Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 42

Asfand was examining the artifacts in the room with mild amusement. Every one of them was worth a fortune. Unique and rare, collected from around the globe through legal and illegal means. He wants to rule down to the last stone. It made Asfand scoff inwardly.

“Are you in denial?” Asfand turned and looked at the man calmly. They were back in the estate where they only gathered when the matter was of utmost importance. But this time, there were just two people in the room. Every last of them was in grave, one was down and on hit and the other one was not even aware.

“No.” Asfand sat back in his seat and looked at the man across the table. The man whom no one saw before. The man who always contacted through the lone phone in this room. The man who finally made his presence known. “I wasn’t expecting you to move out of the shadows.” The man merely smiled.

“You talk like you always knew.” Asfand chose not to answer and it made him laugh. “That is exactly why I asked only you to meet me on such short notice. I can’t trust anyone but you Asfandyar.”

“What changed?”

“The player is not to be underestimated.” Asfand balled his hand at his words. “I never thought that child will turn out to be such formidable enemy over time. She was delicate like a flower that could be crushed with a mere brush but look at her now.”

“She doesn’t know about you.”

“Yusuf is dead.” His jaw clenched and glare hardened. “And we know what kind of resolve he held. It won’t come as a surprise if he had spouted something that he should not have. If that girl” the man leaned back in his chair with a low hum, “is really that smart and determined to eradicate her enemies, she will leave no stone unturned to find the truth. And that is something I cannot afford.”

“What do you want from me?” The man watched Asfand amused. “You could have called Afroz as you always do.”

“Afroz doesn’t possess what you have.” The man looked at three rings on his finger, each embedded with a unique stone. “You are something else Asfandyar. You always were even when you were just a little boy. That’s exactly why you caught my eye the first time I saw you.”

“Are you forsaking Azfar?”

“The game forsake him Asfandyar. He is already a dead man.” The man took off the black-stoned ring and stood up. “I don’t want Mir Jahangir and his grandson involved and it would be best if the checkmate is made before certain things come to their knowledge.” Asfand listened silently. “I know it demands a sacrifice on your part but look at it this way. It’s all for a greater good.”

“And you believe I am the right hand to do it?” The man smiled.

“There could be no man better than you and there should be no one but you to put an end to this.” Asfand looked at the ring he placed before him on the table. “Globaviations.” His fist clenched further. “You know the value of that single company, right? You know what power it holds and how formidable you will become once you had it in your palms. That is exactly why you are hell bent on keeping that woman with you.” He grabbed Asfand’s shoulder firmly.

“I know how desperate your desperation is. But even desperation have some lines that needs to be drawn.” Asfand looked at the man when he stood before him. “Don’t go astray of your path Asfandyar just because your destination is through a beautiful road. Trust me, distraction only leads to destruction.”

“As if!” Asfand chuckled darkly and grabbed the ring. “I am a man with needs but I know when to satisfy which.” He stood up as well. “Afroz Sherzai will have a heart-attack if he saw this.” Asfand raised the ring for the man to see. “Does this mean I am chosen?”

“To be my successor. Yes.” Asfand smiled wickedly. “But you already knew of it. You knew it the moment we met for the first time.” Asfand chuckled darkly. “I hope I don’t need to tell you what you need to do.”

“Not at all.” Asfand examined the black stone of the ring keenly. “I am very clear about my motives and ambitions and I assure you” he looked dead in his eyes. “You will see it soon.”

***********

Her knuckles were bruised and Dua was completely out of steam but her anger was not ready to let her take a break. There was so much going through her head right now but there was not a single path on which she could led her thoughts to.

Her room was destroyed to the last object. The servants of the mansion forgot how many times they cleaned the mess and after the last hurricane Dua raised, Ida stopped them from coming near her room.

Dua came back to Saidpur that night. It has been days but her fire didn’t die. Dua was on the constant rampage to tear out the truth but there was no clue or mark that could lead her to what Yusuf told her in his last moments. Even Ayn was unable to track their identities with her current module that was up-to-date and flawless.

