Author's Note: Here it is, guys: the last chapter. Thanks for reading along all this way and I hope you like the ending.
"Yes, it is I, Queen!" Hansen cried, reaching into the depths of his cloak and pulling out three Poke balls before lobbing them at the ground. "Shedinja, Ninjask! Your commander calls you for battle!"
The scabby, haloed form Shedinja floated serenely in the air, flanked by two Ninjask, beating their wings aggressively and darting about as though searching for something to stab.
Jason rushed in front of Sara, who was already being pulled back by Miranda and her other attendants, with his sword drawn. "Men!" he called out to the guards stationed at the entrance to the hall. "Seize him!"
"That won't work!" Hansen roared. "Ninjask! Shadow Ball!"
"We're not going to let you get away with that!" Ash declared. "Pikachu!" he said, turning down to his Pokemon who had long ago left the breakfast table to take up a battle stance by his side, "Thunderbolt!"
Pikachu gave a fierce nod and summoned up his electricity. "Piiii-kaaaa-chuuuu!" he screeched, sending the jolt directly toward the Ninjask, still building up energy for their attacks.
…And it might have worked if Shedinja hadn't flown in the path of the electricity and taken the attack harmlessly.
"No way!" Dawn exclaimed.
The Ninjask let out a cry and fired their Shadow Balls, not, as Ash had expected, at the guards making their way toward Hansen, but at the ceiling above them. The blast cut a hole through the roof and sent the overhanging architecture crashing down in front of the entrance, forming a makeshift blockade that the guards could not climb over.
"And now you can no longer escape," Colonel Hansen said, leveling a dangerous gaze at the queen.
"So what will you do now?" Sara asked, leaning over Jason's protective stance in front of her to face Hansen. "Your marionette has cut his ties from you and run off—any chance you had to claim the throne by proxy is gone; what do you have to gain by fighting?"
"Everything," Hansen answered. He narrowed his eyes at her. "You've improved much from the sixteen-year-old whelp who stole my throne away from me, but you're still a weak ruler. How else could I have gotten this close to usurping you once again? The Mirage Kingdom needs a strong hand to guide it, but you've let the priests get so strong that they control you and not the other way around. You have no right to call yourself Queen, so I will take your place."
"You wouldn't look as good in a tiara," Misty shouted mean-spiritedly at him.
Hansen gave her a fierce look, but quickly turned his attention back to the queen. "If you think these brats will help you win a second time then you're wrong. All I have to do is take you out, and then in the chaos the people will turn to the only one who can possibly steer this great kingdom… the exiled regent whose love of this country is second to none and whose power to crush all who oppose him is undeniable; the man who ruled this kingdom in all but name during the last few years of your father's reign. They will turn to me."
"You're insane!" Misty shouted, relieving Sara of the effort of answering this claim. "You really think we're going to let you hurt Sara?"
"Yeah," Ash said, pumping his fist. "If it's a battle you want then it's a battle you'll get. You're not going to hurt anyone anymore!"
"Big talk from a couple of brats," Hansen scoffed. "But can you three get past… my Shedinja?" he asked as the Pokemon floated in front of him.
"No problem," Dawn declared confidently. "A Top Coordinator, a Gym Leader, and a Champion-in-the-Making against just you? You don't stand a chance!"
"It's not going to be that easy," Ash admitted to Dawn, a bit put out that he was the only one of the three with a title that was still in progress. "His Shedinja's got Wonder Guard. Most attacks won't do a thing against it."
"That's right, boy," Hansen sneered. "You might as well not even bother—you'd only be wasting your energy."
"But," Ash added harshly, glaring at Hansen, "we've gotten through that before and we'll do it again, just like last time. Your Shedinja doesn't stand a chance against Misty's Gyarados!"
For a moment Colonel Hansen looked caught off guard, though, to be fair, so did Misty.
"Umm… Ash," Misty tried.
"Her Gyarados will flamethrower your Shedinja into submission just like last time," Ash taunted. "Isn't that right, Misty?"
"Uh… right," Misty said, her eyes cast downward and her fists clenched. Togetic flew around her looking vaguely concerned. "That's what I'd like to say," she muttered, "but Gyarados is back at the gym."
"What?" Ash exclaimed as Hansen grinned triumphantly.
"I don't know what you're acting so surprised about!" Misty hissed at him. "I told you Daisy was working with Gyarados for the next underwater ballet! Don't you listen to a word I say?"
