Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 17

“Wh-who?” His fearful voice forced a laugh out of his denouement. “Get out of the shadows, you coward.” Ismael gulped loudly when the silhouette moved. His heartbeat rose and eyes widened in disbelief when the person stopped before him. Face to face.

“Mr. Malik!” Dua smiled ever so sweetly. “We meet again.” Her smile was acid to him. In this moment, he was not looking at her but the sin he committed all those years ago.

“Dua?” A lifeless chuckle escaped her lips and she watched him amused.

“Yes. Dua.” She circled him with a low hum. “But which kind of Dua do you think?” Ismael tensed up when she stopped behind him. “You look quite pathetic Mr. Malik. I thought you said you were a renowned businessman.”

“I didn’t do that. I wasn’t-”

“I know it was not you.” Dua interjected calmly and faced him in disappointment. “I mean, how can you? After all, your warehouses exploded and your containers were stolen. The one you stole from your friends. Right?” Ismael watched her wide eyed. She bore such innocent face yet evilness was all he could see lurking behind it.

“How do you-”

“I did it. All of that.” Ismael was flabbergasted by her declaration. “Amazing, isn’t it? And now you must be wondering how?” her expressions turned cold within a second. “And why? I don’t think you need to be answered. Since when did criminals bore conscience of any kind?”

“I am sorry.” Ismael fell to his knees before Dua. “Please! Forgive me. I never wanted to do any of that. I bore no ill-will towards your father. But what could I do? I was powerless against them.” Dua stepped back when he tried reaching for her legs. “I swear on my life, I never wanted to do all that. They made me do it. The Sherzai. They are cruel people. You don’t know but they threatened to hurt my family. What could I do against them?” Dua watched him vacantly when he bowed at her feet.

“Don’t do this to me. I will be destroyed. The government will execute me. If they didn’t, those men will kill me. I don’t want to die. I will do whatever you say. If you want me to become witness to your family’s murder, I will. I will help you get justice. But please. Help me. I beg you.”

He was the same man who stood proud when her family was tortured. He was the same man who laughed at their pain. He was the same man who relished in their tears with his friends.

And he is the same man who is crying blood to be spared. He is the same man who is rubbing his nose at her feet. He is the same man who is ready to abandon his so-called friends to save his own neck.

“Karma” Dua tutted at his crumbled ego and pride. “What does it lead people to? Get up Mr. Malik.” She smirked when he got up on shaky knees. His head was bowed and Dua knew why. That rod of male ego in place of his backbone will never let him look her in the eye. Even when the situation was pedantic and against him. “Fine”

Ismael’s head shot up at this. He was not sure. She was ready to help him? He couldn’t bring himself to trust her intentions. There was not a single crease on her face as she looked at him. It was empty. Her eyes were blank. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking which raised the level of his wariness against her.

“But! What will I get in return?” Dua tilted her head to side. “What will I gain out of this? You know it’s not easy for me. To forgive the one who helped” she gritted the word venomously, “in damnation of my kin.”

“Name it. Whatever. I will tell you everything. Their darkest secrets. Their horrendous activities. You can take them down within a blink-”

“Your shares in Globaviations. Let’s start from there.” Ismael gulped loudly. If not before, he was sure he was doomed now. “What’s wrong Mr. Malik? It is not that big of a price in exchange for your life.”

“It’s-” Ismael wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I- I” Ismael knew he needed to think fast before the gun change its direction. “Asfandyar took it.” He watched her hands fist. “It’s not what you think. I told you those Sherzai were barbarous. And that young spawn of theirs is worse of all. I was doing all that trade at his call. I never wanted to but he threatened me. And one day, he asked me to transfer my business under his name.”

“When I refused, he assaulted my daughter. He threatened to rape her before my eyes and sell her to prostitution. I handed him everything to save her life from an everlasting hell. I have nothing on me.” Ismael gauged her reaction carefully. “You know how men of those family are. That man can go to any extent Dua. The one who killed his own mother after raping her can do anything.”

