"Ranger Applicant number 13, your turn is up," said the proctor over the intercom.
"Whoohoo! Finally!" said a black haired boy with green eyes.
He was the youngest applicant to the Pokémon Ranger Academy. At age ten, most kids would be out getting their first partners and traveling the world for their gym badges.
"Applicant Sora Hoshino. Capture this Pikachu with only the practice styler," said the proctor.
"Yes sir!" said Sora with a big grin.
He took the styler and looped it around Pikachu rapidly, not allowing it to break the line.
"Capture successful," said the proctor.
His partner looked at the test scores for the written exam.
"You have the highest score of the applicants this year, and you performed perfectly. The only concern I have is about your age, but we'll keep it under advisement for now. Sora Hoshino, Pass," said the other proctor.
Sora sat in the Academy, the youngest person there. Everyone else was in their teens already.
"Hi, I'm Amy from Petalburg."
"Sora, from Viridian Forest."
"It's where Professor Oak found me anyway. I've always wanted to be a Ranger since I saw the bond the first one I ever met had with his partner."
"So who do you want for your partner Pokémon?" asked Amy.
"Something that can fly, possibly. I love the sky and the feeling of wind when you fly on a Pokémon," said Sora.
"I bet!" laughed Amy.
"Hi, I'm Rory and this is Micky," said the boy next to him.
"Ahem! If you could all pay attention to the board," said the teacher loudly.
"Sorry!" chimed the group.
"So Sora, as the youngest of the new recruits, it is my duty to inform you of a long standing tradition here at Ranger Academy!" said Rory.
"The test of courage of course!"
Rory gleefully explained about the spooky basement of the Academy, and how every year, the recruits had to go down there one by one to the room below. And as the youngest, Sora had been selected to go first...but he couldn't tell the others what was really down there.
Sora had never been afraid of the dark, in fact he preferred it, having taken up star gazing when he had the chance along with some of the wild Pokémon in the forest Oak had found him in.
(Oak had even taught him how to read and then gifted the boy with books on the stars and their myths, one of his prized possessions.)
Sora waited until nightfall, when the teachers were outside patrolling. Very few were willing to risk their potential careers for being caught out of bounds too many times.
Creeping down the stairs, Sora hit the flashlight and found himself face to face with a low-level Ghastly. Ghosts had never bothered him before, in fact he often found their pranks funny. A few quick loops of the styler and it left him alone for the most part. Seeing a light at the far end of the basement, Sora snuck up to the spot and left the rock where he had been instructed and started making his way back up to the dorms.
He was so intent on being quiet he didn't notice a second Ghastly moving a cord from an old fan to where his feet would trip over it. The resulting crash drew the attention of whoever was inside the room, and he quit disguising his presence. He released the first ghost Pokémon as soon as he reached the stairs, as he didn't want to give away who had been down there.
He didn't see the teacher look out, see the rock and shake his head.
"Remind me to tell Rory that next time they have their little 'test of courage' to warn the participants to watch out for the second Ghastly," said Professor Mark.
"Yes Professor," replied his assistant.
It was well known among the staff that the first and second years had their yearly test of courage in the dark basement...that was why the teachers 'patrolled' their classrooms or outside so the recruits could have their fun.
Better to get it out of their system early than to deal with it later when they were performing sensitive experiments.
"Well Sora, you passed but the teacher wanted me to remind you that you should have been looking out for that second Ghastly," said Rory all too cheerfully at breakfast.
"Wait, he knew?"
"Yup. The professor doesn't do any sensitive experiments until the 'test of courage' is considered over with, and the teachers don't bother to patrol that area until the second month."
"Still, he did commend you on being quiet. If you hadn't tripped on the fan he wouldn't have known someone had come down there with the rock."
"Ghastly picked up the cord," explained Sora.
"Still, you were better than most. Professor Mark said that half the time the recruits make enough racket for a rampaging Tauros herd."
Sora snorted in amusement at the idea, and went back to his homework for the week.
It was the bane of all Rangers, whether they had passed the final test or not, that they had to fill out reports.
Trainers never had to do such things unless it was to fill out damage claims, and even then half the time they were made to fix whatever they had broken.
"Did you hear? One of the senior Rangers at the Union is going to take the three of the top students on a field trip!" said Amy.
"I heard that he takes only certain people with him, depending on the teacher's reports," said Sora.
"So? Either way it means that the lucky few could possibly find their partner early!"
"Yes, but school rules state that Pokémon aren't allowed on school grounds unless they are the ones already here. It would have to stay outside the fence the entire time, and we aren't allowed out except with a teacher," Sora reminded the bubbly fourteen-year-old. She deflated, then cheered up.
"I'm sure the teachers could make an exception," she said.
"Actually, there is one exception, and that's for baby or really young Pokémon who have attached to you as a surrogate parent. But they aren't allowed in dorms," said Rory. As a third year, he knew the most.
"But I bet there's a room where you can visit and feed it without making the other students jealous," said Sora knowingly.
"Yup. It's considered a punishment to keep it clean," said Rory.
One that was almost never used, as most of the less pleasant people who tried to become Rangers tended to get weeded out within a month or two of training. The Ranger union was one of the few that didn't have abrasive personalities in it, as they rarely let someone who treated Pokémon as things or tools to carry a capture styler. Sure, there were a few that didn't get along with people or had less than friendly personalities, but they did their jobs and treated Pokémon as friends, which was all the Rangers asked for.
"Anyway, all first years get to do a pop quiz later...the reward is a surprise," said Rory mysteriously.
Sora had an idea of what he meant. Fortunately the 'pop quiz' wasn't until noon, and that was two hours away. He grabbed his bag and went outside before class started in an hour.
