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No Ontological Inertia

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Becky: And the machine blowing up has returned everything to normal in the real school, including Mr. Abercrombie!
Templeton: Hmm. I'm not convinced that blowing up a machine would make everything go back to normal.
Mitchell: Don't question it. We meddled with stuff we don't understand. We got away with it. Let's go play in the snow.
Templeton: I mean, if you blow up a toaster, your toast doesn't turn back into bread, does it?
Becky: Templeton, shh!
Templeton: And if you blow up a cow, you don't make cheese not exist. I mean, it just doesn't make any sense!
Strange Hill High "Teacher's Pet"

Ontological Inertia is the tendency that stuff has to continue being stuff. Things, in general, keep existing even when we're not looking at them.

Writers often forget about or ignore this, and assume that the creator of a thing maintains some sort of existential tie to the thing created. That is, if the creator is destroyed, it is "only natural" that the creation will pop out of existence, or, preferably, explode. Whatever damage or curse the Big Bad has done disappears when it is defeated, instantly resulting in sunlight, birds and happy little flowers. (Keep in mind that this ontological tie is actually the case in many fairy tales and faerie stories.)

There are certain situations in which this can be inherently justified. Computer programs, for example, stop running if their hardware turns off, and may be reset to a default state under certain conditions. Magic usually lacks ontological inertia, under the theory that continuous effort has to be applied to work against the natural order, and ceasing that effort will cause things to snap back to the way they ought to be. Sometimes the magic lacks ontological inertia because spells are contracts i.e. pacts (with the spirits, the gods, demons, etc.), and the death of the contractor voids the contract—like what sometimes happens to currencies when the government issuing them falls, e.g. good luck buying things with Confederate dollars in 1866.

In other situations it's more blatant, such as the ever popular Load-Bearing Boss, or a poison/disease that not only stops doing further damage when it is cured, but also erases the injuries that it's already inflicted. A slightly more subtle variation is the Fisher King, whose health is mirrored by the state of his kingdom.

This trope may be one of the types of Acceptable Breaks from Reality in more idealistic works, as dealing with the damage left behind by the depredations of the Big Bad or the Monster of the Week can turn even the best Happy Ending into a downer as one realizes just exactly how much work the heroes will have to do to put their world back together. See No Endor Holocaust for the ultimate extreme of this.

Similarly, This Was His True Form is this trope applied to shapeshifters and to any reality that has been overlaid by a fairy enchantment. This is a type of Reset Button. Destruction Equals Off-Switch is arguably a subtrope. A Keystone Army that features a Hive Queen of some sort frequently employs this as well.

Compare with Critical Existence Failure, when something has no intermediate state between functionally perfect and completely destroyed; and What Happened to the Mouse?, where not only does something disappear, but the author fails to give any clue why. Contrast Offscreen Inertia. See also Liquid Assets and No Immortal Inertia — though these are more about Life Energy, they still represent states that can be easily restored to "normal".

Not to be confused with Status Quo Is God, where the reversion happens offscreen and no reason is ever given.

Some spoilers ahead (villain deaths, primarily).

