The idea for The Disengaged came around about the same time as An Interval of Calamity, resulting from a combination of booze, little sleep, and too much free time. I like going after different angles with these stories set in the Mass Effect universe, and The Disengaged allowed me to tap into a rawer sort of story: a survival story.
Of course, I had to mix it up so that there wouldn't be as much angst as Calamity, but I didn't want to set it up as a confirmed romance between the two leads either. That last requirement (by technically following canon) meant that I had to place the timeline of this story between ME1 and ME2, just one last mission before Shepard got himself zapped.
I have to admit, I had an overall better experience writing this story than Calamity because I could have fun with the concept rather than wallowing myself in overwhelming angst. Instead of fighting ex-lovers this time, I wanted to focus on straight-up fighting, pure action in a sense.
And then there's the opportunity that the sequel will provide, which I'll talk about soon.
This chapter was meant to set the stage, establishing the setting and the relationship between Shepard and Tali at the time. I wanted to give tiny hints about the plot so that it wouldn't sneak up and smack the audience in the face when the time came, which in turn gave a sense that there was something going on behind the scenes.
And, looking back on my author's notes for that chapter, you can disregard the comment made about any "trilogy." That ship has sailed and will not be coming back into port.
Opening to The Disengaged: "Cosmology" by Stephen Barton from the video game Titanfall. The electronics in this piece reminded me heavily of Mass Effect and I really think that it would be a good cue to open the title with.
Eruption: "Wallrunner" by Stephen Barton from the video game Titanfall. I'd say that the fast pace of this cue would be a good escape theme (albeit a botched one).
I got a lot of inspiration for this chapter by the show Man vs. Wild and the Hunger Games movies. The whole survival situation in a forest seemed like a good place for me to really dig in with the details.
Of course, I wanted to take the opportunity to gradually ease the idea of Shepard and Tali beginning their relationship together with this story. It's never said outright nor is it ever confirmed here, but I just wanted to introduce the concept so that canonically, their attraction and eventual culmination in ME2 would feel a little more natural, seeing as they shared a life-changing experience in the past.
And, I did note, one reviewer pointed out a little plot point that I left hanging that I will be addressing the sequel but I intentionally didn't get to it in this story. I like putting little hints here and there about things that I have planned out. If you take another look back, you'll probably be able to catch it.
Disengaged Theme: "From Here" by Ramin Djawadi from the video game Medal of Honor (2010). I'm stealing this theme to make this my own official headcanon theme for this short series. Don't ask why, I just like it.
Grevel gave me my story. I'm just putting that out there.
I know that I like to create a lot of villains in my stories, but to be completely honest, I've never really liked most of them. They're shallow, one-sided, and just not very interesting in my opinion. With that being said, it was my complete attention to create a new villain this time that was not only terrifying, but compelling as well.
There is so much information that I've created for Grevel that I wasn't able to fit into The Disengaged that I bet I could make a whole story about her if I wanted to (would be nice, but not really on my agenda). Giving her a sympathetic backstory makes the audience inexplicably feel sorry for Grevel, despite all of the evil things she's doing at the moment. Her past is so messed up that she's completely lost her identity and to compensate, she's borrowed elements from other species in order to establish herself once again. She was a very interesting character to write for, and revealing her actual gender to the audience was a twist that meant to shatter stereotypes of powerful villains. It was meant to catch the reader off guard, and judging from a few of the reviews, I'd say the twist got the job done.
Looking back at my outline, though, it's funny to see that I have "Don't reveal that Grevel is female!" written in several spots so that I wouldn't give away the twist too early. Heh, it's like my past self automatically viewed my future self as an idiot.
Enter Grevel: "The Black Hand" by Tyler Bates from the video game Killzone: Shadowfall. Shadowfall's soundtrack is an ugly piece of work but its dark sound design makes for a good characterization for Grevel all around. It's hard listening, but she's a harsh character.
Applied a little more to the possibility of romance between the two here. Also, here's where the poisonous thorns began to come into play. Shepard getting poisoned was one of the many times I tried to throw off the reader in this story because I hoped they wouldn't think that anyone else would get pricked after this encounter (which turned out to be a falsehood). However, it just meant that Shepard now carried around the thorn with him as well as the antidote which would be utilized in a critical scene later on.
There were supposed to be some extra scenes of affection between Shepard and Tali in this chapter but I continuously felt that, no matter how hard I tried, it seemed way too obvious and too cheesy for me to put them in. I just deleted the scenes as I was frustrated at how I couldn't get the tone right. They were just stalling the pacing of the story and frankly, they really didn't add much.