Dua knew she had to be calm and act rationally but she couldn’t. Not after knowing there were more hidden faces to that ugly conspiracy that destroyed their lives. Ayn’s system was being upgraded and modified but it was going to take time and Dua was running low on patience to wait.

Darkness blinded her and she tumbled against the punching bag with harsh breaths. Her legs went numb but Dua refused to give in. She took support against the bag with her hands and looked ahead and at nothing.

Two faces. Two people. Two agendas.

Who are they? Why would they kill my family? What enmity they had against us?

And it was not only this piece of information, Azfar went missing right before he was supposed to get arrested. They couldn’t trace his current location and it put a serious damper to her plans. He was not supposed to escape her trap but he did. Wasiq too.

Both father and son disappeared right under their watch. It was a fool-proof plan yet they slipped on them, just like that. Dua had her doubts on Afroz but how things turned, she hardly believe he would help them. And Aya only stamped it that Afroz was really unaware of their whereabouts.

They were keeping eyes on Wang family so it made no sense how and when Wasiq slipped away. The hunt was on but for now, they were standing at two dead-ends.

Things were only complicating and with new unknown enemies added in the list only got on her nerves even more. Dua couldn’t see the difference between the consequences of her rational and irrational actions right now and that was something she needed to avoid at every cost.

Dua fisted her hands in anger. Her eyes were red but she refused to let the tears fall. Not again. Not so soon. She was not going to give up. If any, she held a resolve, stronger and venomous than before. She was going to find them and she was going to end this game with her own hands.

Dua turned and threw the punch on the person who sneaked up on her stealthily. But her tiny fist was caught before it could have landed the fatal blow it was aiming towards the heart of this intruder. Without any effort.

“You have vicious ways to greet” her fist shook in his hold when their eyes clashed. ”Janaan.” Dua could only look at him in silence. He was standing right before her eyes, all tall and proud.

Like always.

His green eyes were twinkling mischievously, that smirk of his was same as ever and his alluring scent was all around her. It made her heart beat faster. But Dua couldn’t understand under which impression her heart was reacting to him. Dua was furious at his appearance yet she couldn’t stop looking at him.

He is back. Asfand was back after almost a month.

“You look happy to see me.” Dua blinked away her surprise and masked her expressions in coldness. “You-” She slapped away his hand that tried to caress her cheek. Asfand was taken aback but his anger switched its route when he saw her hands. “What the fuck?” His early musings morphed into blind fury when he saw the bloody bandages around her delicate hands. “Du-” Dua pulled her hands back and turned the other way.

Happy to see him? She couldn’t believe the height of his arrogance and ignorance. Dua wanted to rip that smirk off his face. Some nerve this man have. She couldn’t believe how casual he was behaving right now after all that he did. How dare he come here after leaving like that?

“You were not home.” Dua continued ignoring him. She walked to the bench and picked up her water bottle. “I am talking to you janaan.” Her heart leapt to her throat when his arms came around her abdomen in a vice-like grip and his head buried in her neck. “We are seeing each other after so long.” Asfand breathed deeply in her skin and his actions made Dua react in uncontrollable ways. “I missed you.”

“Me or this?” She was not going to give in. Ever again. Dua looked at him over her shoulder which put a stop to the kisses he was peppering towards her mouth. “I highly doubt you missed me Asfandyar Sherzai.”

“Asfandyar Sherzai?” His brow shot up when Dua removed his hold from around her and stepped back with crossed arms. “Why does it remind me of our encounter in America?” Asfand shoved his hands in the pockets of his pants and looked down at her tiny wife coldly. “I was expecting some warm welcome but here you are, as cold as ever.”

“Glad to know I let you down.” Asfand grabbed her arm to keep her in place. “Leave” Dua looked him in the eye. “I don’t like to repeat myself and I would hate to resort to violence.” She tugged to break free but Asfand remained adamant.

