Finally, the awful memories returned: Orso’s treason, the carnage, his capture. “You! It was you!” Enraged, Putin threw himself at the bear.
The combatants crashed together, but Putin used his judo skills and threw Orso to the ground. He pinned the bear down and choked him.
“You!” Putin screamed. “It was you! You led them here! You are to blame for everything!” He began to glow dangerously green with rage.
Desperate, Orso scooped a pawful of dust and threw it in Putin’s eyes, sending him sprawling backwards. The bear rolled over onto his feet.
“No, you are to blame!” Orso roared, as he readied to charge. “It was you who ruined my betrothed, my Ursa!”
“Your Ursa? You’re delusional!” Putin grunted as he wiped dirt from his eyes. He looked up just as Orso’s paw crashed into his face.
Putin staggered back, the Bear King’s punch landing like the bumper of a speeding Lada. On his hands and knees, he spat blood and coughed.
He looked up as Orso charged again, but this time Putin grabbed tufts of fur, rolling onto his back and flinging the bear against a tree.
Orso crashed into the mighty oak hard enough to shatter its great trunk, and Putin smiled at the sight. How he’d missed combat!
“I will destroy you, swine,” he said, marching slowly toward his fallen foe. “King of Bears? You are king of a graveyard you have created.”
His skin glowing ever brighter green, Putin stood over the lump of fur with labored breath. Suddenly, Orso spun his head around.
Clenched between his teeth was a massive splinter of wood. He drove its tip deep into Putin’s calf and heard his foe cry out in pain.
Releasing the splinter, Orso reared up, slashing with his great claws. “We were a proud and mighty clan before you infected us!”
Putin dodged the teeth, fetid ursine spittle splashing hot on his face. He drove his fist into Orso’s gut; the bear gasped and sank down.
In his mind, Putin heard again the words that had sparked this battle. “She was mine after you left,” Orso had said.
Putin recalled the attack of the humans, felt the bullets tearing into his flesh, saw his Ursa fleeing into the forest. Where had she gone?
Orso lay helpless on the ground, and Putin snatched the bear’s head, yanking it skyward. Their eyes locked as Putin glowered.
“Where is she?” he cried desperately. “Where is Ursa?!”
Orso twisted and sank his teeth into Putin’s thigh, but quickly let go, screaming, as the radioactivity seared his mouth and tongue.
Putin tightened his grip and began wrenching the bear’s head, preparing to break his neck. “Answer my question or die,” he hissed.
Suddenly a voice cried out from the edge of the clearing: “Father!”