“Yes. Asfandyar is not a man but an animal. He is worse than a reptile. If you think Afroz and Anser are evil, Asfandyar is the root of that plant. He is responsible for everything that happened to your sister. If he didn’t led Anser on the thought, he couldn’t have even dared to look at her.” If he was going down, he was going to make sure no one was spared. She was already thumping with venom. Ismael just dosed it according to need.

Dua couldn’t believe what she heard. It was asinine and downright disgusting. To his own mother? What did my sister do? He didn’t even know her and he brought her such affliction. Do they really bear no conscience towards their actions? This only turned her more rancorous towards Sherzai.

Especially Asfandyar.

“It doesn’t nullify your sins Malik. Confessing everything won’t wash them away.” Dua spat coldly. “If you think it matters to me, it doesn’t. Globaviations was just the icing of whole deal. I don’t care if someone stole it. What I want is fathomless.” She tilted her head to left when Xian stepped forward. “You want to live? I will let you live but only after you have paid enough ransom for your freedom.” His blood turned cold when guns were pointed at him from every direction.

“Asfandyar Sherzai is not the only evil you ought to watch your back from. I will give ten times worse fate to your family” She loaded the gun and pointed it to his head. “You think I want your sob story? That I will swallow whatever you will give me? You think so low of women.”

“Do you even know what you are doing?” Ismael exclaimed loudly. “It’s suicide” Dua placed her finger on the trigger. His sweat dropped when he saw the determination in her cold ambers. “One of them is politician. You think they don’t know who you are and won’t be preparing to defend themselves? You are risking too much-”

“I want them to watch their backs. I want them to prepare. But I don’t care.” Ismael looked around in desperation. A sword of Damocles was hanging on his head. But what could he do? He was trapped.

“Deception is not in your blood and not taking a life.” Dua smiled and looked at her watch. “Please! Have mercy”

“Fifteen minutes until those army officers regain consciousness. Fifteen minutes for them to notice you are missing. Fifteen minutes for you to run back. Fifteen minutes to your freedom Mr. Malik.” he watched her wide eyed. “Time starts now.” Ismael dashed past her and into the woods once again. Dua’s expressions turned dark and she waited for the first minute to pass.

“One”

Shot

Ismael grunted in pain and fell on the dirt when a bullet tore through his left calf. He couldn’t tell which direction it came from. He was blind to his surroundings and he could only pray to get out before he was caught. He staggered back to his feet and dragged himself forward.

A second bullet pierced his left shoulder a minute later and he fell again with a scream. His vision was turning blur because of blood-loss. He pushed himself up again and crawled forward. He was running out of time. The borrowed time on which his freedom and life depended simultaneously. He extended his hand in darkness to reach for an anchor when another blood curdling scream escaped his mouth and he fell again. He clutched his hand to his chest and kept screaming bloody murder.

“HELP!”

“Ten” Dua laughed cynically when his pain tore through air by another bullet. “Ten minutes are lost Mr. Malik. Hurry up.”

Xian watched her silently. She was looking deadly in the very moment. Her aura was so dark. There was nothing he was feeling but everlasting iniquity while watching her relish in the agony of her malefactor.

What will become of her by the end?

Xian saw her losing humanity to the wickedness of her revenge. He didn’t want it to happen. He didn’t want her to become what took her family away. But there was nothing he could to avoid it from happening. With every step she took forward, a part of her soul was sacrificed to this demoniac.

“You need to leave” Dua didn’t look at him. “It is not safe for you to-”

“Thirteen” Dua finally turned to him with blood-shot eyes. She twisted her ring furiously when another bullet was shot. Tears were cascading down her cheeks. Tears of pain, hurt, anger and hatred. “Fifteen” Her face was vacant but her eyes told everything. “Fifteen times a day they used to come and torture them.” She chuckled lifelessly when Xian looked away.

“Prepare for the funeral.” Dua walked away from him. “Nicely and beautifully.”

