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Trick Question

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This story is a sequel to The Knight and the Knave

With Princess Luna free of the Tantabus, Princess Celestia is ready to reveal an ancient secret to her sister and Twilight Sparkle: she is missing a large swath of her memories. Celestia has been unable to restore them by herself, so she will need the help of her friends to recover the missing details of her past.

Unfortunately, some buried things were not meant to be unearthed.

Chapters (6)
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Comments ( 55 )

hnnnn. why do you always go so far over the edge when you write stuff? I like you general ideas. I like your writing style, but you always make the events of the story go so far beyond belief you can only go WTF?

I didn't think the premise of this chapter was unrealistic given how little we've seen of Twilight and Celestia's relationship on the show. I would agree that it may be a strange recasting of show events.

Either way, the only reason I put in elements that fall outside of show canon is to tell the story I need to tell. This makes dovetailing from canon something of a Chekhov's Gun, but that should be expected.

7464635 it's not about canon and it's not about Twilight's relationship with Celestia. It's entirely about Celestia and the unbelievabilty of the plot around her

If the plot is too farfetched for the readers to suspend disbelief, I agree that's a problem, and I've had character-fit issues in previous works I later removed from the site. I'm not yet certain that's the case here, though.

I mean, it's a crazy premise, but this is fanfiction... The premise isn't completely outrageous, and attention to detail helps make it easier to get immersion. It helps that the premise is quite unique and interesting, with no small amount of mystery to it. I'd certainly read more of this.

I think the strongest point in its favor is the explanation for Celestia being kind of distant; her admission and apology was heartfelt and their was a sense of loss.

Otherwise the sisters' dialogue both seemed bland and not really like I imagine them speaking, though it's just this vague sense of wrongness.

I like the story so far, and I want to see where it's going.

Something (the description) tells me that this won't go all hunky dorey for the Sisters and Twilight...
Okay, you got me, I'm invested now.

This is clever.

And if nothing else, the idea that Luna inflicted Tantabus on herself as penance for things that happened after her exile to Celestia as an indirect result of her actions as Nightmare Moon plugs a huge canon hole.

Wait, so how old is Starlight Glimmer then, like 50?

If there's going to be talk of souls/consciousness, we kind of need to know if there's any scientific Equestrian evidence for the existence of the soul or if they're in the same boat we are regarding them.

"Soul" here means the expected continuation of the conscious experience. It isn't religious or supernatural in nature.


Oh. Well then why expect such continuation? The Zombie problem kind of demonstrates that there's effectively no such thing as a consciousness separate from the physical body. New bird vs irretrievable mind/memories is irrelevant, because they're indistinguishable.

Celestia's memories being largely recoverable, plus large aspects of her mind and personality seemingly persisting, means she isn't really analogous to Philomena.

No clue what the numbers thing is about. Interesting...


And Sunset is just trolling high school, heh.

I could've sworn this story had humans in it. Does it have humans in it?

Eh... Revelation wasn't especially satisfying. Not even in a horrible way. It's practically just a combination of math, clones, time travel, and suicide via the first 3. The equivalence of copied bodies is just handwaved by an alleged future proof we don't see, since otherwise this degenerates into a Star Trek transporter argument.

It doesn't help that we see too little of Celestia's agony, so it's hard not to view this self inflicted tragedy as kind of just Celestia being sort of dumb about the pain she'd cause her loved ones.

I'm also unclear on how the "final" clone works. Does she just live forever as the real Celestia by default, or is there some original one left?

The immortal secretary was possibly the most annoying thing, though. Oh, she's just sitting on the secret to immortality!? Which she only uses to perpetuate this bizarre math tragedy, and nothing else?

Since the mystery is all there really is to this story, I found it in general a bit unsatisfying. The tragic elements were just a bit too convoluted for me, I think.

Edit: I also want to say I hadn't been expected time travel, so being blindsided by that is part of what makes it seem so convoluted and weird. You honestly could just vaguely wave and say time travel clones and get the gist of what was going on, so the revelation wasn't hard to understand this time around even if the specifics were complex.

Most of this is worth responding to, but rather than do a spoilered point-by-point, I'll direct you to the blog post I just made first.

Either way, feedback is always appreciated (whether or not it's what I'm aiming for). :twilightsmile:


It did.