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    Asian Animation 
  • The eponymous Monster of the Week of the Gaju Bhai episode "Tin Tin Tula" is a giant spider who completely covers Gajrajpuri in webs, trapping some townsfolk in the process. Defeating her is somehow enough to make all the webs disappear in an instant.
  • Happy Heroes:
    • In Season 7 episode 13, Monster Clown uses a gem on his chest to absorb laughs and turn people into stone, the idea being to freeze their smile in place forever. When the gem gets destroyed near the end of the episode, it reverts the petrified people to normal.
    • In Season 8 episode 12, the magic pen flat out has text on it saying that if you destroy it, anything that was drawn with it that came to life will disappear.
  • Lamput: In "Transfer Gun", the Boss invents a body-swapping gun and gets hit by it, causing him to switch bodies with Lamput; others are affected by the gun later on as well. The body-swapping gun being destroyed is what reverses its effect, returning everyone to their original bodies.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Played straight with cards changing zones (such as a creature dying or a card being discarded). The game "forgets" where a card used to be and the rules treat it as a new object when it arrives in a new zone.
    • Similarly, the rules state that when a player loses the game, everything he controlled disappears. This can be very important in multiplayer games.
    • Zigzagged with card abilities. The effects of static abilities disappear the instant that their source leaves the battlefield. In contrast, once an activated ability has been activated or a triggered ability has been triggered, they exist independently from their source, and killing the source will do absolutely nothing to prevent the ability from resolving. This is mostly so that Death Activated Superpowers work the way you would expect them to.
    • This used to be a defied trope with creature damage. Magic uses a timing system called "The Stack," in which whatever was put on it last is resolved first. (This makes sense in gameplay even if it involves a Timey-Wimey Ball.) The problem is, damage dealt by creatures used to go on The Stack, meaning that, in response to your creature dealing damage to your opponent, you could take it out of play in various ways and for various beneficial purposes. In other words, the game's timing rules made it possible for your creature to swing a punch, suffer Critical Existence Failure, and still have its punch land. This was eventually changed with an Obvious Rule Patch that made creature damage not involve The Stack.
  • Notably, many card games feature a rule that states whatever is on a creature disappears when that creature leaves the playing field. For example:
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, if a monster has its ATK stat reduced or increased, when that monster is sent to the Graveyard, its ATK stat returns to normal. Even if the exact same monster card (not just by name, but the physical card) returns to the field, its ATK stat will remain normal, unless a card with continuous effect changes its ATK stat again. Similarly, if a monster's effect is negated on the field, when it is sent to the Graveyard, its effect is no longer negated. Even if the exact same monster returns to the field, the effect will not be negated, unless a card with continuous effect negates its effect again.
      • Yu-Gi-Oh! takes it one step further with some "Trap monsters" (as in, Trap cards whose effect summon themselves as monster). They are only treated as both Trap and monster while they are face-up on the field. In any other locations, they are just a Trap card. Paleozoic archetype in particular, do not even treat themselves as Trap cards anymore when they are face-up on the field as a monster.
    • In Pokémon card game, if a Pokemon is defeated, all the Energy cards on it are discarded. Even if the Pokemon returns to the field or your hand, the discarded Energy cards remains discarded.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Sunday edition of Calvin and Hobbes sees the eponymous twosome engaging in one of their trademark petty arguments during a meeting of their "anti-girl" secret club, G.R.O.S.S. While Calvin's head is turned (he's writing a derogatory "law" about Hobbes in the club charter), Hobbes snatches Calvin's "Supreme Dictator Hat" off of his head and proclaims "Now I'm the Supreme Dictator!" — as if taking off the Supreme Dictator's hat automatically drains him of his power.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Slightly zig-zagged in Cinderella. The coach, horses, dress, etc., all revert to normal at midnight, except for one (possibly both) glass slipper(s).
  • In "Brother and Sister," the brother, who was turned into a deer by his Wicked Witch Stepmother, turns back into a human when she's killed.

    Fan Works 
  • The Dragon and the Songstress: The curse inflicted on Aqua goes away after the sorcerer that inflicted it is killed.
  • Subverted in Fireside Tale. Despite expectations, the Endless Winter doesn't end with Elsa's death.
  • Averted in The Kamikakushi Saga. The kami from Spirited Away remain bound to their contracts with Yubaba, despite her death and the destruction of the bathhouse. Working at Chihiro's onsen allows them to fulfil the terms of said contracts.
  • In Kingdom of Isolation, Kristoff kills Elsa to get the Endless Winter she's caused to end.
  • The Maker's Reject: The titular Maker never intended for Sunset Shimmer to exist, and as such Sunset's existence is entirely dependent on Celestia continuing to will her to exist. If Celestia's attention ever slips, the Maker's plan starts to take effect and Sunset is erased from reality.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, all of fifth-dimensional being's mischief will vanish after they're banished back to the fifth dimension. This is why Tskymi (also known as Dark Shadow) can't simply poof away All Might's injuries and deal with other problems.
  • Principal Celestia Hunts the Undead: Brain worms need a source of black magic to survive on Earth. When the source they were using is gone, they die quickly and are purged from the victims' body within twenty-four hours.
  • Queens of Mewni:
    • This is why Hemera the Builder became...well, the Builder, rather than use magic to make Mewni Castle. She discovered that any spells cast by someone is dispelled when the user dies, and so if she had used magic to create Mewni Castle wholesale, it would have vanished upon her death. She would only use magic to transport already existing materials.
    • This would have dire consequences in the Dark Ages. Helia the Light of Power gifted fruits grown from the gold and silver trees she grew with her magic to her debtors as a pledge of goodwill. When she died suddenly, the fruits turned to ash and the debtors soon came calling on Helia's successor, Celestia, who in her haste to make an endless summer to grow crops to pay the debt quickly, misread it and instead created the Endless Winter that defined her reign and gave her the name the Queen of Winter.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
    • In Act IV chapter 18, upon Hitomi's death, all of those she petrified return to normal.
    • Similarly, both times Jovian and Jacqueline are killed, the mind control spell they cast on Felucia, and later Apoch and Astreal, are automatically broken.
    • Discussed in Act VI chapter 51. Kokoa suggests that they just kill Hex to break the spell he has on Falla and Akasha. Moka and Kyouko dismiss that possibility, pointing out that Hex is much stronger than he looks, that Akasha and Falla will fight against them to protect him, and there's no guarantee that killing him will break the spell anyway.
  • Son of the Sannin: The beginning of Chapter 113 reveals that a large chunk of Akatsuki's forces, namely the ones comprised by Toneri's army of puppets, suddenly deactivated and ceased to work, foreshadowing his eventual death at Hinata's hands. Additionally, his death causes the eyes he stole from Hiashi Hyuga's corpse to revert from Tenseigan back to normal Byakugan.
  • Starfall (Star vs. the Forces of Evil): It's explicitly said that magic fades soon after the caster dies. This is one of the reasons why everyone is so confused at the curse cast to cut off Earth from the rest of the universe. Only Royal magic is strong enough to do that, but the only two Royal magic users left are Star (who wouldn't do that) and her mother Moon (who also wouldn't do that, but died soon after the curse was cast so it would have faded soon after anyway). Of course everyone knows it was Empress Ishtar, but no one can figure out how. As it turns out, Ishtar is the culmination of breeding twelve of the thirteen lines of Royal magic into one. She has more than enough power to do it. Once she dies, the curse immediately starts to fade, but even decades later it's still not completely gone.