*********

“ALLAH!” Afroz Sherzai rushed down the stairs when loud screams and shattering noises startled him from his sleep. He watched the occupants of his home gathered in the living. They were passing murmurs while looking at the cause of commotion.

“What is going on here?” Everyone stepped away with bowed heads when he came with solid steps. “Why are you creating a ruckus so early in the morning?” Before he could thunder on poor woman who screamed, one of his attendants stepped before him.

“Chotay Saeen” he cowered in fear under his fierce gaze. “You need to see this” everyone cleared the path. “We don’t know where it came from. It was lying in the center table-”

“Leave” Afroz raised his hand. “I said leave” He boomed and everyone ran away. His face scrunched in disgust while watching the severed head of Ismael. A bullet was shot to his forehead. He looked at the seven funeral garlands organized around it. Two of them were coated with blood and burnt badly. “Yaqoob!” Afroz yelled while wiping his forehead. “YAQOOB!”

“Jee Chotay Saeen- Khudara!” Afroz glared when his servant exclaimed loudly upon watching the unannounced gift.

“Get it clear this instant. I don’t want baba-Saeen to find about it. Ever.” Yaqoob nodded fearfully. “What are you waiting for?” Afroz rushed to his room upstairs. Locking the door, he went straight to his phone which was ringing furiously. “Did you get the same?” He shot the question before the caller could speak.

“You too?” Azfar asked in astonishment while watching his servants take the severed arms away. “What are we to do Afroz?”

“Calm down Azfar. Panicking won’t help.” Afroz went to his window and looked out. “Now listen to me very carefully.”

*********

Dua just got out of her car when Sarim came out of his mansion. He was in his uniform which enhanced his personality and looks. For a change, he wasn’t looking the jolly talkative person. His expressions were guarded and eyes serious. They met halfway and Dua raised a brow at him in question.

“Major” she greeted him politely and her teasing softened his eyes. “Is everything okay? You look upset.”

“You remember the man who got arrested on our engagement? Ismael Malik? He was talking to you as well.” Dua faked recognition under his watchful eyes. “He was being shifted to another jail last night. Our deployment was ambushed on their route.”

“Oh! I’m sorry.” Sarim sucked in a breath. “I’m sure it will be alright.”

“It’s not going to be alright Dua” Sarim looked at her solemnly. “They killed my comrades. Not even a single vehicle was spared. And not even a single life. The explosions were nasty. We can’t even count how many lives were lost and that Ismael, he fled.” Dua twisted her ring silently. “Anyways! I need to leave for now. I won’t be able to come with you.”

“It’s okay. I understand.” Sarim smiled at her. “What?”

“Are you going like this?” He pointed towards her one-piece semi-formal black outfit. “I’m not saying-”

“Don’t expect me to get coddled into anything. And I am not going to repeat myself again.” Sarim pressed his lips in a thin line.

He was not very fond of her ways. Sarim has been keeping quiet about many things he wanted changed. The more he got to know Dua, the clear it was becoming that molding her will be near to impossible. There was nothing wrong. It’s just that his society didn’t allow such lifestyle to a married woman. Sarim wanted his wife to be more domestic whereas Dua was bold and independent. He was hoping Dua would change for his sake but he was so wrong that she would follow same norms most girls of his culture does. Already his mother was giving him headache about everything. He just prayed things sorted out on its own. He didn’t want to lose Dua because of their differences and approach towards life.

“It’s not that” Sarim grabbed her shoulders with a smile. “I don’t expect you to change for me nor am I going to impose any rules on you. I just wanted to see you in traditional outfits more often.” Dua didn’t blink when he leveled his head with hers. “You don’t know how beautiful you will look. All shy and a bit reserve.”

“Your mother will be waiting” Sarim dropped his hands and stepped back. “I’ll see you later Sarim. Bye” He nodded and watched her go inside his mansion. A tired sigh escaped his lips and he went on his way because more pressing matters needed his attention in the moment.

“Hello” Dua greeted Umaira politely and gave Amber one-sided hug. She was glad Amber was coming with her. “I hope I am not late.”

