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Literature / Mistborn: Secret History

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WARNING: Late Arrival Spoilers abound for Mistborn: The Original Trilogy and Wax and Wayne.

"There's always another secret."

Released just after The Bands of Mourning, Mistborn: Secret History is, as the name implies, a secret Mistborn book. According to the author, its very existence is a bit of a spoiler, and in the foreward he begs new readers not to read it if they haven't read Mistborn: The Original Trilogy yet, as it completely spoils the major plot points of the trilogy. It also contains a minor spoiler for The Bands of Mourning. If you haven't read these books, please don't read this article yet. You have been warned.

Secret History is a novella that goes over the events of the original trilogy from a new perspective, showing us what Kelsier was up to during that time. It opens with his death at the hands of the Lord Ruler, but when it's time for his soul to go Beyond, he refuses to go, fighting back and doing everything he can to remain associated with Scadrial.

The story is relatively short, but packed full of Cosmere geekery, including Hoid's real name (maybe?), the name of another previously-unrevealed Shard of Adonalsium, a brief glimpse into the use of the Cognitive Realm (aka. Shadesmar) to travel between worlds, and the fact that there are entire organized societies of Worldhoppers out there, including a group of scavengers with a fortress in the Cognitive Realm.

The story is notable for being the first appearance in an actual Cosmere story of several points that have long been established by Word of God, such as that Hoid took some of the metal from the Well of Ascension, that the Pits of Hathsin were Ruin's Shardpool (which are used as dimensional transfer points for Worldhoppers), and that Worldhoppers from Sel, the world of Elantris exist, even though it's very difficult and dangerous to travel from the Physical to the Cognitive realm there.

Secret History was originally published only as an eBook, but was later printed in Arcanum Unbounded, an anthology of Cosmere-related short(ish) stories.