"Well… I… I did but I just forgot," Ash replied sheepishly.
"It doesn't matter," Dawn cut across them. "We'll break through his guard anyway. I know just the attack and I know just the Pokemon."
"Oh, do you, little brat?" Hansen asked, turning to look at Dawn. "You and I haven't crossed paths before, but one brat is the same as another. Let's see what you think you can do."
"Togekiss!" Dawn called out, summoning the soaring Pokemon. "Let's protect the Mirage Kingdom! Use Sky Attack on Shedinja!"
"Kiss!" Togekiss trilled, her body glowing white as she flew toward Shedinja, leaving a trail of afterimages as she swooped.
"That's a flying type move," Ash observed hopefully. "If it makes contact then it can break through the guard!"
"'If' being the operative word," Hansen snarled, pointing outward toward his Pokemon. "Ninjask, both of you, Hyper Beam!"
"What?" Dawn said, caught by surprise.
"Kiss?" Togekiss murmured as the two fleet-winged Pokemon fazed into view on either side of her.
With the buzz of a thousand cicada-fueled famines the blasts fired, each hitting Togekiss dead on.
"Togekiss!" Dawn cried out, as the Pokemon crashed to the ground in trail of smoke. She ran toward her.
Pikachu's fur stood on end and he was ready to wreak rodent vengeance on his friend's attacker, but Togetic was quicker, barreling through the air like a tiny, rage-powered missile. The Ninjask it had been aiming for didn't even have to break a sweat to send it flying back the way it came with one slash.
"Togetic! I've got you!" Misty yelled, racing toward the place Togetic was falling and catching him in a move that would've made the Electabuzz team manager itch to recruit her. "Togetic are you alright?"
His tiny white form was bruised and battered. But when he looked up at her his black eyes radiated determination… as well as desperation.
Hansen laughed mockingly at Ash. "Two down and I haven't even gotten warmed up yet. What will you do now? Your Pikachu couldn't even hold his own against my Ninjask, let alone break through my Shedinja's defenses. Your fight is all but lost."
Ash ground his teeth together. Much as he hated to admit it, Hansen had a point. His Ninjask were fast, and very powerful—and they wouldn't even be able to touch them until they could take out Hansen's Shedinja. But with Wonder Guard in effect, none of Pikachu's moves could affect it at all. They might have had a chance with Togekiss, but… Ash looked over his shoulder were Dawn was crouched at the grounded Togekiss's side. It had taken two hyper beam blasts at once… there was no way it could fly, at least not now. And Togetic, spunk or not, was pretty banged up too.
Ash clenched his fist. "Maybe we are at a disadvantage, but quitting's not our style, right Pikachu?"
"Kaa!" Pikachu declared, electricity arcing from the pouches on his cheeks.
As the two were gearing up to fight, they hadn't notice the quiet conversation going on between Misty and her injured Togetic.
Misty closed her eyes and reached into her pocket. "We're in a tight spot…" she said, "I can give you an option, but…" she trailed off, gripping something in her fist, "…I can't make the decision for you."
"G-getic?" Togetic murmured, trying to get himself upright.
Misty opened her hand solemnly, revealing a gem that sparkled green and yellow and orange in the changing light. The shiny stone.
"Dawn," Ash called out, not taking his eyes off Hansen's hovering Pokemon. "How's Togekiss?"
"I think her wing's broken," Dawn answered, her voice wavering as she patted Togekiss's head. "Ash, I'm sorry, but she just can't—"
"I know," Ash said heavily. He turned to Pikachu. "Come on, buddy," he said. "Just you and me."
Before Ash could make his futile counter-strike against Hansen, a blinding white light drew everyone's attention away from the battlefield. Everyone turned to the source of the glow, right in front of Misty. When the glow faded it left…
The fleecy, elegant form of a Togekiss appeared from the blinding light, gliding confidently in mid-air.
"But that's—" Ash started, confused as he turned to Dawn's wounded Togekiss and then back to the Togekiss in front of Misty. He remembered the stone she'd uncertainly carried with her for so long. "Oh!"
"You can do it, Togekiss!" Misty called out to her newly evolved Pokemon.
Hansen snorted. "Another Togekiss? They may be protectors of this land—but it won't be any trouble for me to take out another one."
"Ash!" Misty called out to him.