“Not at all” Umaira smiled and looked Dua from head to toe. Her apprehensive gaze didn’t go unnoticed by both females who watched each other silently. “Shall we?” Dua nodded and they walked out of the main house and towards their respective cars. Amber chose to sit with Dua and they drove out of the estate after Umaira.

“Are you sure about this?” Amber looked at Dua. “I mean they are nice people and all but I am not so sure. They are not up to your standards.” Dua looked at Amber in amusement.

“Am I hearing things?” Amber just huffed tiredly and adjusted Rayan in her lap. “What is with you and Haider saying same thing?”

“I don’t know Dee but I want you to be happy. And Sarim is not the one who is going to make you happy. They are too demanding and pushy.”

“Then, who is going to make me happy?” Dua mused at her thoughts.

“Your husband of course” Amber stated mater-of-factly. “But a husband who won’t ask you to change just because he wants to maintain his reputation in the society. He should be able to love you with your every bad Dee. And looking rectitude in every bad is not something everyone can do.”

“You are growing up, aren’t you? Look at the heavy words you spoke.” Amber puffed her cheeks at her remark.

“You don’t take me seriously like Haider. It’s not fair.” Dua chuckled when Amber looked away from her. She was such a positive and innocent soul. Dua prayed her fragile belief never get tainted with the brutal truths of life.

*********

“Here we are” They looked out when their cars stopped. Dua had a trial for her bridal dress today. It was overrated but who to stop Haider who hired the best for her. Dua didn’t want to come but she had no other choice. She had to keep up with this fable until she was done and that was in long run.

Umaira guided her inside and to her designer who was already waiting for them. After the formal greetings were exchanged, Dua was guided to the VIP room where her wedding outfit lay in her wait.

It was beautiful but Dua was only seeing the ugliness it held in her memories. Her hands fisted behind her back and she just couldn’t bring herself to go forward.

“Dee?” Amber’s voice broke her stupor. “Do you need any help?”

“I’m fine.” She went towards the dress with heavy heart. “I will be fine” Dua muttered to herself.

“I am outside. Call me if you need any help.” Dua didn’t waste any time. She wanted to get done as soon as possible. Her mind wandered back to what Sarim told her as she zipped the kurti and reached for the knots on upper back.

It was not her men who killed those officers. They were just incapacitated until her work was done. Then how did that happen? She needed to have a word with Xian. If such thing occurred, how come he didn’t inform her yet? Taking the dupatta in her hand, Dua stepped out of the changing room and in the main part with mirrors while dialing his number. Her eyes went to her reflections and she stepped closer to one of them.

The dress was beautiful indeed but she couldn’t bring herself to feel beautiful in it.

“Did you hear?” She let the dupatta pool on her arm and reach her feet. “How come you had no knowledge of what transpired afterwards?”

“Someone was aiming to kill Ismael that night” Xian walked towards her office swiftly with Aya. “It’s a miracle timings didn’t collide. There were bombs implanted within the engines.” He nodded and Aya scanned her palm on the hidden panel.

“What?” Dua was astounded. “How can they blast them without affirming Malik’s presence?”

“They were programmed. When the vehicles turned on track, they went off.” Dua palmed her forehead and closed her eyes. This was bad. “We have yet to affirm who was the perpetrator? I will let you know.” Dua disconnected the call and looked up. Her eyes went wide and she turned wildly but the hand on her mouth silenced whatever was about to come out.

“Why is it you react like this every time?” Asfand mused and pushed her against the mirror. Dua was watching him with thundering heart as his eyes feasted on her. “Beautiful” he murmured huskily in her ear. “But something is missing.” Dua watched him gingerly when he took the dupatta off her shoulder. Her anger flared but before she could, he spread it around and on her head.

“Wha-” her words turned to gasp when Asfand sandwiched her between the mirror and his body again. “Mr. Sherzai-”

“Asfand” he murmured while caressing her cheek. “Start calling me that janaan or it will be too troublesome afterwards.”