The story provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Hoid makes a jab at Kelsier's noble-skaa parentage and genuinely laughs at Kelsier's retort that "A bastard by birth is always better off than the bastard by choice".
  • Admiring the Abomination: One early sign that Preservation runs on Blue-and-Orange Morality rather than being "the good guy" per se is that he is actually a big fan of the Lord Ruler. Sure, TLR is horribly evil and insane, but as the world's only immortal he's also a thing of beauty to Preservation, who hates nothing so much as when things break down and die.
  • Affably Evil: Ruin is quite polite to Kelsier, all things considered, and even gives a heartfelt talk about how important endings and change are for the universe. But he's still destroying the world.
  • Afterlife Antechamber: The Cognitive Realm acts like this, with souls manifesting there after the death of their bodies, Preservation comforting them, before they are drawn Beyond. Those with Investiture of some kind, like Allomancers, can stay a bit longer, and Slivers can theoretically remain there indefinitely.
  • All There in the Manual: The story, as mentioned in the description above, confirms several points of info about the Cosmere that until now have only been mentioned outside of books, like Hoid taking some of the metal from the mouth of the Well.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Since the Elantrians leading the Ire actually look old, and the name of their organization is the Aon for Time, they can be safely assumed to be this.
  • And the Adventure Continues: In the epilogue, Kelsier still hasn't settled down and has recruited another crew member, setting up events in The Bands of Mourning.
  • The Atoner: Kelsier comes to regret his more brutal and manipulative actions (especially after he sees how connected they've made him to Ruin), and resolves to do better.
  • Batman Gambit: Kelsier plays a two-layered one on Ruin. First he has Spook send a message to Vin, knowing that Ruin will send Marsh to intercept the messenger to maximize the cruel irony of his brother thwarting his plans. Which is where the second layer comes in: the message was intended for Marsh all along, as Kelsier was gambling on his brother having the strength of will and character to break free of Ruin for just one moment when it mattered most to save the world.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Both Preservation and Ruin have shades of this due to the effects of their Shards on their psyche.
    • Preservation, while disagreeing with how the Lord Ruler/Rashek does things, still supports him because his Compounding allows him to be a stable, immortal ruler.
    • Ruin believes that the destruction of the world is both necessary and merciful, despite the fact that pretty much everyone else disagrees.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Vin does this when she and Kelsier meet after Ruin's death.
    Vin: How much [of it] was about us? And how much was about you?
    Kelsier: I don't know.
  • Centipede's Dilemma: As mentioned below, as a Cognitive Entity Kelsier doesn't get tired unless he thinks that he should be tired.
  • Clipped-Wing Angel: Kelsier is able to take up the power of Preservation to keep Ruin from splintering the Shard, but he can't use it properly. Not only is he weaker because he has no connection to the physical realm, his soul is so tied to Ruin, and only Connected enough to Preservation to take up the Shard at all by artificial means, that the Shard actively fights against him. As a result he is barely able to slow down Ruin's attempts to destroy the world.
  • Dead Man Walking: The sealing of Ruin clearly did a lot of damage to Preservation, he says multiple times that he's already dead, and even Ruin's attacks after his escape only seem to be speeding up the inevitable.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Kelsier ends up decking both Ruin and Preservation at different points in the story.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?:
    • Kelsier manages to trick Preservation into revealing that there was a way to avoid being drawn Beyond just yet, and does something similar with Sazed to confirm that he can return to life.
    • Remember when Marsh killed the messenger carrying Spook's message to Vin, read it, and ended up using the knowledge thereon to rip out Vin's earring at just the right moment? Yeah. Turns out Kelsier set that whole thing up behind the scenes, and Ruin fell for it.
  • Dimensional Traveler: Known as worldhoppers in The Cosmere. Kelsier meets several in his journey. Khriss and Nazh from the Seventeenth Shard, as well as a group of Elantrians (and their servants) called the Ire. He also runs into Hoid, of course, who lambastes him for destroying the Pits of Hathsin, since that in turn destroyed the easiest dimensional travel point on the planet.
    • Though it's worth noting that, travel through the Cognitive Realm aside, the different worlds they are reaching are actually different planets.
  • Discard and Draw: Without his physical body, Kelsier loses his Allomancy, but he gains intangibility and extreme stamina.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Preservation greets the spirits of all who die on Scadrial as they briefly manifest in the Cognitive Realm, comforting them as they pass Beyond.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Ruin's power manifests as this in the Cognitive Realm. Since he swallows the entire sky, it overlaps with Bad Moon Rising and Total Eclipse of the Plot.
  • Evil Virtues:
    • When the Lord Ruler dies, Kelsier expects him to cling to existence in the Cognitive Realm for as long as possible, just like he's doing. However, TLR scoffs at the suggestion that he'd ever lower himself to spending eternity hanging out with Kelsier and Preservation and steps Beyond with supreme dignity. When Kelsier expresses surprise that he'd do that, Preservation pointedly tells him that it's what any sensible person would do.
    • At the end of the story, Kelsier is also told that Sazed can bond with Ruin-the-Shard because he's spent the last year learning to embrace its positive qualities: the ability to let go and accept that all things must pass. That means that Ruin-the-character was actually telling the truth about embodying those qualities earlier, and so was not completely without virtues even if they tended to be overshadowed by his other attributes.
  • Exact Words: Kelsier notes that Preservation calls himself a god, not God. It was his first tip there were things going on far beyond him.
  • Extra-Dimensional Shortcut: Worldhoppers use the Cognitive Realm for this. As the Cognitive representation of outer space is vastly compressed, a worldhopper is able to walk from one planet to another, then use a Perpendicularity to return to the Physical Realm.
  • Fantastic Flora: Plants grow in the Cognitive Realm anywhere there is water in the physical world for long enough. Kelsier even sees plants growing from a cup of water at one point.
  • Gaslighting: Kelsier pulls this off masterfully against the Ire. By staying out of sight and scaring them at precise moments, he reduces the squad to jumpy, tired wrecks.
  • God Is Inept: The only qualification needed to be a Vessel for a Shard is being able to kill the previous holder of the position or scoop the power up after somebody else kills them. This has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not someone is actually capable of using that kind of power rationally or effectively, and it shows.
  • God's Hands Are Tied:
    • Preservation is hard pressed to act against Ruin, both due to the fracturing of his mind due to sealing Ruin and the Intent of his Shard. Even at the threat of Ruin being freed, he is unable to attack Elend when Kelsier suggests it, causing Kelsier to attack Elend himself in the hopes that Vin will use the Well's power to heal him.
    • Kelsier has a different form of this when he's briefly hosting Preservation's power. Due to his lack of a body weakening him, combined with his ties with Ruin causing the Shard to rebel against him, he is barely able to slow Ruin's destruction of the world despite his best efforts.
  • Go into the Light: When a person dies on Scadrial, the Cognitive Realm acts like an Afterlife Antechamber where their soul is greeted by Preservation and resides briefly before being drawn to the Beyond automatically. Those with power, like Metalborn (especially powerful ones), can stay a bit longer, and Slivers could stay forever in theory. Kelsier himself stays by binding himself to the Well, and when Vin releases the power his soul is freed, having been expanded enough to reach Sliver level. No one knows what the Beyond is like, even the gods, and they cannot bring someone who goes there back.
  • Guile Hero: Kelsier was equal parts this and Action Hero in Mistborn: The Final Empire. Now, with no body and no Allomancy, guile is pretty much all he has left.
  • Heel Realization: Kelsier is horrified to see how connected his soul has become to Ruin through his more brutal actions.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Ruin makes a construct of his human form when communicating with Kelsier, which the latter refers to as a puppet. It counts as this because Ruin is normally an Eldritch Abomination in the Cognitive Realm.
  • Intangible Man: Kelsier is, with a bit of effort, able to pass through structures in the physical realm. He puts the ability to sink into the ground to great use against the Ire; first he whispers ominously from just out of sight with just his lips above the surface, and after they're all paranoid, he fakes their leader's disintegration by wearing her cloak and slipping through the ground, leaving it on the surface.
  • Kill the God: Khriss says that the original sixteen Vessels worked together to murder Adonalsium. Their reasons varied, from naked lust for power to a simple belief that it was the only option left. And, of course, Ruin is slowly killing Preservation over the course of the story.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Hoid is normally unable to hurt people, but can beat down Kelsier when he tries to stop him since he's already dead. Hoid even notes that he didn't actually hurt Kelsier, Kelsier just thinks he did.
    • The Ire have a device to detect the Shades from Threnody. It fails to detect Kelsier, because even though he is the same type of entity as the Shades, he's not native to Threnody.
  • Magic Eater: All Cognitive Realm entities appear to eat Investiture to a certain extent: even the spirits of objects require it to sustain them when they are far away from their physical counterparts. And it's now confirmed that Elantrians live off of pure investiture, which they drink like a potion. This leads to the somewhat hilarious image of an Elantrian cognitive fortress trailing what looks for all the world like a glowing plug off into the distance: the spirits of the stones making the fortress need the power source to remain strong.
  • Mercy Kill: Ruin uses the idea when arguing to Kelsier that his aspect is a necessary part of the world, and seemingly views destroying the world as one to a degree.