  • Lone Wolf:
    • An aversion: after the Darklords are defeated, the lands that they corrupted in their campaign of conquest are still corrupted. The intro pages of the Grandmaster series reveal that the Elder Magi and the Herbwardens are working to restore the Darklands to their original states, but realize that it will take centuries of effort to undo the damage.
    • Played straight in Book 6: killing the ancient Dakomyd causes it to instantly decay and turn to dust.
    • In Book 17, destroying the Deathlord Ixiataaga removes the power that kept the city of Xaagon in a suspended state, causes the entire city to collapse, breaks the cloud cover that prevented sunlight from reaching it, and "shuts down" all of Ixiataaga's undead minions.

    Myths & Religion 

  • Played with in the "Tower" table of Ruiner Pinball; casting three magic spells supposedly destroys the Tower and cause it crumble, but we never actually see it happen.

  • In the Cool Kids Table game Here We Gooooo!: Once the party destroys the Aspartame Crystal and restores the Sugar Crystal at the Grape Escape factory, they get rid of the diet symptoms and restore the surrounding area to it's former beauty. The same holds true when they're able to destroy other crystals across the kingdom.
  • In the crossover between Jemjammer and The Fallen Gods, the destruction of Arc Villain Sister Takaris causes her copies and her Draconian army to disintegrate painfully or explode.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Zigzagged in Tales from Muppetland: The Frog Prince. When Tamanella's powers are finally destroyed by breaking the ball on the handle of her cane, Princess Melora's spell which affects her speech is broken, but Robin, still remains a frog because it was specifically stated that only the kiss of a princess would break that spell. Melora, however, quickly takes care of that.