"Right," Ash returned, nodding at Pikachu.
Misty's Togekiss swooped forward, his broader wings increasing his speed from his prior form. He dived toward Pikachu who deftly hopped on his back.
"You can do it guys!" Dawn cheered, as her Togekiss looked hopefully on at the battle.
"Togekiss, Sky Attack on Shedinja!" Misty commanded.
"The result will be the same!" Hansen predicted. "Ninjask—both of you—hit the Togekiss and Pikachu with Hyper Beam!"
The Ninjask's wings hummed ominously as they prepared their attack.
"Not this time!" Ash declared, stomping forward and twisting his hat around backwards. "Pikachu, Electro Ball times two!"
"What?" Hansen demanded.
Pikachu jumped off Togekiss's back as the flying Pokemon soared forward. It did a somersault in the air as it descended, lobbing one ball of pure electricity at the first Ninjask, still charging up, and then flipped again to send one toward the second.
"No!" Hansen shouted, as the balls of energy smacked into his Ninjask, covering them in clouds of smoke. The frantic buzzing of wing-beats had stopped.
But it wasn't over yet. Togekiss continued his arc forward, his whole body steaming with white energy as he plowed straight into the unguarded Shedinja.
"Kiiiiisss!" Togekiss trilled triumphantly, whipping around the falling carapace as it doubled back and caught Pikachu before he could hit the ground.
Hansen's Pokemon weren't so lucky. Their impact with the ground was punctuated by the sound of painfully cracking exoskeletons.
"No," Hansen said, softly, disbelievingly as he stared at his fainted, still-smoking Pokemon. "No!" he yelled louder. "The Mirage Kingdom was mine—mine! I was so close to reclaiming it!"
Sara stepped forward, past Jason's protection. She looked down at Hansen with a hard, disappointed expression. The rubble behind Hansen stirred as the guards that had been chipping their way through from the other side began to break through.
"It was never yours to begin with," she told him.
An attempted rebellion never quite ends at the battle's close. Hansen still had to be seized, disarmed and contained by the guards before being dragged down to prison. But all that was only temporary; a tribunal had to be held to decide what was to be permanently done with the would-be usurper, the council had to be informed, and the public had to be addressed. As Queen, Sara, and as captain of the guard, Jason, both had a lot on their plates. But as for Dawn, Ash, and Misty… they stayed out of all that. They had different priorities to concern themselves with, namely, the health of their Pokemon, particularly Dawn's Togekiss who had been injured the worst.
They needn't have worried too much. The Mirage Palace had its own private selection of doctors, both for humans and Pokemon, along with quite a few of those handy Nurse Joys. They took Dawn's Togekiss into their care and worked all the wonders that occur between handing off your Pokemon to them and hearing the blessed words 'your Pokemon have been fully healed.'
Since Togekiss's injuries were severe, she wasn't one hundred percent fighting fit even several days later as the gang sat around the sitting room, but she could fly again. The wing was tender and couldn't take heavy use yet, but it was healing and the Joys pronounced her to be on the road to recovery.
"Togekiss looks like she's doing a lot better," Ash observed, as the feathery Pokemon took a seat on the floor in front of Dawn's chair.
"She definitely is," Dawn said, reaching down to pat Togekiss. "It was a dirty trick of that Hansen to hit her with so much, but she's gonna recover and be even stronger."
"It was a tough fight," Ash agreed. "But he relied too much on his defenses. Once we cracked through those it was over."
Dawn looked at Ash and Misty sitting on the—and she had to smile at this—loveseat. "It was all thanks to you two that we won—and to Pikachu and Toget—I mean, Togekiss."
"Two Togekiss, huh?" Ash said, scratching his chin thoughtfully as Misty set down her cup of tea. "That could get confusing."
"The more the merrier, I say," Sara said, stepping into the room with Jason at her side.
"Sara!" Misty said, standing up and greeting her. "I thought you'd be busy all day with meetings."
"I've another one in a fifteen minutes," Sara confided, sinking into an armchair. "But I thought I'd stop by and chat with you three."
"So… how's it going?" Ash asked. "Is Hansen in jail?"
Jason took that one. "He is," He said firmly. "He's our highest security prisoner."
"He made a fuss about that, too," Sara commented. "He said if I were any kind of good ruler I'd have already had him executed."
"He can… complain about that?" Dawn asked disbelievingly.
