• Member Since 18th Oct, 2014
  • offline last seen May 27th

Trick Question

Being against evil doesn't make you good.


Princess Twilight Sparkle invents a new way to travel between universes. On the maiden voyage with her best friends, something goes wrong.

Her discovery resurrects a secret from her past, one she has only shared with Princess Celestia. When Twilight learns of the price required to return things to normal, she is left with an impossible choice.

Written for The Writeoff Association's "Closing Time" contest. Preread by Axis of Rotation.

NOTE: I'm aware of Trotsworth's pony names. I chose not to use them.

Chapters (5)
Comments ( 80 )

Apparently, in the process of revising Back to Normal I made the mistake of adding a new chapter and removing the old one, which deleted 330 comments. :facehoof:

I regret this, because most of those comments were from ponies horrified by the ending of the story, and there were a lot of thought-provoking discussions that followed. Many of which were... rather intense, to put it very mildly.

So, let the fiery conversation recommence! :twilightsmile:

Well, I guess it gives me an excuse to read this story again. And again I applaud you on not using those God awful names simply because some guy choose whatever for some drawings he made before a real writer had a chance to put even 15 mins of thought into them.

6789977 That's okay. All of them were wrong anyways. Clearly the only correct comment was mine, and now that I am here, there is nothing to fear! *heroic fanfare* In fact, lemme go ahead and get the ball rolling.

You are quite clearly Discord incarnate and may your soul burn for ten thousand eternities in the fires of Tartarus as repentance for all of your egregious sins against ponykind before you are mercilessly struck from canon and all of existence by the Word of the Holy Faust or some-such horse manure.

Princess Twilight Sparkle is a false sovereign installed by the Celestial Diarchy to ensure civil obedience!

The Crystal Empire is nothing more than a puppet state meant to subjugate the Crystal Ponies!

Cutie marks are a ruse by the Celestial Diarchy to enforce social control upon all pony-kind!

All of our sovereigns are mares! The "Matriarchy of Misandry" clearly suppresses all male involvement in affairs of the state and any notable political office!

The Canterlot Wedding was an inside job! CHANGELING FIRE CAN'T MELT STEEL BEAMS

There, I think I accurately recaptured the general vibe of your comments. Toodles!


I regret this, because most of those comments were from ponies horrified by the ending of the story, and there were a lot of thought-provoking discussions that followed. Many of which were... rather intense, to put it very mildly.

Oh, fuck I remember having a nice argument about how exactly parallel dimensions by definition could not exist, and it would be easy to create incongruities within the two realities and how stupid they all were, especially Celestia, for believing without evidence that they were in a parallel universe.

I also remember arguing about how body dymorphism is a biochemical thing, and not purely psychological, which meant that changing their memories most likely fucked them up even more.

And I remember you saying, "The author is the true villain!" But that's mostly because I kept that quote for my user page. :pinkiecrazy:

6790072 I think that's because someone implied that there was some kind of all powerful force that kept the universes parallel, to which i responded with that.

Also I was able to retreive some of the previous comments with the way back machine: Here!

mmh, I liked the old names more.

Ah yes, I was quite surprised to see this in my unread chapters, but it gave me an excuse to re-read it. I remember I was discussing how my only nit-pick was that Celestia/Helios were apparently unfamiliar with transgender ponies to the point they didn't enable Twilight/Nightfall to transition (socially I mean, though magic could probably alter how ones voice sounds most other physical transition options seem unavailable here).

I can't comment much about the tweaks because it's been so long since I've read the original. I do think there's a smoother flow to the story, so it does feel different from the original.

It's interesting, I've thought a lot about how gender magic could possibly work as I have a trans headcanon I would love to make a story about. But I have yet to settle on an idea that feels like it makes sense. It's definitely a complicated magic that only the most skilled of ponies could perform.

But now I'm rambling, lol. At any rate, I still quite enjoy the story! Great job! :ajsmug:

Welp reading it again was a pleasure (in an odd masochistic way) and I still stand on the points I believe I presented on the previous version of this fiction.

Thank you again Trick Question for this wonderful piece of literature :twilightsmile:

Wait, so did Nightfall/Twilight do this exact same thing before? Are they still in the parallel universes while their friends switched? I'm confused. :s

Still, the story was great and I like it, just a bit confusing.