  • In some versions of dodgeball, getting someone out makes everyone they got out come back into the game.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: Less powerful magics often have no persistence, but more powerful magic does persist, mainly through investment of power points. Things destroyed by magic stay destroyed, and killed creatures are still dead, even with less powerful magic.
  • Champions supplement The Circle and M.E.T.E. When a vampire is destroyed, some of the people it changed into vampires become human again.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Ravenloft occasionally makes use of this.
      • When the Darklord of an "island" domain is killed, the island may cease to exist, sometimes simply being absorbed into the Mists, sometimes violently falling apart. What happens to the island's inhabitants is unknown. This is because the Darklords are Fisher Kings of their various domains, which only exist to serve as a prison and stage for the Darklords they're built around. With no Darklord, the domain literally serves no purpose and is, in the view of the Dark Powers, expendable.
      • This trope forms an important part of the worldview of the Abber Nomads who inhabit the Nightmare Lands domain. Because their surroundings are constantly shifting, they see no reason to believe that anything exists when they are not interacting with it.
    • 2nd Edition adventure FROA1 Ninja Wars, adventure "Tiger-Bird Spirit — the Sequel". Centuries ago a wu jen was turned into a tigbuana buso through a divine curse. He can infect a victim and cause them to become a tagamalang buso. If he is killed, any people he has infected become normal again.
    • Mostly averted in D&D, however. Spells have set durations that will play out whether or not the caster dies before they end, and magical items are their own thing and not reliant on the creator. Killing the master vampire, head necromancer, or golem-creator just means the subordinate vampires, zombies, or golems are now independent. You'd have to specially invoke this trope to make it happen, barring some very unusual circumstances.
    • The trope is played straight with the regional effects associated with the lairs of powerful dragons, vampires, etc., which fade either over a period of days or instantly after the death of the lair's master.
    • Ragnorra, an Elder Evil resembling a vast, tumorous mass of flesh, causes hideous mutations to twist the bodies of every living thing on worlds she lands on, slowly turning them into full-fledged Aberrations. If Ragnorra is defeated and her consciousness severed from its hold on the material plane, however, all of these mutations will wither and fall away like dead warts, so that even creatures that had been completely twisted into writhing monsters will quietly return to their original shapes in short order.
  • Mage: The Awakening: The default behavior of magic. Generally, if a mage is killed, their ongoing spells will end, since they require the mage's soul to function. However, mages have the option of relinquishing a spell, making it self-sustaining, at the cost of no longer being in control of it and having to invest a dot of Willpower. Relinquishing a spell imbued into an item has a few other options for what has to be sacrificed.
  • Nobilis: Massively averted, as the Nobles exist in Celestial time and are mostly immune to the effects of mundane time. You can travel to before a Noble was born and kill her parents... and all you'll do is piss her off. Mundane history now says she was never born, sure, but she still exists, because she she was Ennobled before you tried to erase her.
  • Pathfinder:
    • A forest blight is a type of Blob Monster capable of turning the targets of its claw attacks into trees. If a forest blight is killed, its transformed victims all retake their previous forms at once.
    • In the Skull and Shackles adventure path, the player characters come across an island guarded by ancient stone statues, which have been magically preserved against the elements for thousands of years, as well as a magical spring whose waters repel the undead. While the culture that created both these things is long gone, an inevitable remains bound to the island to stand vigil over them. The players can help break the binding, allowing the inevitable to cease its now-pointless watch; since its magic was the last thing keeping the island's enchantments going, however, the statues instantly turn to ash and blow away once the binding is broken, and the spring loses all its magic over the next day.
  • Rolemaster Shadow World supplement Demons of the Burning Night. While wearing the Helm of Kadaena the wearer accumulates 10 years of aging during each combat, but the Helm prevents the aging from taking effect. If the Helm is ever removed all of the aging immediately takes effect.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade
    • Level 10 of the discipline Quietus is Punish the Sins of the Father, which kills the target vampire and all descended from him through the Embrace.
    • In one adventure a vampire was trying to kill the vampire who Embraced her so that she could become human again.
  • Warhammer:
    • The normal rank-and-file undead (zombies, skeletons, etc.) in the armies of the Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings slowly crumble to dust when the general of the army is killed, since the magic power that created them is gone. In case of creatures such as ghouls, who are not technically undead but enslaved by the vampires' will, they slink back to where they came from. This was averted on a grand scale when the spell Nagash was casting to resurrect the entire world's dead was disrupted. Most of them died again, but many stayed around and there are still places where the dead spontaneously come back due to the echoes of his spell. Used hilariously by the Glottkin; when faced with a Vampire with an impossibly large army of undead (who was taunting them no less), Otto took a third option and ordered Ghurk to punt the Vampire across the horizon. Literally. As soon as the Vampire went out of sight, his army crumbled away as he was now too far to keep them up.
    • Averted with certain spells that have a delayed response. As one faq pointed out, jumping up and down on a wizard does not stop a meteorite he summoned from crashing onto the battlefield a turn later.

  • Invoked in the musical version of Frozen; during the song "Monster" Elsa contemplates killing herself to stop the winter, but admits she doesn't know if it would actually work or the magic storm would persist even after her death. She decides she should at least stay alive long enough to find a way to reverse what she's done.
    Elsa: Father, you know what's best for me; if I die will they be free?/Mother, what if after I'm gone, the cold gets colder and the storm rages on?
  • Inverted in Swan LakeOdette warns Siegfried not to kill Von Rothbart until the curse is broken, because otherwise it will become permanent. Though in some versions, cutting off his wings will break the spell instead.

  • BIONICLE's Kanohi Mohtrek toyed with the trope. It's essentially a mask that creates duplicates of the user, but with a twist: the duplicates are actually the user's past selves, plucked out of the timeline into the present. Then they fight or some stuff. When the mask is turned off, the duplicates return to their original time, and will have no recollection of the future events they "just" witnessed. What the mask doesn't undo is physical damage, however. So whenever a past-self is summoned into battle and gets battered and weakened, he/she will return in that state to his/her timeline, but won't know how he/she suddenly got weakened and bruised.

