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His head pounded constantly now. Ryker pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to alleviate some of the pain. It had moved far past that working but at least the familiar motion gave him something to do other than being bothered by the thoughts that were beginning to blend with his own.

If it wasn’t for his link to Ani keeping him sane, he would not have lasted this long. All the thoughts were beginning to blend together and sometimes he had trouble picking apart his own from theirs. Ryker peeked over to his left where Ani sat; tempted to strike up another conversation mentally just so that he could drown out the other voices. She had unknowingly become his grounding point, anchoring his mind to himself so that he wasn’t lost in the sea of minds that he the collar prevented him from turning away.

But chatting with her like that wasn’t in their best interest. He needed to focus. Focus on the plan and on keeping his influence strong over the few Avia personnel that he held onto for this. Everyone was ready, just waiting for his go ahead. All these brave kids were waiting on his word to start the plan they’d been setting up for months. He never wanted to be a leader, especially to a group of scarred young men and women. They deserved more than him.

Another glance around the room told him that none of his companions had moved. Adaline spoke softly to Viv, calming her while betraying none of her own anxiousness. After everything that had happened to her, he was still amazed at how easily she could smile at someone. Viv had relaxed a bit around him after Adaline had talked to her. Whatever had been shared was left between them, he could give them that much. As it was, he was just happy that Viv wasn’t so scared to talk to him anymore.

“Hey, don’t worry,” Ani’s voice interrupted his thoughts and he leaned back, raising a playful eyebrow at her.

“How do you know that I’m worrying? I’m cool as a cucumber.” Lie. The entire sentence was a lie and the look on her face told him that she wasn’t buying it for a second.

“Marlon will pull through and we’ll get out of here soon.” Ani’s gaze cut to the side as Adaline opened her mouth and cut off the other girl. “Yes, we know you still don’t trust him, Ads.”

“He could still decide to switch sides.”

“Adaline, stop it,” Ani shook her head before looking back at him. “Marlon will bring Ben and Ben will help us.”

Ryker didn’t know what to say to that so he only nodded. Each move they made was a precarious one. If things went wrong then they’d all die and have accomplished nothing. But they needed the final piece to this puzzle, the final bird needed for this island to really sink.

And there was only a half hour before the storm rolled in.

———

The lack of need for stealth was rather surprising. Ben’s dark eyes followed Marlon as he strolled unhindered down the middle of the hall. For a guy who just let out one of the birds in maximum security, he was rather nonchalant about it all. In fact, he was rather tight lipped about what exactly he needed help with.

In all the times they had been thrown together by the scientists to try and find out who was stronger, they had never spoken. Marlon had played with his wind to appease the onlookers and he indulged once by creating a small tornado out it. It was like an unspoken agreement that they wouldn’t fight each other, even for the sake of the scientists.

Ben would never raise a hand against the other kids here. Since he arrived he realized that he was the oldest out of them all, already in his twenties as compared to the teenagers and children that littered the cages of Avia. After seeing the young children cowering in the corners of their cells as scientists abused them for their powers, he’d attacked his handlers for the first time.

Since then, and the realization that the collar could not fully suppress his control over natural forces, he’d been in solitary confinement. Besides weekly sessions with Marlon to compare their growth, he hadn’t seen any of the other birds in nearly a year.

“This way,” Marlon’s voice brought him out of his thoughts and Ben turned down another hall after him. He did not remember how the facility was set up so he had quickly gotten lost in the halls.

“Where are all the handlers?” It was the biggest thing bothering him. This was a top secret facility housing dozens of young people with insane gifts and he had yet to see one guard in the whole twenty minutes they’d been walking. There wasn’t even one of the scientists out patrolling. When he was on this level last, there had been guards at every hall and scientists that were working all day and all night.

“Distracted.” That answer peaked Ben’s interest. What exactly could have been so large to have distracted everyone? Even without Marlon sharing what was going on, he had a pretty good guess that tonight wasn’t going to end with him back in his cell all nice and quiet for the morning tests.

His dark eyes zeroed in on the door at the end of the hall as Marlon headed towards it. There was an odd air of anticipation that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Something was up and he didn’t know whether to be on guard to be excited himself as Marlon opened the door.

“Ben!” Familiar voices called his name and the corner of his lips turned up slightly. He didn’t know everyone in the room but Ani and Adaline were both welcome faces. Ani had been a neighbor in solitary confinement up until a month ago and Adaline had pestered him for the entire week he’d been kept with everyone else.

“So this is where you’ve been,” he murmured, glancing towards Ani and the man beside her. He seemed to be the one in charge of this; the look in his eyes said it all. That was the reason he was here, he didn’t need Marlon to tell him that. Besides, he and Adaline were passive aggressively arguing and wouldn’t be much help right now. “Why am I here?”

“I’m sorry; I’ve been so busy I didn’t even think to visit.” Ani apologized, even as he shook his head. He ruffled her blue hair and focused on the other guy. Ani wasn’t the one he asked the question to anyway.

“You did not lie when you said he was a giant,” the male mumbled, nearly drawing another smile out Ben. It wasn’t the time though. Whatever this guy had planned was dangerous and he was putting the few friends he had in danger just by putting them all in one place. “I am Ryker and we need your help Benjamin.”

“With?”

