- This issue takes place between Archie Sonic the Hedgehog Issue 209 — Archie Sonic the Hedgehog Issue 210.
| Sonic Universe #16|
Journey to the East - Part 4 of 4
- “A World Under Constant Vigil”: In this grand finale to the “Journey to the East” story arc, Sonic must confront the traitor to the Chaotix — Espio! But Sonic isn’t the only one in a face-off: Monkey Khan comes up against the enigmatic Bride of the Shinobi Clan, and a long-held secret is revealed! History unfolds, hidden traps are around every corner, and the fate of the world hinges on this final mission!
Journey to the East Part Four: A World Under Constant Vigil
Outside the Iron Fortress, Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails, Sally Acorn and Monkey Khan are shocked to find Espio the Chameleon. Khan is enraged to see the chameleon, but Sonic quickly intervenes. Khan protests, saying that Espio is a traitor to both them and the Chaotix, but Sonic insists he's been a friend longer than that. Growing more incredulous, Khan snaps that Espio physically attacked them, but Sonic retorts that Khan himself has attacked him on multiple occasions and adds, "By that logic, I should be stomping you into the dirt." Khan icily tells Sonic to have it his way, muttering that he was soft on Robotnik as well.
Sally, however, believes that Khan has a point and asks Espio why he's appeared now when he's made it clear that he's sided with the Iron Dominion. Espio replies that he's with the Shinobi Clan, and is therefore only with the Dominion due to "extenuating circumstances." Sally admits that Knuckles told them as much, but that they still don't know the full extent of the situation. Espio says that he isn't allowed to say much, but says that the Bride of Constant Vigil has been observing their efforts in the Dragon Kingdom and wishes to meet with them; he volunteered to act as their guide. He is taken aback when Sally tells him his word is no longer good enough, but after thinking a moment, agrees and says there will be no more secrets. He offers to reveal any hidden info he has on the group so as to remove any possible advantage he may have had. Sonic is amused but dubious, saying that as the heroes they're "squeaky clean." Humoring the chameleon, he tells him to take his best shot.
Espio folds his arms and bluntly says "The Sneak." Shocked that someone is aware of his once-used secret identity, Sonic turns away, muttering. Tails timidly wonders what Espio might know about him; smirking, the chameleon says "Captain Super Fox-Man," referring to the comic book starring Tails himself. Embarrassed, Tails says that he never intended anyone to read the comic, excusing it as something he wrote when he was "more of a kid." Sally, stoic, steps up, and Espio claims to know the location of her royal birthmark. Sally blushes as Espio coughs awkwardly; he attempts to explain that he had to verify Elias Acorn's claim as a member of the royal family when he returned, but Sally quickly insists they not speak of it further. Khan, interested, teasingly asks to be skipped so they can hear more about Sally, but Espio tells him that all he knows is that there are more "Khans." Khan replies that that's not true, saying that he was an only child and that his parents are now dead. Espio says that's not what he meant, but Khan says it's simply a common family name, and that there are probably lots of other Khans out there. Impatient, Espio insists he's not talking about families, but others like Monkey Khan himself. Khan protests that there aren't others like him and that Robotnik only succeeded with him, but Sonic points out that they have more important business at hand. Sonic turns to Espio and asks him how knowing their secrets is meant to gain their trust; Espio replies that with the Shinobi, information is everything, and that he only knows what he does from doing his job. Sally asks what that is, and he just says that everything will be explained if they meet the Bride. He offers them blindfolds so that he can lead them to the meeting. Sonic and Sally share a glance before Sally tells Espio they'll follow him; Espio thanks her.