  • In Axe Cop, "The Dogs", once the Siberian Witch Doctor Mummy Cats are sent to Mouse World, their evil magics are undone because they become so happy, and everything they enchanted (which was a lot) returns back to normal. The birds shrink back to normal size, the fish return to normal and fall from the sky, the humans turn back into humans instead of witch doctor mummy kittens... It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context.
  • Averted in Bob and George; George is wearing a time travel suit that makes him intangible. When the suit is destroyed, he stays intangible. A lot of fans were surprised by this, given the prevalence of this trope.
  • Averted in Dominic Deegan with the poison infecting orcish lands. It takes so long to be undone after the source was destroyed that Dominic face palms himself for completely forgetting it was there.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Summons follow this rule. See ''Taurcanis Draco".
    • Earlier, Fox dissolves after Abraham uses a mass sleep spell, knocking out Nanase so he can kill Ellen. The author admits it looks more disturbing than he originally intended.
    • On the other hand it is averted with creations of the Dewitchery Diamond. Tedd reads a log of the diamonds original creation, wherein a man cursed with lycanthorphy was separated into himself and a giant wolf-beast; when the man died the wolf still survived. Tedd points out this means if Elliott dies Ellen will be just fine, but this doesn't particularly reassure Elliott.
    • Most transformations in the comic are enchantments, which can be dispelled and which wear off after a while if not wanted by the caster. A few transformations, however, actually change someone's "base form" and are thus as permanent as anything else. The difference is occasionally plot-relevant.
    • There is no answer to "vampires"/aberrations besides killing them, because they are Always Chaotic Evil, the transformation process strips them of any capacity for empathy, and curing them of their condition would kill them. In fact, this is how Pandora genocides a significant portion of the vampire population: She unleashes a spell that forces every immortal to "cure" every vampire within range.
  • Jupiter-Men:
    • For starstruck creatures, any extensions of themselves will instantly vanish the moment that they're detoxed. This includes self-duplicating bunny monsters and a Man-Eating Plant that could turn its petals into bee-shaped Attack Drones.
    • The invading Magitte is quickly sent back to the Magi Dimension once Quintin douses the flower keeping the Magitte anchored to Prime with acid.
    • Subverted with Arrio's magic. He expects the magical fire that he produces to go away if he douses it with water after he stops actively casting. But the monsters Arrio set on fire burst back into flames immediately afterward. He has to use the failsafe spell, "Disipar a Cenizar" to dispel the effects of his own magic in case something goes wrong.
  • Invoked in Manly Guys Doing Manly Things when Commander Badass hunts down Gackt with the belief that defeating him will cure his case of Nomura Syndrome. It doesn't work.
  • In The Order of the Stick, three fiends discussing a magic-boosting 'soul-splice' mention that any spells cast during the splice will end when the splice does, except those with permanent non-magical effects (like death).
  • Subverted in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic. The protagonist murders the source of all swear words, yet the use of such words still persists.
  • In Shadows Of Enchantment, a common annoyance for the True Companions in the past has been for them to heroically slay a huge, hideous enchantment-created monster, only for its corpse to revert to a dead squirrel or something.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, the demon K'Z'K possesses Gwynn's body and changes it to a large, monstrous form. He seems able to change alter this form at will and does so, and at one point even reconstructs it after being put through a meat grinder. And when he's banished from the body, which is looking monstrous at the time, it returns to its normal shape (albeit comatose because he keeps her soul). At least, before this, one of the characters mentions the possibility that she might come back as minced meat.
  • In Sorcery 101, a werewolf's Healing Factor has no ontological inertia, so when a person is cured of lycanthropy, any wound they received as a werewolf will come back.
  • The permanence of any spell run amok in The Wotch seems inversely proportional to the number of people still stuck when the danger has passed. For example, a demon turns dozens of people into human-animal hybrids, and even a stone fountain, but they all turn back when he vanishes. On the other hand, a girl turned temporarily into an imp switches a couple, and they stay switched for months after she turns back, and only switch back at all because a witch does it for them.

    Web Original 
  • DEATH BATTLE!: Tetsuo Shima's Ego Collapse cocoon melts into nothingness right after Magneto shoots him in the head.
  • In RWBY, the Staff of Creation can create anything, but anything it creates will cease to exist once it's used again. Currently, the staff is being used to hold up the city of Atlas. When the heroes use the staff to create a new body for Penny, the city immediately starts to fall, and they have to word their request extremely specifically so she doesn't cease to exist once they construct a Portal Network to save Atlas's citizens.


Rubber Band

When Rubber Band's main body is destroyed, all of its component bands trapping the Toads are destroyed with it.

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