Don't you know? Trick Question's stories all are secretly told via unannounced edits to them. The "real" plot in this story is merging with their other stories like TSJ. That one is sort of the Rosetta Stone for the rest.

Bleeehhhh! Nope, don't like this. Starting at part 3 it got bogged down in being too convoluted.

The premise was cool, the hook I loved, but the Prestige just...bleh.

I wanted to love this depressing and all but having to deal with Transporter Clones was just...nnmph. Moodkilling, sadly. Sorry :fluttercry:

It is not the kind of story I like. It should also be labeled "tragedy" rather than "sad," I'm sure.

But it is still a solid, good, worthy story, and don't let anyone tell you different.

"So we threw it into the Sun, just to be sure."

Oh, lovely, an ending with a cute little quip of protagonist uncertainty about some ethical and emotional issue in order to offset an arbitrary eleventh hour plot escalation. I love it when a story with noteworthy depth suddenly veers into cheap tricks to obfuscate its lack of true resolution after pulling a complete bait and switch with an irrelevant math puzzle and a set of half-complete clues that make it literally impossible for the reader to take a stab at the ending.
Or do I?

I sound disappointed because, as it turns out, the ending is extremely disappointing. I expect better from Trick Question.

7493593 Unless of course telling Trick otherwise involves highlighting some non-trivial flaws, or the obvious fact that telling someone otherwise is a fundamental part of public discourse.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this, but that doesn't make it perfect.


I never said it was perfect, I don't think I ever said this about any story written by anyone. :)

But I kind of think the lack of positive commentary here so far is unbecoming. So what if it's not the best? It just means the best story isn't written yet.

7493662 Positive commentary on this chapter in particular would only serve to detract from the sincerity of my critique.

Also, the best story is obviously the Special Cases Personnel Files, pending its anticipated publication next spring.

... yawn. I'm surprised the solution was so simple... I really should start looking for simpler solutions to complex problems, their usually the right ones. Also coulda made this a bit more interesting Trickie by having the final Celestia Clone regain the memories from Twilights Original Celestia Clone, That is still a possibility.

In particular I figured it would not be a story you'd like, but it was what it was.

I think I've confirmed this isn't the sort of story one should release in updates, at least. I was able to get away with that with Broken Symmetry, but for a story of this length where expectations will develop if it sits too long, it should be done in a single push.


I don't think the single push would have helped for me. My problem was that the original Knight & Knave was an interesting exploration of the relationship between the sisters and Celestia's fragile psyche, and then this one went in a radically different direction, in the From Dusk till Dawn sense, and it was the sort of direction that seems at odds with the rest of the text.

Symmetry worked better because the Sciencey-stuff was ingrained in it from moment one, so the tonal whiplash wasnt there

Man, so many feelings here. Where to begin?

You have a talent for creating suspense, at least for me, because the stakes always feel real. They're also very high; in all your stories I've read something terrible always seems on the verge of occurring, because it actually is. And it usually does. There's something very valuable to lose, and choices to be made from which there is no return. That's terrifying, and it sums up well the clot of emotion I often felt while reading this. Little things like Luna getting scared and wanting a doctor feel very real and vulnerable to me. It heightens the sense of dread.

I read your blog, and it helped me understand your purpose with Ashes, particularly with that last line at the end. I knew it was important, even the most important, but I didn't know what it meant.

I am glad you are keeping Ashes as is: not because it's perfect, or because I can find nothing to critique. Sometimes, I think, we need to allow a story to be as it is, even if the execution is flawed, even if there is "a better way", because of what the story does for us as the author. When the expression is honest, I believe sometimes it's just going to be the way it is. I know that's not acceptable to some readers, that there are those who believe you ought to do all you can to make a story as "perfect" or accessible as possible. But I've simply come to feel otherwise.

I can tell from the two passages of "question then answer" in chapter one and "hypothesis then test" in chapter 5 that you thought a lot about how Celestia's plan would really work. This is part of why it strikes readers as muddled and convoluted; you've thought about the ins and outs more, and you address them all. From the reader's perspective, they see Celestia or Twilight or Luna address some point the reader didn't think was a point, whose relevance is difficult to see without a lot of consideration they were not planning to put in. The rest, I think, is simply not enough explanation and the fact that it is a very complicated plan. But again, I believe this is because you wanted to make it really work--no plot holes.