“My, my!” He mused and pulled her closer. “Such wild thoughts you have.” But Dua didn’t react the way he wanted. There was no blush coating her cheeks because of his closure. It was all hatred and if he was guessing it right, much more potent than before. I knew it.

Asfand was expecting this kind of outcome. He knew what he dug when he decided to leave her alone that time. He had to, for what was worth it. But he wasn’t expecting for the situation to get out of hand to such extent.

“Du-”

“D” Dua pulled her arm free, “D. Almas Sahi.” Asfand gritted his teeth at her attitude. They were back to square one. “State your business or leave. I don’t have time to entertain your vile thoughts and needs.”

“Learn to put a filter on this mouth” Asfand pulled her thrashing form against him. “It puts a serious damper to my mood.” But Dua was not ready to listen. “Enough Dua.” His thunderous put a temporary stop to her struggles of getting away. “Just lis-”

“You got what you wanted” Dua screamed in his face. “You achieved your first milestone Mr. Sherzai. You succeeded in sleeping with me.” His hold on her arms became bruising. “Don’t act as if it’s not the truth. Your actions clearly sold you out.” She broke free and pushed him back. “You are one step further in your game and I hope whatever you have in that sick head of yours” Dua stopped and breathed deeply to keep her emotions in place. “I hope you just get done with it so we could fucking move to our own directions.”

“Not so fast” Asfand jumped in front of her and forced her back in her steps. “What the fuck did you say?” Dua looked away with a scoff but Asfand forced her eyes back on him by gripping her jaw. “Eyes here janaan. I won’t put up with this sass anymore.”

“What wrong did I say?” Dua replied calmly. “Correct me if I am wrong. Wasn’t it just a fuck game for you?” Asfand glared at her murderously. “You wanted to achieve some higher purpose through me. Isn’t that why you married me again apart from your sexual pursuits?” Dua showed no reaction to the pain he was giving her. “Don’t think I don’t know what you are after and that is exactly why you are same as them.” She finally gripped his wrist to push his hands off her face. “You are no different. You are selfish and manipulative to your core.”

“I didn’t force myself on you.”

“I never said that. That’s exactly why you are standing here, alive.” Asfand balled his hands in anger. “Whatever happened was a mistake on my part but don’t be mistaken that I will be repeating my mistake again. Not in this life.” Dua fisted her hands to keep their shaking.

What she was going to do next was going to make her look worse than any prostitute but she was ready for it. To get rid of this unknown feeling towards this man, Dua was ready to slander her character herself.

“It was just sex Mr. Asfandyar Sherzai. I don’t give a fuck about that fuck anymore.” She smirked at him tauntingly. “We both are healthy adults, married on top of everything and this kind of stuff is natural. There was nothing special about it.” Dua could see how her words were hitting home. “Let’s just call it even and quit for all. You wanted to use me and I wanted a release-”

Asfand grabbed hold of her neck and pushed her against the wall. His eyes were raging at her taunting smile. He wanted to kill her right now. In this moment, he was repulsed by her very existence.

“Don’t be too full of yourself.” Dua didn’t blink away from him. This would probably be the last time. “I would rather cut my hands than touch you again Ms. Sahi, that’s how much disgusted I am with you.”

Asfand left the way he came like a tornado. Dua slid to the floor and palmed her head with both hands. There was a whirlpool of fire inside her that roared louder upon his departure and no matter how much she tried to mute it out or reason with logic, it wouldn’t listen.

And now when Dua looked again the way he left, she felt a sinking feeling of pure desolation she didn’t feel when he left that night.

**********

“You have completely forgotten about me, haven’t you? I wasn’t expecting this from you bacha.” Dua smiled at Jahangir. “Don’t give me this pretty smile of yours. It’s not going to lessen your punishment.”

“Now I know whom Hadi take after.” Jahangir hummed dramatically. “Don’t be mad Dar-jee. It’s just that time and routine here works completely opposite. Why are you awake at this hour? It’s not good for your health Dar-jee.”