“We’re going to sink the island!” Adaline chimed in, appearing at her side with a bright smile. Her arm hooked through that of another girl who looked increasingly nervous about the whole conversation.

“Thank you Adaline, can I talk now?” Ryker shot back. It was the laughter that kept Ben from wondering if they were actually friends. Even with all the tension in the room, there was a bond between most of them. He stopped analyzing the body language of everyone as Ryker spoke to him again. “She’s right though. We plan on escaping. We have everything we need; I just need to know if you’ll be able to put this wretched piece of rock on the seafloor.”

All of the eyes turned on him and he realized how serious they were. Every single one of them was ready for this but he was crucial to their plan. His eyes drifted towards Adaline and Ani once more and wondered exactly how much about him they’d revealed.

“They revealed nothing,” Ryker’s voice whispered across his mind and he had to resist flinching at that surprise. A mind reader; that was not something that even he thought was possible but now he had one in front of him. “I did thorough research before bringing this team together. We need you Ben. We need a storm and we need this place to sink so that no one will ever use it again.”

Minutes seemed to pass as the whole plan was revealed in memories in his head. Everyone had a part and his really was crucial. No one would fault him if he wanted to walk away but as the faces of the grandmother who raised him flashed across his thoughts, he knew he’d never be able to deny this request.

“I can do it,” he admitted, reaching up to run his hand through his hair. Manipulating weather was simple and took very little out of him to do so, but to create natural disasters was another ball game. He’d only done it a couple of times and never on the scale needed to destroy the island but he’d do it. “But we’ll have to have all the other birds off the island before I’ll sink it. Get this collar off of me and I’ll have that storm for you in minutes.”

A slow smile spread across Ryker’s face and he held up a small key. “Adaline, it is your time to shine.”

Ben stood to the side as Adaline turned around. Her collar had always been different and now he understood why. Hers did not rest against her skin like the rest of theirs; it stuck away a bit like a thick choker. In the spaces, he could see dark points ready to stab into her skin.

“I’ll enter the code quickly,” as Ryker turned the key, the small points immediately dug into her skin. He glared at the small trails of blood that ran down her neck. Adaline didn’t make a sound but he could tell it hurt. Reaching over, he gripped her shoulder gently in comfort and watched as her white-knuckled fists slowly loosened.

“Don’t worry Viv,” Adaline finally spoke, smiling at the girl that Ben hadn’t met before. She looked so nervous but was more upset about the wounds than anything else. “Ben may be a giant but he’s really a softie. Stick with him during this and you’ll be just fine.”

“But-“ Viv’s words died as the collar dropped away from Adaline’s neck. For a moment, there was nothing more than shocked silence as they stared down at the collar. It was the first taste of freedom any of them had seen in a long time and Ben couldn’t help the awe that came with it.

Just as he was looking up towards the man who made it all possible, there was a sudden burst of static as Adaline’s shoulders began to shake. Soon enough, the laughter was pouring out of Adaline as the ends of her hair began to stick into the air and small sparks of electricity sparked around her.

“Oh, this feels wonderful.” There was a dark look in her eyes as she turned towards him that he had never thought he’d see on her. She was always so easy going, so happy. This Adaline was out for blood in such a way he never imagined. “Now, how about we get those ugly things off of you too.”

There was a burst of electric power, creating its own wind as it exploded out from Adaline and brushed over them. It didn’t hurt, not in the least, but the lights flickered obviously and he felt the collar slip from around his throat. The others were pulling their collars off as well and the smiles were infectious.

Leaning his head back, he could suddenly feel everything in air around him again. The collar couldn’t suppress everything but it did suppress his sense of the world outside the building. Now he knew the wind and the temperatures and everything. It took little focus to mix the right conditions but soon there was thunder booming loud above their heads. There was their storm, the one they needed for cover. The lights went out completely for a moment while Adaline created her electric field. It sparked noticeably around her for a moment before it seemed to sink in through the ground.

“We control the building now,” She grinned, nodding towards them from her spot. They had to step away to avoid being shocked. “Collars are disabled and I’ve sprung the lock on Magpie and Hawk. Let’s get this party started, shall we?”

Ben could only return her grin with a chuckle of his own and nod his head. He may have been the last one brought on board, but with his storm giving her an extra boost, all he had to worry about was creating the earthquake to sink the island. All of these people deserved their freedom and he wouldn’t fail them.

Looking down at Ryker, he committed himself to the plan. If one man could put all this together for the sake of everyone, then he could sacrifice what was needed to make sure everything went as planned.

“Get everyone to the boats,” he told them, rubbing the back of his neck as the thunder boomed above their head again. Though the mind reading was rather odd, he could appreciate the time saving that came with Ryker sharing the memories of the plan instead of explaining it all. “I’ll find who I can on the way and direct them towards there.”

“Ben,” Ryker grabbed his arm before he could disappear back out the door. Everyone else was talking about which wings they’d go to and how to get the others out so they didn’t notice anything yet. “Sink the island if you can, but it isn’t worth your life. Come back and we’ll all find ourselves a new home.”

“After,” Ben answered, knowing he didn’t need to explain himself or his motives. He would push his limits for this but it was nice to know there was someone who wanted him along after this escape. “They all pay for taking away our homes to start with.”

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