"Do you think this is going to be the end of it, Sara?" Misty asked. "Or are there going to be more problems?"
"Hansen's not getting out of jail again," Sara said firmly. "That much is solved. I think dealing with the council will be a bit easier for the moment. For one thing, their scheme has been an embarrassment that nearly gave a fanatic the throne, for another, I now have the people on my side… at least for now."
"Why's that?" Dawn asked.
A small, but nevertheless sly smile crossed Sara's face. "They're feeling rather sorry for their queen, who was disgracefully left at the altar."
"I have some goodwill right now—it never lasts, but I intend to use it while I have it," Sara said practically. "The Togepi nests are still empty and the only thing I can do to encourage the Togepi that left to come back is to make the Mirage Kingdom the happiest of all Kingdoms."
"I hope they come back," Misty said sounding concerned. She put a hand on her Togekiss's head. "But they'll always have you to protect them, right?"
"Kiss!" her Togekiss agreed.
"You all have done such a great service to me and to the Mirage Kingdom," Sara said fondly. "I wanted to know how I could possibly repay you… perhaps… a knighthood?"
Ash exchanged glances with Dawn and Misty and thought that they felt the same as him. "Thanks a lot, Your Maj—I mean, Sara, but we helped you because we wanted to, so there's no need to reward us. Anyway," he said thoughtfully, "I think it's about time we all got back on the road again."
"I thought you might say that," Sara answered, getting up to leave once more. "But always remember that any time you come back to the Mirage Kingdom you will receive a hero's welcome."
"We'll definitely come back to visit," Dawn promised. "Right, Togekiss?"
"Togeee," Togekiss answered, but she sounded somewhat uncertain.
"I'll look forward to that day," Sara said, at the door. "Good-bye Misty, Ash, and Dawn. I can't thank you enough for all that you've done."
A chorus of good-byes were said and then the door closed as the queen left—off to a busy day of meetings and speeches.
"Hey, Ash," Dawn chirped excitedly once Sara had left, "I know we said we were going to travel together for a little while longer, but would you mind if I split off from here? I've kinda had a change of plans."
"Sure, that's fine," Ash said, blinking slightly confusedly. "What kind of change of plans?
"Oh, I'm heading over to the Pokemon Fan Club to see about some contests," Dawn answered in a purposefully vague tone that left the door open for more questions.
"What?" Ash asked. "But you already won Top Coordinator. Is it fair for you to compete again—at least so soon?"
"I'm not going just to compete—I'm going to organize one!" Dawn burst out excitedly. "And it won't be just a regular contest either! It'll be a battle royal made up entirely of past Top Coordinator winners!"
Ash whistled. "That'd be some fight to see. What would they be competing for? Tippy-Top Coordinator?"
Dawn laughed. "No, this time I think it's better if we're not competing for a prize like that. You see," she got up and folded her hands behind her back, walking toward the window, "I love contests. They're a great way to show off your skills, entertain people, and I can't deny that I thrive off the competition. But I think… I think it's time contests did a little more worthwhile than just that." She turned around dramatically. "So that's why, in this competition, all the Top Coordinator competitors will be playing for charity."
"Wow!" exclaimed Misty. "That's a great idea, Dawn!"
Dawn grinned. "With all the attention contests usually get, I think we can really do some good. I just hope I can get the contest committee to go for my idea."
"I'm sure they'll love it," Ash answered. "A contest where everyone's a top coordinator? That's gonna make for some awesome events."
"Piplup!" Piplup cheered from Dawn's shoulder.
Dawn laughed again. "Well, I know Piplup's looking forward to helping out." She looked down at Togekiss. "You too, right Togekiss?"
Togekiss said nothing and looked torn.
"Hmm? Togekiss?" Dawn tried again.
Togekiss stood up and took flight gently, so as not to strain her wing, and then glided over to where Misty's Togekiss sat. "Togekiss," she said, by way of explanation.
"I think…" Misty said slowly, "I think she wants to stay here too."
"Huh?" asked Ash. "But why?"
Misty jabbed him painfully in the side with her elbow and nodded to where the two Togekiss sat, curled up closely together.
Ash rubbed his side ruefully for a minute and then looked at the Togekiss. "Oh," he said after a moment. "Oh." He pulled his hat brim down slightly so it covered his eyes. "One of those things."
Dawn kneeled down by Togekiss. "You really want to stay here?"