Later, the blindfolded Sonic announces that not only is he annoyed that they have to travel slowly, but he's totally lost all sense of direction. Pulling off the blindfold, Espio replies that that was the point. The group finds themselves in a large cavern with a deep chasm blocking the way to a door on the other side. Espio announces that this is the Way of the Blind, saying that they may meet with the Bride if they can figure out how to pass. To Sonic's annoyance, he then fades from view. Tails says that he can simply fly them across and takes to the air, but before he can get far Monkey Khan catches him by the foot. With a bolt from his Atom-Bat, he briefly illuminates the cavern, allowing them to see the numerous traps and blades suspended from the ceiling. Tails is aghast, and Khan explains that the Shinobi are known for hiding traps in plain sight. Meanwhile, Sally muses about the cavern's title, and how the chameleons are known for invisibility. She gathers some dirt from the ground and tosses it over the chasm, revealing a hidden pathway. However, she figures that there may be more traps; not one for patience, Sonic gathers an armful of dirt and rushes off, spreading it around. Despite nearly falling into a few gaps and dead ends, he soon has the entire labyrinthine path revealed. Making their way across (while cracking puns), the group reaches the doorway. Tails uses his tails to dust dirt from Sonic, as they're about to meet a regional leader, and Sally cautions them to be ready for anything.
As they enter the chamber, they find the Bride of Constant Vigil seated on a cushion in an elaborate chamber; Espio stands nearby with tea. The Bride tells them their caution is unnecessary and that they will speak frankly. Sally begins to introduce herself, but the Bride replies that she already knows who the princess is. Khan begins to explain the situation with the other clans, but Constant Vigil finishes his sentence and says that they're there to convince her clan to break away from the Iron Dominion. Sonic, pleased to have such direct results, asks if they'll do so, and the Bride replies that upon her word of honor the Shinobi no longer serve the Iron Dominion. Sonic thanks the Bride and is ready to leave when Khan suddenly interjects. Sonic mutters that Khan just can't let things be simple; Khan, annoyed, replies that it can't be so simple. He begins to rant about all the difficulties they've had with the other Clans and the Iron Dominion, but Sally advises him to calm down. Khan takes a moment, and then tells Constant Vigil that he'd heard the Shinobi call themselves protectors of the land; he asks, then, why they joined the Iron Dominion, and why they didn't help the Dragon Kingdom Freedom Fighters rebel against it.
Sipping her tea, Constant Vigil says that, generations ago, the Shinobi Clan fought openly to protect people from the other clans but were nearly eradicated; in order to survive, they adopted more secretive, subtle methods. She then adds that the Shinobi Clan is small, and that if they had opposed the Iron Dominion, the other enslaved clans would have destroyed them with ease. She cites the destruction of the Dragon Kingdom Freedom Fighters as proof she made the right choice. Reflecting a moment, she then says that sometimes action must be taken, and that Espio proved as much by deviating from his "original mission." Sonic bluntly asks what that mission was, saying they'd all believed Espio to be native to Angel Island. Espio glances at Constant Vigil, and she gives him permission to speak.
Espio announces that he was the most recent member of the Shinobi Clan sent to monitor the current Guardian of Angel Island. Shocked, Sonic asks if that means he'd been spying on Knuckles the whole time, to which Espio replies "More or less." He goes on to explain that Knuckles is descended from the Brotherhood of Guardians, an organization that monitored all of Mobius for threats against the Echidna populace of Angel Island. The Shinobi, thinking that such an organization should not go unchecked, decided to assign members to monitor each active Guardian and report any "dangerous" decisions they might make. Espio's friend and mentor, Valdez the Chameleon, had been the one assigned to watch the previous Guardian, Locke, and his dealings with the Kingdom of Acorn. When Knuckles became Guardian, Espio was sent as the new monitor. Valdez helped him get established in Rainbow Valley and Espio was left with orders to observe Knuckles' actions and only reveal himself in dire situations. When Dr. Ivo Robotnik captured the Freedom Fighters on Angel Island and Knuckles attempted to save them, Espio decided to help. However, from there he found himself doing things against his orders; joining the Chaotix, working alongside Knuckles and even becoming friends with the Guardian.