Here's what happened. The alicorns switched the memories of the other five ponies with the memories of their counterparts, using the mental link between the two worlds. They didn't return to their original universe. Nothing was apparently done to Twilight, though presumably the spell fatigued her.

6790915 The trick at the end is that none of them actually switched universes at the end, it was too dangerous to try. So instead, they overwrote their friends' memories with their counterparts' memories, so the originally female set wouldn't think they had ever been anything but male, and vice versa.

Twilight, it turns out, had always wanted to be male, and Nightfall had always wanted to be female, and they got their wish in this story by swapping bodies. However, they felt miserable at the pain they had caused their friends, because their friends didn't want to switch genders.

I hope this makes more sense now!

Did I read this before it was revised? Not too sure. Either way, it left me with an odd sense of catharsis. I had a feeling that this would be the solution upon reading it, but it didn't sting any less. Any story that leaves me feeling like this deserves honorable mention, as I am the Queen of Feels on this site, yet this story made me feel things.


Well, the story has been revised, and I still have no clue what just happened!

EDIT: The only part I understood was that Twi brought her and her friends to Male!Equestria, they switched bodies with the Male!Mane 6, and she had to use a painful way back home.

See below for explanation.


Also see Dream Seeker's explanation if you're still foggy. Or ask questions. :twilightsmile:

I must have read this story before it was revised, as it only has one unread chapter and is showing up as a new chapter in my favorites. I don't remember this at all- what was it like before being revised?

It was the same story, but the formatting was different and it may have lacked a bit of its current clarity.

6791649 So wait, is Nightfall still in Twilight's body and vice versa? Because that's what the letter at the end makes it sound like.

6796920 yeah, after re-reading it, I can say the ending is a lot clearer with what happened.

6796920 yeah, after re-reading it, I can say the ending is a lot clearer with what happened.

Yes, that's what happened. But Twilight/Nightfall are transgender, so this is what they wanted. This is why Twilight feels so guilty at the end: she got something she's wanted all of her life, but it comes with the unknown potential for her friends to suffer the same fate.

Ahhh, shit. I don't remember what I commented on this.

The contrivance was contrived, but, I mean...

They are clearly able to change gender identity, as the portalized minds have both cross-universe memories and cross-universe identities, and both would have to change for it to be considered equivalent to a transfer. So if they're able to modify minds with magic, and they consider it equivalent to mental exchange between parallel universes, why did Twilight/Nightfall not undergo this identity-switching procedure originally?

In other words, the main problem with your story is that it would not exist.

The alternative, where just memories are changed (as it appears to be explained in the text, but characters can be wrong), is that Twilight just transgendered her friends (assuming strong cisgenderism in every case), having received an ideal transition in the process. The problem with that is that this would have been tried, as Celestia believes this is equivalent to transfer and would result in a cure for Twilight's dysphoria, and it would be discovered to not work, breaking the false belief.

So either identity is changed, and the story would not exist, or it isn't, and they would already know that the solution isn't one.

The reason Twilight never underwent this sort of procedure is that she never had access to an identical set of memories to swap with.

6789977 I recently reread the ending (but of the old version that I had downloaded who knows when) and I still couldn't figure out what exactly happened in that ending, though it seemed like something really disturbing regarding memories and what makes up your self... Is the revised version, um... clearer and less cryptic? :twilightsheepish:

It should be! Let me know.

6963108 Ah, great! The original version didn't seem to make clear what exactly had happened, though I could sort of guess and feel it to some extent? It was an interesting read nonetheless, but I'm looking forward to finding out if my suspicions are proven true! :twilightsmile:

Forgot to upvote and favorite, fixed now :P

6963108 After rereading it, it is now clearer, thanks! (I also just saw I could've just found that out via reading the comments, but oh well)

"Besides, such a thing might be perhaps a bit... untoward, in our Equestria, but I'm sure there's nothing unusual in this universe about a little filly doting on a mature stallion." Prince Mani raised a brow, then exchanged an uncomfortable glance with his brother.

:rainbowlaugh: Clearly. Nope, not at all.

Was hoping to see more R63 Spike and Rarity in action but interesting story needs to be expanded upon.

