A palpable chill blows over me as another pair of words sinks into my head.

Hard limit.

A jolt pierces my insides and my hands drop to the table as my fingers release the glass to clutch my thighs. Impulsively, my head drops, my shoulders shaking as they struggle to support my rigid frame. My gut almost splinters when I hear the drag of Frost’s chair across the floor, my head jerking up to meet him rising from it. The way he towers over me is almost comical, but there’s nothing funny about how I feel.

I expect him to speak, watching his imposing frame like some fictional warlord about to dismantle his captive. He says nothing, walking past me. His footsteps send a spike into each heartbeat, calm yet prominent. The sound of a door opening and closing replaces it. For several moments, I don’t turn to confirm, too stunned. Too shocked. Too afraid and unsure of what I will—or won’t—find. The silence stretches, taking on a crushing, eerie depth and quality. Only the sound of my stilted breaths competes with that of my heart. The only sign of life. Frost’s absence is simultaneously liberating and frightening.

I try not to look, but I can’t stop my eyes from roaming and scanning this enclosure. My gaze catches furniture and equipment bathed in both the natural and artificial light, latching on to the labels assigned to each of them. Everything properly categorized and in its place. Neat. Organized. Perhaps…too organized. Like an actual lab.

The Emancipation Room.

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