I did have a lot of trouble understanding it, but I think I've gotten most of it. I'm mostly still unsure about the cloning process and how Celestia thought it would solve her dilemma.

There were a lot of great ideas with thematic weight to them, even if many weren't fully brought to fruition, at least for me. The idea that Celestia became her own Tantabus, by torturing her essence through repeated self-murders, which speaks of the very real cycle that trauma causes--hurting people hurt themselves. How Celestia made Luna (and Twilight) suffer even more by trying to avoid her own. How the 63rd Celestia still dies like all the others, but this time takes what is a selfish cycle of death and makes it good by turning it into a sacrifice (if even a potentially misguided one). What it means to die over and over again. To me, these are all fascinating, emotional concepts which fit very well with Celestia and the idea of immortal alicorns in general, and I wish we had gotten more time to spend on them.

At the end of it, I'm glad you finally finished this, and that I got to read it. It wasn't what I expected at all (not a bad thing) and yeah it has issues, but there's a lot to like for me here too, and it was certainly fraught with emotion.

Seems like Celestia needs to amend her song.

"You've come such a long, long way
And I've watched you from that very first day
To see what you might do
To see how you might grow
At least that's what I assume
Since my head's totally hollow..."

Well, "I have basically no idea who you are and I've been bullshitting my way through our relationship for the last three years" is certainly kind of a heavy revelation to lay on someone.

Even if the memories have been locked away from your mind, the pony you have become because of those experiences is the pony that sits beside me now.

"Yes, but I disagree anyway." Huh?

Well, to state it up-front, I can understand why people are saying they expected something different from this. I was also hoping for more of a continuation of its predecessor and I am disappointed in that regard.

That said, it's still interesting conceptually, stands well on its own as a story and discusses its subject matter well. What it also is, however, is very abstract and clinical. For such an intensely emotional subject, there is very little display or conveyance of real emotion in the story. There is more attention given to the mechanics of the situation than to how it affects the characters. I am told everyone is feeling terribly heartbroken and upset about this, but I can't say I'm really seeing it. The strongest expression of grief over the whole matter came from Twilight in the first chapter and was gotten over rather in a hurry. Neither Twilight nor Luna seem terribly torn up about the loss of their temporary friend, mentor and sister as they meet the new Celestia. Life goes on, as they say. If even the characters involved do not really seem care all that much, why should I?

<Insert obligatory "Dead Celestias Society" joke here>

Ooh. This is good critique. :pinkiesmile:

"Raven is not one of your young assistant's picture-book villains, Twilight," Luna said, softly. "Surely, this has already occurred."

"Thirty-five minutes ago."

I enjoyed this tragedy a lot. This NEW Celestia, will be able to live on in immortality, with those she cares about most, and develop new and lasting relationships. One thing that wasn't mentioned, was Celestia's niece Cadence. I also want to direct you to another good story titled; "THERE IS NO LUNA".

So this last part where Twilight says "I guess... I'm not entirely certain whether she is." probably means something along the lines of her being not like that last clone that sacrificed herself for Twilight makes her unlucky or something? I dunno. Maybe it was more like maybe she's not the last, last clone or maybe she'll be unhappier than all the clones before her? It's really just speculation at this point, If you wanna you know, explain it a little (wink wink) then that'd be cool too.

Beautiful story, btw. Glad I finally read this. This sequel and the original story were on my read it later list for like, ever. And you know few people ever get their read it later list done really. I more or less just stumbled upon The Knight and The Knave along the side stories this site recommends and saw I had added it to my read it later list. And I decided to finish it off here and now. And so I have.

I believe Twilight is expressing the idea that perhaps how long you live isn't as important as who you become, and she admires the most recent Celestia she only knew for three years, and only truly knew for an hour.

This is the underlying message, and I doubt I made it direct enough that most readers understand. But that's okay. :twilightsmile:

For the record, I'm not the downhoofer for this comment. :pinkiesmile: I appreciate all feedback.

I'm also not an uphoofer for it, because this specific comment doesn't give me any useful feedback; but I do appreciate the comment.

It's hard for me to use the Tragedy tag, it really is, because it feels like a spoiler, and I don't see most of my story endings as tragic. I actually see this story as upbeat because I think 63rd Celestia's life was meaningful. However, I am weird, and find solace in things many ponies find tragic.