"To, kiss," Togekiss answered, her tone somewhat guilty.
Dawn stared for a moment at her longtime friend and then finally smiled. "I understand," she said, reaching out to pat her on the head. "We're all moving on to the next thing, I guess… but we'll always be friends."
"Kiss!" Togekiss agreed, sounding relieved.
"And if both these two stay here," Misty realized, "then the nesting grounds won't be empty. They'll recover, even if it's just a bit at first." She took a knee and poked her own Togekiss in the side playfully. "You little Casanova," she teased, "you're lucky you're better at this than Ash."
Ash immediately colored. "Hey, I'm trying."
"I know, I know," Misty said to him. "I'm just kidding around."
She turned her gaze back to Togekiss and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm going to miss you so much," she said. She drew back from the hug and surveyed him. "You've gotten so big—but to me you're still the same little Togepi I could hold in my arms."
"Gekiss!" her Togekiss answered.
As Misty and Dawn both rose, Dawn began to ask something she'd been wondering about for awhile: "So…" she tried, "I know what I'm gonna do—and it looks like our Togekiss have made up their minds about the future. So… what are you two gonna do?" she asked in a tone that seemed to hope that the answer was 'get married, buy a house with a picket fence, and crank out 2.5 children.'
Misty waited for Ash, but an answer didn't seem to be coming, so she went ahead. "Well… I guess I'd better head back to Cerulean City," she said. "If I stay away for much longer my sisters will start handing out gym badges for free again." She sighed. "I'm the youngest—I shouldn't have to babysit them."
"And?" Dawn pried. "What about you, Ash?"
Ash took a minute to reply. "I've been thinking… I've been thinking…" He took a deep breath. "I guess that it might be a good idea to check out that gym leader try-out in Vermillion. I'm not totally giving up on being a Pokemon Master or anything," he added aggressively, "but I figure it's time to try something new—at least for a little while." He sighed. "Traveling's fun, but it's nice to have a place to hang your hat every once in awhile. And I'd still get to fight strong trainers—they'd just come to me instead."
Misty's grin was so wide it nearly left her face. "How do you come up with these amazing ideas?" she ribbed him.
"And," Ash said, clearing his throat. "Vermillion's not that far away from Cerulean."
"It's not," Misty answered, still smiling. "And we could travel back that way together."
"That's what I was thinking," Ash said a bit sheepishly.
Pikachu was jubilant at the news and climbed up on Misty's shoulder with a cry of "Pika!"
"So do you like that Pikachu?" Ash asked his Pokemon companion, now looking up at him from Misty's shoulder. "You ready to try the gym leader life?"
"Ka pikachu!" Pikachu answered in the affirmative.
"Well then, I guess the Vermillion City gym will have to get used to having a Pikachu around instead of a Raichu," Ash said with a smile.
Pikachu shrugged as if to say that it was impossible to know what the future held.
"What? Have you let go of your rivalry with Raichu?" Ash asked, perplexed. "Where's that Pikachu pride I know?"
Misty laughed. "I think you're both growing up," she said. "Slowly—very slowly—but surely."
Dawn clapped her hands together excitedly. "This is so wonderful!" she said. "You're going to make a great gym leader, Ash. I know it! And I know you'll like being closer to home."
Misty breathed in a cleansing breath and then let it out. "It's a new beginning," she said fondly, "for all of us."
"I've had a lot of new beginnings," Ash said reflectively. "But now that I start looking back at them they were all sort of… the same. But this…"
"I know," Misty said. "This is different."
Ash looked at Misty. It wasn't just the prospect of being a gym leader that would change his life—it was her. He didn't have much more than a vague notion of what he'd face on this mystery road he would have to walk if it meant staying with her. Was he ready for whatever it meant? He still wasn't sure.
"There's going to be different challenges this time around," he said doubtfully.
"Oh come on," Misty said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Since when does Ash Ketchum back away from a challenge?"
He smiled that familiar smile—that one that contained more joy than a battle that had been won—it was the joy of a battle yet to be won. "Well," he answered, "when you put it that way…"
There's nothing wrong with dreaming—if Ash, Misty and Dawn hadn't dreamed then they wouldn't have gotten as far as they'd gotten and earned and experienced all they had without their dreams. But all those that dream must know when to wake up; must know the difference between reality and mirage.
And it took a kingdom of illusions to teach them that.