  • Morton's Fork: How Kelsier gets Preservation to help him stay in the Cognitive Realm instead of passing on. Since Preservation tells him that resisting the afterlife is futile whether he helps him or not, Kelsier says that if it's futile, Preservation might as well humor him by helping.
  • Necessary Evil: Ruin makes the argument that the change, entropy and death he brings is necessary, as without it Preservation would keep the world in eternal stasis, and no one would be able to experience death's release. While he has a point, him wanting to destroy the world is, as Kelsier points out, going too far.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The story is this for the more esoteric aspects of the original trilogy. While things still made sense in the original, now we have the details on why they worked that way.
    • For example, the power at the Well of Ascension needs to be used because it is being spent to contain Ruin, and not claiming it after it is expended is tantamount to surrendering it to him.
    • Kelsier, not Preservation, was the one who attacked Elend in the hopes that Vin would use the power of the Well to heal him, as Preservation's Intent kept him from doing so despite what was at stake. Similarly, he was also the mist spirit once after Ruin's release, before Ruin noticed and impersonated him.
    • That time when Spook heard Kelsier's voice urging him to go on, just after he had pulled the hemalurgic spike out? That really was the real Kelsier speaking to him. Likewise, that dream he half-remembered when he was waking up from unconsciousness, the one that made him send a message to Vin about Ruin's ability to control people through spikes, was sent by Kelsier.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Kelsier manages to bond with the energy of the Well in order to remain in the Cognitive Realm despite being drawn Beyond, becoming an entity similar to the Shades from Threnody.
  • Pals with Jesus: Upon realizing that Preservation is dying and Ruin is going to destroy the world, Kelsier immediately decides to stop him, and unilaterally decides that Preservation is on his new crew. Preservation eventually plays along, when things start getting really bad.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Kelsier learns about Vin's earring early on, but is unable to communicate the knowledge to anyone.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: Essentially recaps the last two books of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy from Ghost!Kelsier's perspective.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Ruin tries to use emotional manipulation to keep Kelsier from going to the Ire, which only increases Kelsier's resolve to go, since he knows that Ruin would only try to stop him if it was important he go.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Kelsier uses one, pretending to be Ruin to steal from the Ire.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can:
    • Ruin is sealed in the Well of Ascension, of course. Kelsier ends up sealed in there with him. They don't end up interacting much, but Kelsier is able to spy on some of his attempts to stretch beyond his cage.
    • Also discussed and played with. Apparently Ruin isn't actually inside the Well of Ascension in any meaningful sense, and the Well has accumulated as a natural process. But the huge amount of power collected there, and the fact that it was released in the first place to imprison Ruin, leaves it with a connection to Ruin that makes it act like a gateway anyway.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: When Khriss and Nazh meet Kelsier in the Cognitive Realm and learn what exactly is happening with Ruin and Preservation, they decide to leave Scadrial.
  • Summoning Artifact: The Ire have a device best described as this, a glowing ball of pure connection that will let them attune to Preservation and snatch the shard when the current holder dies. Kelsier steals it, and uses it himself.
  • Unfinished Business: Kelsier does everything possible to become a ghost rather than pass on entirely. It was not easy. He had to trick Preservation to even find out it was possible, and then work out how, all within the few minutes he had before he passed on automatically.
  • What the Hell, Hero? / Rage Against the Heavens: The first thing Kelsier does after finding there is a "God" (Leras as Preservation) and that he is talking to him, is punch him in the face, knocking him to the ground, and yell at him for standing by and letting the Lord Ruler run rampant. Leras, impressed, just comments that nobody had ever punched him after their death before.
  • World of Silence: Ruin says to Kelsier at one point that Preservation should be happy he's destroying the world, since this trope would be the result, allowing Preservation to have the realm of stasis and stability he desires. He also points out that, without him, Preservation would make the world an eternal frozen moment.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real:
    • When Kelsier is attacked by Hoid, the latter notes that, since Kelsier's "body" is merely how he perceives himself in the Cognitive Realm, he's not really hurting Kelsier, the thief just thinks he's being hurt.
    • When Kelsier is travelling, he notes that, while he has no Allomancy to boost his travelling speed, he doesn't get tired unless he thinks about how tired he should be.
  • You Will Know What to Do: When Kelsier gets a vision of possible futures, he's not able to hold all on to of the relevant knowledge. He knows that in order to stop Ruin from destroying the world, he has to visit the Ire and steal something from the Elantrians, but no details beyond that.