I will use the Tragedy tag in two cases:

0) For a long story, if the protagonist's initial actions through the early part of the story will be in vain. I might not personally see it as tragic for the protagonist to slowly but radically change their point of view over the course of a long story, but readers who are rooting for the protagonist's initial point of view will be disappointed if they're expecting a grand reversal of fate at the end. For this reason, I've had to mark Twilight's Secret Journal as Tragedy (because there isn't necessarily going to be a total one-eighty back to her initial goals). On the other hoof, there is a reversal of fate with The Element of Surprise, so that one isn't tragic (but it's still Sad, because y'all gonna cry).

1) If the ending is just plain Sad in a way that doesn't leave open any hope for a positive resolution (by a normal pony's reckoning, at least). Tiara's Testament is a good example of this. Ashes is bittersweet, but at the end things are more-or-less back the way they were. There's been loss, but it isn't the end of the world for the characters who remain in the story. (Recycled is similar, and I think most readers would argue it's a horrible Tragedy, but the world hasn't changed enough for me to justify the tag to myself.)

So I don't consider this one a Tragedy by either reckoning, particularly given the intended message of the story under that first spoiler at the top of this message. :twilightsmile:

7745423 I'll read again and get back to you with more specific criticism shortly. At the time of writing, I was mostly feeling emotional and trying not to let it become vitriolic.

Why next-to-last clone of Celestia haven't even taken time to try to come up with alternative solutions for her problem? Like, for example, casting timeport spell into nearest future just before last clone appears. Was Celestia's justification for necessary suicide actually a motivated cognition on account of

"That is only because you wish to die," said Star Swirl, shaking his head dismissively. "Or, more accurately, because you wish to be punished. Being able to end your suffering is merely a psychological bonus."

which was further complicated by restored memories from years 4--8 and recent Luna's incident with Tantabus?

"Ha! This cannot be the same Kestrel I know," said Star Swirl. "The clerk you told me was a 'psychopath'? The one you were about to fire?"

That was quite surprising revelation: with Celestia missing her memory trust is the most important thing. Actually, information reliability issues were the reason for my full mode paranoia about someone manipulating Celestia at the beginning of the story (turns out it was Celestia herself --- didn't see this coming). Is this impression intentional by the way? And missing pages in Celestia's notes are due to earlier clones figuring out what actually happening?

I believe Celestia and Starswirl were able to test effects of informational asymmetry between clones before casting anything by careful application of illusions and memory erasure, but they not doing it probably can be explained by Celestia not thinking straight and Starswirl bounded by Novikov consistency.

I think the implied conundrum is that the last Celestia is scheduled to return soon, and she'll have to be the one who carries on (there can't be two of her at the same time). The only other option would be to find some way to murder her clone and then timeport past her death, which Celestia appears unwilling to consider (and it might not even work).

As for the rest of it, I think you have the right idea. :pinkiesmile:

Sooo... It always takes a bit to make me comment. So here goes.

I read this 3 times to make certain I gathered every bit I need to and... It was good, A piece I was greatly enjoying until the final chapter.

When Twilight and Luna met the new Celestia. She had no emotion towards her deceased self. No idea who twilight was. And other then one scroll just the idea that Luna was home from the moon and herself once more. But there was none of that. You'd think this newest clone or the "new" Celestia would be over joyed to be with Luna again at VERY least. But, she doesn't show it. All she states is that she is sorry. She's not. She has no emotional connection to Twilight or the 63rd Celestia and whatever relationship she winds up having with Twilight will be utterly different. She has one scroll. The notes from the 62nd Celestia are not mentioned so I can only assume that they are gone. All the memories 63 regained are gone as well. So she has not a bloody idea who Twilight is other then the fact She was important to 63 and is an alicorn. And that is a tragedy plain and simple. 63 died. Didn't leave the large amounts of notes any predecessors did she just committed suicide instead of taking the time to try and work out a way to stay alive and stay with Twilight and Luna and everyone else who matter in her life. She gave up. And... That bothers me that bothers me a lot. I wrote a story in which Twilight is suicidal called Dear Princess Celestia, I wrote it the night I almost killed myself. Yes, I have been suicidal in the past. The fact I had friends and loved ones saved me and they saved Twilight. So it comes down to this. Do I hate this final chapter so much to down vote your fic? I enjoyed everything up to that final chapter... I do not know. I hope you can understand the problems I have with it. And no, I do not expect you to take the story down... but add the tragedy tag. I don't like it either but here it is needed.