Wow amazing story, definitely one of the best I've read. 5/5 mustaches :moustache: :moustache: :moustache: :moustache: :moustache:

NOTE: I've restructured the story into chapters in preparation for its eventual sequel.

Just saw the notice and opened the story again and read the note that the names are different.

Sad that you had to put a trigger warning given that your names are, you know, better, not half-assed image titles that actually keep the tone and meaning of the originals.

Can't help thinking 80% of those downvotes are just there because you refused to use those terrible names.

Anyway, looking forward to the sequel!

7503332 Sequel?

I approve.

But I don't feel like re-reading the story to understand why you felt it would work better by being separated into chapters so could you just explain that to me?:twilightblush:


Must. Resist. The urge.



Damn it! :fluttershbad:

Not much changed, it's just a story I would have chaptered in retrospect—and I think the sequel will be longer, so it's likely to be chaptered and I'd like the structure to be similar between the two works.

7505168 I see. That makes sense. Thanks.:twilightsheepish:

Did you add anything new to the chapters, cause I think I've already read this story but it says these are new chapters.

No, I just restructured the story into chapters in prep for the eventual sequel. I posted a comment here and a blog post linked to the story about it.

Maybe I should put a temporary note in the story description?

I completely don't get how exactly their second swap is different from the first one.
Do ponies have some kind of qualia in this story? And if so, how it goes with universes synchronization?

The first swap was extremely dangerous, so Twilight lied to them the second time. They didn't change universes at all, they just exchanged memories in the hopes that would be sufficient for them to return to normal—but to do that, they had to be kept in the dark.

Sorry, I definitely should have explained my question better. I've read your explanations from older comments below and haven't understood how exactly different are "returning to their original universe" and "switching just the memories": it doesn't look like they swapped full content of their brains on the first occasion either, since they was able to move, see and hear in their new bodies with no problem, so at least their motor, visual and auditory cortex weren't swapped. Even their declarative memory was mixed up a bit after the first swap (issue with names for example). Some philosophers could say that first time their qualia was swapped and second time --- wasn't, but this still gives us no way to empirically tell apart first swap and second swap (from our world's point of view). So, do ponies in their world have some kind of observable qualia?

Should I add spoilers to my comments? I somewhat assumed that in comments to chapter X I'm free to discuss anything related to X and previous ones by default.

Ah, that's a valid question. There are two things: first, it's possible that the plan will fail at some point, meaning eventually her friends will remember who they were, in which case they're likely to be very upset with her choice. One of the things that made this a difficult decision for Twilight is that she fears that her friends will end up being transgender like herself, regardless as to whether or not it works. So doing what she did may end up making things worse, and cost her the trust of her friends.

Also, for some ponies (perhaps not for you or I), the difference is still there conceptually. That's one of the unsettled arguments intended by the conclusion.

As for spoilers, I just use 'em in general because everything shows up on the story page, and that's where ponies go first. I don't care enough about them to demand you use them, but I do it to be nice. :pinkiesmile:

It took me by surprise how ponies reacted to this story. Readers exploded over this story (the original comment thread was removed, but it was long and crazy), threatened to boycott me, etc. This is easily the most controversial story I've ever published, even including Twilight's Secret Journal, but it isn't controversial for everypony. Recycled was also controversial and is currently my lowest-rated fic, even though it's one of my favorite stories. (Ponies are very particular about how you portray purple waifu with character flaws.) :twilightblush:

So, their second mind rewrite is actually non-destructive despite appearing like it is at first. Thank you for the clarification!

I've read "Recycled" some time ago and liked it very much: what happened there is pretty disturbing and I can easily imagine myself doing the same thing in Twilight's place (there probably is a word for this. empathizable? sympathizable?). Judging even just from continuous (and maybe even differentiable) fun in comments there I should give a read to "Twilight's Secret Journal" too in the near future.

After chapter 2:

At least tell us which sister is prettier," he said, winking at Nightfall, who immediately blushed.

They would always know something is wrong, and once that seed of doubt exists, they could end up facing what I've faced all my life...

How recently did Twi come out of her closet?

After chapter 3:

This is not a 'minor inconvenience'. Of all ponies, I should know.

You're willing to risk your life, and the lives of your friends, to avoid feeling a tiny bit of guilt for you-know-exactly-why

Wait, is Twi transgendered?

After the story:
Holy fuck, she is!

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