“You are more important to me than a few hours of sleep. I missed you bachay.” Jahangir touched the screen affectionately as if he was patting her cheek. “Are you good? Is Asfandyar treating you well? How are you coping with your life? Have you adjusted to your new home?” Dua looked around the place at his question.

She was back at Asfand’s place. Not that she wanted to, she had to. Asfand was part of her revenge and she had to stay close to him. He was important piece of this puzzle and if her gut was right, Asfand might know those two people. He was the only link left and she knew she could only get hold of them through him now.

Except that Asfand was avoiding her like a plague now.

Not even once did she encounter him after her return. He was not sleeping in his room and he made sure he left before she even woke up or came down for breakfast or dinner.

“I am fine Dar-jee” Dua touched the screen where his hand was. She was suddenly missing him so much. “Everything is fine. Don’t worry.” His smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I wish I was there.”

“No one has stopped you from coming back Dua. Everyone misses you. Me, Haider and Amber.” Dua looked up when Ida followed someone inside the living with hushed steps.

“Young miss!” Ida whispered in worry while looking between that uncalled guest and her.

“Amber can’t stop talking about you.” Jahangir chuckled. “That child loves you a lot bacha. If it was up to her, she would have flown to you non-stop over these past months.”

“I have no doubt about it.” Dua looked back at her laptop. “When is Haider returning?” Dua looked at the person standing across the living once again. “Is Amber with you at the main mansion?”

“Haider will be returning next week.” Dua nodded without looking. “And Amber has gone to Miami. She was missing Haider so much and I didn’t like the sadness on her face. So, I sent her there with Rayan. A little change of scene will will divert her mind and freshen her up.”

“Yeah.” Dua twisted the ring on her index finger. “But I hope you have told her about the dangers that could follow if she went astray from her path. She is responsible for a little life now.”

“She will be fine bacha. I sent guards for their safety.” Dua nodded silently. “Is everything okay child? You look distracted.”

“It’s work.” She smiled at the old man. “I have a meeting in a while Dar-jee. I will talk to you soon. You should sleep now. It’s late.” Jahangir was doubtful of the sudden switch in her behavior but he didn’t make it obvious. “Make sure to take your medicines on time.”

“Always the same.” Jahangir chuckled heartily. “Keep talking to me every now and then bacha. It gives me some peace of mind that you are happy and healthy.” Dua smiled a little. “I will come visit you soon. I want to see you in person.”

“Don’t jeopardize your health over me Dar-jee.”

“I’m the elder here.” He grabbed his cane with both hands. “And I am still strong enough to endure a few hours of travelling.” Dua nodded. “Take care of yourself. Always. Be safe. May Allah always keep you under his protection and guidance.”

“Good bye Dar-jee.” Jahangir nodded and Dua waited until the video call disconnected. “What a pleasant surprise” Dua closed the laptop and stood up to face her guest. “Amber.” Amber didn’t reciprocated to her cold remark. “What made you lie?”

“No greetings?” Amber chuckled humorlessly. “What to expect from you Dee. You will always be the same.”

“What are you doing here?” Dua interjected calmly. “Do you even know what you have done? What dangers you have put yourself and Rayan in?”

“Do you?” Dua didn’t blink when Amber countered sharply. “I know what I did and what I am doing but do you know what you are doing?” When Dua made no attempt to reply, Amber continued. “This is exactly what I am talking about and this is exactly why I am standing right here.” Amber walked up to Dua. “Are you really oblivious or just acting up?”

“Come straight to the point.”

“Haider was attacked.” Amber yelled at Dua. “And it didn’t happen one time because he is a powerful person. It has been happening ever since your marriage. Some people are constantly out to get him and it’s not just him, Dar-jee met with an accident as well.” Dua blinked at what Amber said and her arms fell by her sides. “You really didn’t know?”

“I-”

“How can you not know Dee when you are the one responsible for ruining our peace?” Amber screamed angrily. “You got married to that man and created a havoc in our lives. Haider is always busy dealing with your mess. He has no time for his only child and wife anymore. It’s only you that he worries about. Do you think this is fair?” Dua watched Amber silently.

