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Chapter 1. Merlin's Tale

Wednesday, December 18, 1901

"Wait." Holmes suddenly said. "What year is it now?"

'1901, according to the fairy tale calendar,' replied Tanuki from his corner.

'Of course! Of course!' exclaimed Holmes. 'Don't you see?'

'See what?!' Asclepius and Astarte asked in unison.

'At the very beginning of the book - remember? - the Princess disappeared in the year 2038. And now it's 1901. This means...'

'What?!' everyone shouted.

'It means that she is currently in the past. We are all in the past right now. The Princess was taken back 136 years into the past!'

Holmes' eyes burned with excitement. Merlin sat in his chair, stroking his beard, completely absorbed in his thoughts, his pointed hat pulled down almost to his eyes.

'But how, why?' Astarte couldn't believe her ears. During the entire journey home, she had never thought to ask about the current year. There are no such things as years in a fairy tale world. That is, years, of course, pass, but who cares about them. Here nobody ever ages or feels the passage of time.

'I don't know,' said Holmes. 'Some unknown force transferred you, Your Highness, to the past and to another country. Well, I can explain the other country with the rotation of the fairy tale firmament; just at the time you

'He's right!' exclaimed Holmes. 'The whole story will repeat exactly as it already happened once... But, Mr. Merlin,' Holmes turned to the wizard, his voice brooking no objections. 'Would you mind explaining?'

Merlin stood up from the table and pushed his hat back, revealing his stern black eyes.

'My friends,' he began. 'I hope I can now call you that...'

He scratched his beard. No one objected to being called 'friends,' though Tanuki made a highly skeptical sound from his corner.

'My friends,' Merlin continued, encouraged. 'You saved my life,' he glanced at the Princess and continued. 'Even though I did everything in my power to harm you.'

'But why, what have I done to you?!' exclaimed Astarte. Her beautiful eyes filled with tears.

'I promise, I will explain everything to you.' Merlin bowed to the Princess. 'Sit down, friends, this will be a long story.'

The whole company settled around the room in anticipation of the second story of the day. Holmes thrust his prominent jaw forward, constantly adjusting his already impeccable tie. Dr. Brown knew this was a sign of extraordinary excitement. Indeed, in recent days, Holmes had done nothing but adjust his tie. The doctor himself was also agitated in anticipation of something extraordinary, though after everything he had experienced, it was hard to imagine anything that could still surprise him. Asclepius perched on the back of a chair and fluffed up.

'My real name is not Merlin,' the wizard began. 'I was called Isimud when I was the chief demon, head of security, and the main antivirus of the sacred body of Enki.'

'The sacred body of whom?!' asked Asclepius.

'Listen carefully and try not to interrupt,' Merlin said sternly. 'I assure you, I myself did not know many details about the origin of the Princess and our world until I heard them from you. My life was spent inside the Aquarium - some call it the Virtual Machine - where the great octopus Enki lives, the source of my world's existence. My sole purpose, as well as that of my kin, was to protect the sacred body of the octopus from internal and external enemies. I knew that Enki's genetic code contained the Tablets of Wisdom of Me, but I do not know what they are.

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