Constant Vigil says that by doing so, Espio broke the taboo of his station... but then, to Espio's surprise, says it was the right thing to do. With a slight smile, she orders him to return to his station on Angel Island, but with permission to act however he sees fit. Extremely overjoyed, Espio says "Thank you, mo--" but after a sharp glare from Constant Vigil, coughs and addresses her as Master, asking her to forgive his outburst. She tells him that first, he is to retrieve the Fan of Fen Xing and bring it to New Mobotropolis. As he leaves, he and Sonic exchange high-fives.
The Bride then tells Khan that while the Iron Dominion has lost its support, the King of the Free People has much work ahead. Monkey Khan acknowledges this and transforms his Power Ring into a new crown; he then announces that, upon his word of honor, he will do his best to protect the Free People and honor the authority of the clans. He then adds that he hopes he can live up to the hype, and Sally says she knows he will. As they thank the Bride and prepare to leave, Constant Vigil says that her ninja will ensure they have a safe departure. Sonic is unsure the clan can spare the manpower, saying that Constant Vigil doesn't even have any guards present. With a look of mild disbelief, the Bride asks if he truly believed she would meet with such a powerful group unprotected. Suddenly, several Shinobi ninja reveal themselves; they'd been hiding in the chamber the entire time. Tails is surprised, and Sonic admits it's pretty cool.
The next day, the group prepares to leave Stormtop Village. Li Moon gives Tails a food basket while Sally and Monkey Khan thank Li Yuen for his hospitality. Khan says that he will return soon, and Li Yuen is sure he will do so victorious. As they board the plane, Sonic asks Sally if she feels more confident than she had before they landed; she gives a thumbs-up and says it's time to save the day. They take off on the Tornado, ready to free New Mobotropolis from the Iron Dominion.
Sonic, Tails, Monkey Khan, and Sally are flying back to New Mobotropolis and each of them are thinking about different chances they'll have when they get back. The first panel has Sally and Monkey Khan thinking about their chance at redemption. The second panel has Tails thinking about being able to rescue his friends and family. The third has Sonic thinking about "a chance at a decent chilidog!"
- Sally: Well?
- Espio: The location of your royal birthmark.
- Sally: (blushes)
- Espio: (coughing) When Elias came back, I had to verify his claim, so…
- Sally: No, no. We won’t speak of it further.
- Sally: If we take it slow, maybe we can--
- Sonic: "Slow?" What is this "slow" you speak of?
- Sally: SONIC! Be careful!
- Sonic: "Careful?" So many foreign words today!
- Espio: (of Knuckles) I wasn't supposed to work closely with him. I wasn't supposed to join the Chaotix. I wasn't supposed to become his friend.
- Constant Vigil: I order you to return to your station on Angel Island. You have permission to act freely and as you see fit.
- Espio: Really?! I can?! I--you--just--YES! Thank you, Mo--
- Constant Vigil: (glares at Espio)
- Espio: *ahem* Master. Please excuse my outburst.
- Writer Ian Flynn explained on his forum that all cover designs from the "Journey to the East" arc are homages from classic martial arts flicks. In this case, this cover design is a homage to the Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon.
- Espio mentions "The Sneak", which is a reference to StH #97, when Sonic went under the name "The Sneak" when he had to stay at Knothole under house arrest.
- Liza makes a cameo appearance in Espio's flashback, and later appears among the Shinobi. It was heavily implied in a blog by current writer Ian Flynn that this chameleon was Liza before he finally confirmed it to be so on his forum.
- The cover features a background pattern of silhouetted logos from the first Sonic the Hedgehog game.
- It is hinted that the Bride of Constant Vigil is Espio's mother.
- At the ending of the last issue, Sonic states they should get Knuckles to help them look for the Shinobi Clan since he can see invisible chameleons. This could be a reference to the early Knuckles the Echidna issues and the Knuckles Chaotix special when Knuckles was able to see Espio when he was invisible.