Streebell fell hard on her back. She couldn't breathe. He had literally knocked the breath out of her . . . again. And the fact that a rather pointy rock was sticking into her butt really wasn't helping anything either. She slowly rolled onto her stomach wincing in a mixture of pain and shock.
"Oh come on, Rosling," he taunted. "Even on your worst days, your not this rusty."
She opened her eyes and glared at the base of a shrub in the dry dirt. Growling in frustration, she pushed herself up from the ground, got to her feet, and faced her opponent one more time. Anger always made her try harder, but she doubted it could do much for her now, in her current condition.
Mustering up every last ounce of will she had left, she took her stance. Her right side toward her opponent, chest at a ninety degree angle to his so that she gave him as little of a target as possible. Feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders squared, and back straight. With her hands balled up into fists, she lifted her forearms to guard face. She was ready.
The smug smile that always spread across Hazon's face when he thought he was about to embarrass Streebell was making its appearence. She gave him a dirty look but then sighed, already knowing who was going to win this round and just wanting to get it over with.
"We're losing daylight while you stare me down threateningly," she said with a resigned, almost bored tone to her voice. But she could barely get out the last word in that sentence before he lunged at her.
She leaped out of the way quick enough to see him clutching the air in front of him in the place she was just standing. She had to act fast, while his back was turned. In one swift, fluid movement, she was behind him and had her arm around his neck, making sure her elbow was under his chin in a choke hold. His hands instinctively flew up to his neck to try and unclench her arm, but his struggling was useless.
"I got him," she thought.
But, as soon as she thought it, Hazon's training kicked in and he got a firm hold on her arm and bent forward so fast it flipped Streebell over his body onto the ground, lying, once more, on her back with the wind knocked out of her. She groaned in defeat and lay there, not making any attempt to move. Eventually, Hazon layed down next to her and stared at the sky, waiting for her to start talking. When she didn't, he did.
"What's going on Streeb?" he asked her gently. "You're never like this unless it's . . . but it's not anywhere close to reaping."
She looked at him laying next to her on the warm ground with tired eyes. "It feels like it's going to be tomorrow." Hazon was right. It was nowhere near reaping because the Hunger Games had just ended and all the horrors were fresh in her mind. The way the female tribute from District 8 was barbecued alive in an electric forcefield haunted her every night. The terrible screaming . . . she had known that girl. Streebell shivered almost to the point of convulsing.
Hazon, obviously noticing her little episode, tried to distract her. "Hey," he barked, in command again. "Let's not forget what your training for." He stated authoritatively as he stood to his feet and straightened up his posture. She thought he was trying to look more like a commanding officer than a helpful instructor/friend.
She heaved herself up in front of him again. He was right. She had a fight to train for.
For the past two years, Streebell had been fighting in a sort of secret league in which the wealthier people of District 8, and some of the shadier Peacekeepers, would bet on the winner with whatever was worth anything. People would bet money, food, clothes on whoever they thought had the best chance of winning a match up. Dogar, the person that ran this "league," called the Duel League, would pay people to fight each other. That's where Hazon and Streebell come in. Hazon had been fighting in the Duel League since he was thirteen and seemed to have a natural talent for it. When he met up with Streebell she was fighting off other kids for food scraps. And even though he was only fourteen then and just one year older than her, he said he liked her tenacity and began training her for the Duel League. Which she happliy agreed to since it payed a bit better than a few bread crumbs. Now, she was fifteen and he was sixteen and they were both reigning champions of the Duel League. A title they had to defend if they were going to keep raking in the kind of pay Dogar was giving them now.
Once more, she faced her opponent and took her stance.