The only other option would be to find some way to murder her clone and then timeport past her death, which Celestia appears unwilling to consider (and it might not even work).

I assumed from

"Yes. An unstable clone cannot exist in the same time span with any other pony having the same temporal signature," said Celestia. "Each clone will cease to exist at the moment the next one appears. It's like teleportation, except my memories will be erased each time the next clone replaces the previous."

that there was no need for any specific action for killing last clone since timeporting would do it by itself, but it is essentially the same alternative course of action for Celestia as I suggested in my previous comment. (I've just reread my previous comment and it's meaning is actually non-obvious from it. Again. Damn you, illusion of transparency, my old nemesis. Damn you!)
While not claiming that next-to-last Celestia's decision was wrong for sure, I would say that is was too hasty for her and "right for wrong reasons" at best. Apart from Twilight's and Luna's hurt feelings at stake, as I now realize, there is a Newcomb's problem-like mind-breaking craziness with possible existential consequences: for next-to-last Celestia deciding if she to timeport or not, there probably is at least one earlier clone facing the same decision (evidence with destroyed notes). To make things worse:
A. symmetry between clones is not perfect
B. destroyed notes is evidence of earlier clone already done something naughty
C. two timeports into single moment of time is a threat to Equestria's existence
D. earlier clone's timeport forward destroys purpose of next-to-last Celestia's sacrifice.
If current Celestia decides to timeport it is a strong evidence that earlier clone have done the same thing, with all possible consequences including C. In the other case there is no guarantee for earlier clones behaviour because of A and B and it's better not be ignored because of D and C. And all of this not including earlier clone's recursive reasoning.
I genuinely have no idea what's the right answer here. :derpyderp1:

It wasn't my intent at all to make the story about (filler words) suicide, and I'm deeply sorry about the effect it had on you. :fluttershysad: Disclosure warning: I think about suicide every day, and many years ago I (tried to) kill myself. So I know something about the pain that comes from being confronted with that issue.

The mane reason I can't tag this story a Tragedy is that it would completely undercut the intended meaning of the story. Almost nopony seems to understand what the story implies, which is okay. But the entire point of the story is that what happened wasn't a Tragedy. I can see that many readers would consider it tragic in nature, but I was careful to mark the story with Dark, Drama, and Sad. I had hoped that would be enough of a warning.

Do you think adding a small disclaimer like, "Many readers will consider this story tragic," or something, would have helped you to avoid the story? If your experience isn't an uncommon one, perhaps it might be a good idea for me to add one.

See below for the more on topic of Celestia's decision.

I wouldn't expect Celestia to make a rash decision on an issue of such grand importance, especially since her mood has improved. The intended implication is that she learned more after her conversation with Star Swirl that would convince her there is no way to avoid the inevitable without murdering her other clone, which she is unwilling to do. That would be part of what she remembers after casting the spell with Luna.

I think it might be useful to know why I chose the storytelling method I did, so I elaborate below. NOTE: This is not an argument for whether or not I made the right decision as an author! That is entirely your job as a reader to decide. :twilightsmile:

I did consider adding more details after the Sheherazade to convince the reader Celie knew what she was doing, but it wasn't important to the message and I'd already gone too far with the magicbabble. In a setting of high-fantasy where there are no right or wrong answers about what magic can or can't do, there's no way I could convince the reader Celie isn't crazy if they strongly disagree with her actions (and if I tried, it would make for boring reading).

Putting the disclaimer may help at least a bit. I did enjoy the story and I do thank you for responding and for those reasons. I have decided to upvote. I'm still not happy with the last chapter for the MANY reasons I stated... but
Good story mate.

Disclaimer added. :twilightsmile:

If you're looking for an against-all-odds story that doesn't end in tragedy, you might enjoy this one. (It has a ton of quantum technobabble, but that isn't necessary for understanding the events.)

Apparently, every sixteen years I cast the Lethe spell to wipe my memories of the previous sixteen-year period.

It's a bit unexpected that Twilight's and Luna's immediate reaction to this wasn't something like "You wiped your memories hours before Nightmare Moon's return?! Are you crazy?!"

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