“Is this my fault that you have enemies? Is this Rayan’s fault? Why are we paying the price for your adversaries? You are living a peaceful life here with your husband without even giving a dime’s worry about what your one decision has done to us. You have no idea how many sleepless nights I have passed while waiting for Haider.” Amber shook her head while crying. “Not even once did he think about his own family. Not for me, not for his son or Dar-jee. And here you are, all happy and-”

“Amber! You-” Dua raised her hand to stop Ida from stopping her.

“I don’t know what your issues are. I tried to understand you. I really did but apparently, no one is good enough for you to confide in. You are just so full of yourself Ms. D. Almas Sahi. Your arrogance is what led you to this position that you don’t even know what poison you are brewing in others’ lives by your actions.” Amber spat acidly. “No wonder you are always alone. You don’t have enough conscience towards what you do. I mean what to expect from a person who cannot even make time for the death anniversary of her parents and sister-”

“Amber!” Ida stepped in front of her. “That’s enough.”

“No, it’s not.” Amber looked at Dua over her shoulder. “I beg you.” Amber walked past Ida and stood in front of Dua. “I beg you to spare us. Please! Just leave us alone. I wanted a simple life with my husband and child but you are making it impossible to happen.” Amber looked at Dua acrimoniously. “My khala was right about you. You are nothing good and as long as you will stay around us, only bad things will follow.”

“AMBER!” Amber flinched back when Xian’s voice thundered around the place. She cowered in fear when he towered over her like a menacing shadow. “Don’t cross the line child.” He whispered lowly. “You maybe Haider’s wife but you are not entitled to insult-”

“Xian!” He fisted his hands when Dua looked at him. Amber turned towards Dua and gulped at the calmness in her eyes. It made her rethink her words but it was too late. Deep down, she knew she fucked up.

“Mrs. Amber Haider Shah!” Amber lowered her gaze shamefully. “It will be in your best interest to leave right now. Like you said, I have enemies and you coming here, all defenseless could stir a lot of unwanted trouble and attentions at both ends.”

“De-”

“Escort her back to the airport.” Dua turned the other way. “And tell Iram to bring the files. I will be going to the meeting from here.” Amber clearly got her message. The topic was closed, once and for all and there was nothing that could change what was already done and damaged.

“De-” Amber tried once more but Xian blocked her way. “I-”

“The car is waiting outside Mrs. Shah.” His eyes were clearly showing his displeasure towards her. Amber knew he won’t defy her orders but there was no room for negotiations and understandings anymore.

Amber followed Xian out the living but Dua didn’t turn her way even once. She was not going to.

“Young miss!” Ida approached Dua once Amber left. “Are you okay? That child-”

“Get me a cup of coffee Ida” Dua turned to her with a smile. “I am really craving it right now.” Ida nodded reluctantly. “Thank you.” Dua gripped the edge of couch to brace herself when Ida left. Now that there was no one looking at her, the armor finally came down and she released a ragged breath.

If only she knew someone saw her break down.

“Asfand!” Safan looked at him in question but Asfand didn’t react. He wasn’t expecting to witness this ugly encounter, if it was not for the file he left in his study. He knew he should have left her to her business but when he heard that woman and how calmly Dua was taking it, he couldn’t. “Are you going to-”

“We are getting late” Safan pursed his lips at his insensitivity and left before him with a curt nod. Asfand looked at Dua and his fists clenched angrily when those tears rolled down her rosy cheeks.

But he was not going to wipe them. He was not her healer and comforter.

He was never going to be.

“You should have known better before taking up this path.” Asfand whispered lowly and turned the other way all too unwillingly. “You really shouldn’t have.”

And he left despite the callings of his heart to go back to her.

“This is bad.” Ida joined her hands in silent prayer. She could sense something ill-omened coming their way. Ida knew how much Dua was already hurting and Amber just added salt to her wounds.

Wounds that never healed.

“You don’t know what you have done Ms. Amber. I just hope you don’t have to pay for your words.”

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