“Stop touching me” Dua pushed at his chest. “Leave me.”

“I didn’t hold you close to leave you darling” he smirked at her glare and watched her struggle in his arms with all her might. It was exhilarating for Asfand to see her flail under his control. It was not easy to hold her down but that was what excited him.

The challenge she provided him with.

“You sick being. What do you think you are doing?”

“Exactly, my love” Asfand pushed himself further into her. He was so enjoying the feel of her curvy soft body against him. “What are you doing? Getting married when you already ar-”

“I am not” Dua spat at him in disgust. “And leave me or you won’t even get the chance to regret.”

“Going to shoot holes in my body and chop it to pieces?” Asfand chuckled at her anger. “What a lethal combination you are, my Dua. Deathly beautiful and sinfully innocent.” Dua turned away in disgust when he leaned closer. “Get one thing very clear love. I don’t intend to share you with anyone. You should know what nikah means. You can do as you please but by the end of it” he grabbed her jaw and forced her to look at him. “Only I have right over you in every way. I will be the one taking all this off.”

“Shut up!” Dua pushed his hand away. “Not in this life. That is not going to happen. I refuse and I will keep on refusing you. You ca-” her eyes went wide and body rigid in his hold when Asfand clamped her mouth shut with his. But it didn’t stop at the mere contact. He forced her lips apart and plundered her mouth with his tongue. Dua struggled and fought against his brutal hold but all was futile. It was like he knew the counter to her every move and it scared her.

Asfand grunted and clutched her waist painfully the moment he tasted her sweetness. He wasn’t aiming to do it yet but every time he saw her lips moving, he wanted to claim them. He wanted to know how they would feel moving against his in rhythm. And when he saw her in bridal clothes, his control slipped completely. Before he knew it, he was kissing her. He didn’t regret it one bit. He could get addicted to her taste for life. She bore such saccharine and inviting allure. If only, she was moaning right now. But Asfand was not worried. That day was not far in future when he will make her moan, scream and writhe all he wants.

“No” Dua broke free and turned away. It resulted in his lips connecting to her cheek when Asfand tried to kiss her again. “You will pay for this” she hissed lowly without looking at him.

“I will gladly but bear in mind, my beautiful Dua." Asfand pinched her chin and forced her to look at him again. His eyes lingered to her now swollen lips and he fought the urge to claim them again. Soon. “Only I have the right to take your every first and this kiss was just the beginning of it.”

“Amber!” Dua pushed free of him and went inside the room. She bolted the door and leaned against it with heavy breaths. She knew he was still on the opposite side with that proud and arrogant smirk on his face.

“You cannot hide from me Dua. Begin your countdown from this day onward.” Asfand palmed the door against which she was leaning. He could feel her. Nothing was enough to hide and keep his Dua from him. And whoever tried to come in between them will bear the repercussions. “Soon myaen janaan."

“AMBER!” Dua palmed her ears and closed her eyes. But she couldn’t. Her hands rubbed her lips furiously but she couldn’t get rid of it. She couldn’t get rid of him.

“Dee? Is everything alright?” Dua composed herself and opened the door. Her eyes went around the mirror room but there was no sign of her intruder anymore. “MashaAllah!” Amber exclaimed happily and pulled her to one of the mirrors. “You are so beautiful Dee. I always knew you will look winsome in bridal dress.” Dua looked at her reflection hesitatingly. But all she saw was what transpired moment ago.

“Can we leave?” She turned away when Amber adjusted the dupatta on her head. “I mean everything looks good and satisfying.” Amber watched her worried. “I just want to leave Amber. Right now.” Amber didn’t argue. “Can you deal with Sarim’s mother? I don’t have enough patience for her enthusiasm.”

“Leave it to me Dee.” Dua smiled at her and went inside the room again to change. She didn’t waste any time to get out of that portentous outfit. She wanted to burn it for what it bore. Her fists balled in anger and she left the room with burning rage.

Asfandyar Sherzai! I swear to make you lament your very repugnant being.

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