, always too busy attending to their duties to be bothered to marry and have many children, or to adopt new members into the family. Shinozaki Mitsuo, the patriarch of the family in its last generation, tried his best to give his wife Kazumi a large family. They had three sons and a daughter before Kazumi tragically died of an unknown illness in the year 1116.
Goro, the eldest, was always a troublemaker, running around town with his friends and causing mischief. Hoitsu, an old and fat merchant, was a favorite target for his cruelty. Eventually his father, tired of hearing Hoitsu's angry complaints, decided that Goro would be sent off to train in the Crane military, to study the ways of the Daidoji Harriers, a fearsome elite group of rangers trained in the arts of stealth and sabotage. At the Harrier school Goro's behavior only worsened. The Harriers, by tradition, did not care about honor, as long as the job got done. He, like all his classmates, believed that he was beyond the concept of honor. With his new Harrier friends, he spent many a night gambling, drinking, and even, it is my shame to say, visiting houses of prostitution. Alas, at these dens of ill repute Goro's eyes were opened to a new kind of woman, so unlike the gentle, humble girls of his home. Night after night he visited these blossom-scented girls with lavish wardrobes and intricate hair, and he found that he could not easily resist the charms of a beautiful woman of the night. Yet despite his shameful behavior, I cannot fault his martial skill, for he was one of the top students in his class.
Natsu, the middle brother, had all the honor his older brother did not possess. Natsu was constantly looked down on as a child by the other samurai children in the village, those whose lineages were more glorious, whose parents possessed more status. He swore that he would uphold his family's honor (for he was ashamed of his brother too), and, when the time came for him to choose his path in life and serve his Clan as an adult, he chose to attend the prestigious Kakita school, to master the fine arts of the samurai and become expert at the duelist's art. Even at the Kakita Academy, however, he could not escape his rural upbringing. Poor Natsu was the constant target of derision and mockery from arrogant noble samurai, but he learned to focus past it, and to excel in the art of swordsmanship. He would show those boys up someday. In his heart he always knew that his destiny was to bring great glory to the Shinozaki name.
Their sister Itsuko was always said to have been extremely beautiful. Her mother composed a poem for her on her 9th birthday, comparing her to a peach blossom about to reach full bloom. The text of the poem is lost to time, however. In any event, it is clear that Itsuko was the most beautiful girl in the village. In her teenaged years, all the other girls would gather around her, and everyone wanted to be her friend. She always wished for more, though, and, like her brother Natsu, resented her family's low social position. In her fourteenth year, a passing diplomat from the Scorpion Clan came to visit the city. Peering through the crowds of curious onlookers, Itsuko admired the woman's exotic beauty, her fine kimono with its unusual and sensual style, her elegantly arranged hair, and the way her finely crafted mask accentuated her beautiful features. Itsuko dreamed about running away and joining the Scorpion Clan from that day onwards, reading sensationalist novels about the adventures of Scorpion courtesans and their tumultuous world of romance, intrigue, and beauty. When, as part of a treaty between the Scorpion and the Crane, the opportunity arose for her to study at the Bayushi Courtier School, she begged her father for the chance to go. He could not deny his precious flower her dearest desire, so he let her go off to the north. Although her skills in the arts of the courtier were undeniable, studying with such a manipulative family only encouraged her vanity, and the thought of returning to her provincial lifestyle was distasteful to her now.
Itsuki, the youngest brother, was a bright, pure child. He grew up most of his life without a mother, but the love of the rest of his family more than made up for that, and so did the love of the rest of the town. No one disliked Itsuki. Other children always wanted him to play with them, and adults always loved to see his smile. His closest friends in the village, apart from his family, were the monk that watched over the local shrine, and the little boy that was in the monk's care. All the other children shunned the boy, for he was different from them, and it was said that his soul had done something unforgivable in a past life to be punished so. But Itsuki befriended the boy, and even managed to get some of the other children to join in their games sometimes. Even the kami loved Itsuki, for it was clear even as a child that he was blessed with the gift of understanding spirits. When he came of age, he went off to the Asahina Shugenja School, where he would further his understanding of the spirit world. Away from home for the first time, Itsuki kept the monk's teachings and the love of his family in his heart.
There were two other members of the Shinozaki family, once ronin who had sworn fealty to the family when it was offered to them, for at the time Mitsuo needed someone to help defend his farmers against a rough season of bandit raids. They served their duty commendably, but never discussed their pasts, and Mitsuo never pressed them. Bairei was one, a rough, scarred man who kept to himself, but everyone knew that he was loyal to Mitsuo, for Mitsuo offered him hope when his life seemed to have none. But the other, Nao, is more important to our story. She was a strong but kind woman, marked with a distinctive scar across her face. When Kazumi died she helped Mitsuo look after his children, as if she were their mother. She had nothing but love and support for the Shinozaki family, and nothing but steel for those who would hurt them.