As he picked a leaf off a tree, he started to play a simple tune. He found that grass whistles tended to bring wild Pokémon to you, and that the sound of the leaf was soothing enough that sometimes he didn't even need a capture styler to sooth an angry Pokémon down.
It was a way to calm his nerves and make new friends.
"Eh? You hear something?" asked one of the visiting Rangers.
"That's just Sora. Youngest ranger in the school, yet he has this way that calms down Pokémon without a styler," said Professor Mark.
"Kid has a way with the leaf whistle. Calms them right down."
"How old is he?"
The visiting Ranger stared.
"Ten? Don't kids his age usually start their journeys for gym badges?"
"He had a letter of recommendation from Oak. According to Sora, he wanted to keep his options open and didn't want any of the usual starter Pokémon, so he decided to try for Ranger school first."
"How good is he?"
"In the top of his class. You know that old test of courage down in the basement? He went down first, and I didn't even know he was there until the second Ghastly tripped him with an old fan cord."
"Not bad for a ten-year-old."
"Yeah, and the Zigzagoon love him. Kid gets along with all sorts of Pokémon."
"Hmm...might be interesting to see how he does in my 'pop quiz' later."
"Alright kiddies! This here is Ranger Daniel, and he has a special treat for you! A pop quiz!" said Professor Mark. All the students groaned good naturedly.
Professor Mark handed out a single sheet of paper, and they had a ten minute time limit to finish. Sora, who glanced at the paper, was done in five. Amy was done in seven.
"I'll have the results up tomorrow, and the top five get to go on a mission with Ranger Daniel to the Grasslands," said Mark.
Hearing the first years cheer at the idea, Daniel grinned.
Just by glancing at Sora's paper, he already knew the boy would likely get one of the coveted spots. Besides, he had to make an assessment of the kid's personality for a report to the Union. It was rare for someone as young as ten to make it this far.
"Alright kiddies. Now today's mission is to find the mystery Pokémon that's been pranking trainers into walking into solid rock. They haven't been harmed, but some of the more cocky trainers have begun to organize a party to deal with the nuisance. Our job is to figure out what's doing it, and if possible find out why. Now, because none of you have a partner just yet, you're only allowed to capture two wild Pokémon. If it breaks, you have to wait back at the vehicle."
There was a reason why the Union sponsored these rare trips outside the Academy. Occasionally they picked up a prodigy ranger who would rise through the ranks in a relatively short time, and these trips tended to weed them out for an early graduation.
It also gave the new students their first glimpse at what being a real ranger was like outside the classroom.
They paired up, investigating the area. Sora, because he was the youngest one there, was stuck with Ranger Daniel as a precaution.
He didn't mind, as Daniel answered any questions he had about partner Pokémon and more. He seemed to find Sora's interest in the subject quite amusing.
About an hour later they returned to the vehicle, some with a Pokémon or two with them that they released as soon as Daniel returned with Sora.
A chorus of 'no' came back to him and he sighed. Then he spotted something worrying.
"Hold on a minute kids."
Ranger Daniel went to speak with a rather large group of angry trainers who were there to deal with the nuisance. They heard some shouting, and eventually he came back looking rather upset.
"It seems someone had the bright idea to capture or take out the Pokémon responsible. I don't understand why, as the incidents were all rather minor pranks..."
Sora, having looked at the incident reports, spoke up.
"One of the trainers in question was from a rich family. He probably took a good deal of offense to the prank and wanted some revenge."
Everyone looked at him.
"What? I read the incident report on the boat ride over. Looking at the sea for two hours isn't that fun," he said defensively.
"You may be right. In any event we need to solve this quickly before it escalates. What areas have you all checked?"
Once they had a good portion of areas cleared, Daniel had them lead the trainers into those areas to give them some breathing room.
As long as they were away from whatever was doing this, the Pokémon might be able to escape safely.
Sora went past a bramble patch when he spotted it. A tiny Pokémon with light black and bright red coloring.
'If I remember right, that Pokémon is a Zorua...'
He watched as it played in the grass and tried not to gasp in shock when a Zoroark appeared and picked it up. Suddenly the incidents made more sense.
Zoroark were notorious for being able to use illusions, so making humans walk into a rock wall would be easy for them. Judging by the looks it was sending his direction, this one had bad experiences with humans and simply wanted to keep them away from the baby.
Those trainers must have come too close to the nest.
Mystery solved, Sora went to tell Daniel what really happened when the Zorua bounced out of the older Pokémon's mane and bounded up to him, having caught his scent by an ill timed wind.
Zoroark saw him, and Sora made sure to keep his movements slow and out in the open to avoid a confrontation. He gently patted the tiny fox, who barked once before returning to it's mother. He slowly backed away, and it ran off with Zorua.
"So it was a Zoroark? That explains a lot."
"Yeah, I'm guessing those trainers came too close to the nest, and Zoroark decided to warn them off by making them walk into the cliff. It looked like it had bad experiences with trainers before, which was why I was careful to keep all my movements in the open and very slow. I'm guessing it's dealt with Rangers before, and knows they aren't a threat," said Sora.
"Good work Sora. In the meantime, I have to write up a few citations for those trainers who were tearing up the forest. Go wait on the boat with the others while I have a talk with them."
Daniel came back ten minutes later looking rather cross.
"That rich one didn't get the point. We may have to relocate the Pokémon to protect them."
All five trainees winced. Relocation was considered a last resort, as it took time for Pokémon to become comfortable in new locations. The only other option in those cases was to report the location and let trainers come to put them in their team until the area could be healed by either nature or an expensive landscaping team to come in and fix the problem.
And generally it was the Ranger union that did the paying for the team to fix it.