Also, I wanted to make Grevel not a stoic and wordless thug in this story by having her continuously grapple with the batarian leader, Zherl. Zherl originally was to have a bit more of a presence in the story but I cut a few of his scenes out because they were threatening to upstage Grevel's. I just wrote him to make the character an obstacle for Grevel, giving her a little more depth to her personality.
Lynx Chase: "Exit Ride" by Harry Gregson-Williams from the video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
A little more of Grevel's past was revealed here, showing that she used to be enamored with a human named Sophie. In the Mass Effect universe, sexuality is treated very maturely between all the characters with the issues of race and gender sagely disregarded. It just played on old stereotypes to create a false picture of Grevel by insinuating that she was actually male when in fact the opposite was true. There is a story of how the two met but it was inconsequential to Grevel's character arc at the moment, for her memory was a sufficient driving force.
I know how much people hate Gary/Mary Sues on this site, so I decided to derail any possibility of that happening in this chapter. You'd think that Shepard would be able to massacre everyone on that base without breaking a sweat, right? Well, I just wrote Grevel to mercilessly smash him up so that he would be neutralized, and any hint of Gary Stu-ness would be eradicated.
Very brutal indeed.
Approaching the Base: "LZ Epsilon" by Audiomachine from the video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. While Audiomachine's contributions to the soundtrack are much less symphonic than Gregson-Williams', the design of the cues creates a very futuristic vibe.
Grevel v. Shepard: "Battle Cry" by Audiomachine from the video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Case in point, the cues are mostly percussive but it just adds to the brutality of Grevel's nature by pounding her foes into submission.
Authors are generally given a lot of leeway when it comes to messing Shepard up. He can be bruised, battered, and even broken from his various campaigns. Grevel's physical torture was meant to highlight the insanity of the turian versus how far Shepard was willing to go until he cracked. It showed that Grevel had a great deal of experience and intelligence, and was not just another dumb brute.
That was pretty much the extent of how physical one could get with the characters, with the most obvious other example being Tali's session. More on that when the chapter arrives.
Knife Cuts: "Stahl Arms" by Lorn from the video game Killzone: Shadowfall. Dark sound design again for Grevel. It just occurred to me that I haven't borrowed any music from any films yet. Weird.
Tali Comforts Shepard: "The Lane Family" by Marco Beltrami from the film World War Z. And now there is a film cue. How about that. When the volume escalates in this cue, that's meant to be when Shepard is getting dragged away by the batarians.
It's pretty comical considering how many allies Grevel murders out of pure spite in this story. She's kind of like Darth Vader or General Grievous in that she doesn't suffer fools lightly. It also helps show that she doesn't really care about the state of affairs on Anhur, she just wants to get her job done no matter the cost.
I developed more of the plot hidden from the audience by having the remaining humans explain to Shepard why they're so valuable to Grevel. And, before any of you say anything, I'm going to be the first to admit that the science I've projected in this story is pure and utter nonsense. It's complete crap. While there is a certain degree of truth to the descriptive words I've inserted, just many of the things I said here (if you're a chemistry major) make no discernable sense. It just goes to show that if you present something in a way that sounds factual, you can get away with it.
Kind of like the news. Heh…heh…
Shepard Escapes: "Assault on the Sentinel" by Stephen Barton from the video game Titanfall. I really like the heavy percussion and the synth in the background because it gives the next encounter with Shepard and Grevel a really heavy feeling. (That is because I listened to this cue on repeat when I was writing the scene).
Deborah Explains/Grevel Watches the Footage: "I'm Counting on You Jim…One Last Time" by Christopher Drake from the film The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1. Drake's emphasis on electronics and brooding make him a fantastic composer and this piece certainly sets the right mood.
These next two chapters were very difficult because it was too easy for me to go overboard with what was happening to Tali. For some reason, it's considered bad form to torture a character as beloved as Tali in a physical manner. Therefore, I had to resort to the psychological form of torture, the kind that doesn't leave visible marks. It's pretty much a constant that no one likes to see Tali beaten up, so I made sure to do just that. You can cancel the hanging now.
It was not going to be pretty no matter which choice I made but I feel that it had to be done regardless. It was imperative that Grevel find some sort of connection with her hostages and that she would use Tali's natural infatuation towards Shepard to get her to break. This story was always meant to be uncomfortable and I intended for the scene to play out this way. Nothing is going to be all sunshine and butterflies because I like to emphasize realism whenever I can.
To think that everything could go Shepard and Tali's way is just a naïve way of thinking, in my opinion.
Grevel and Tali Converse: "Ghost in the Grid" by Lorn from the video game Killzone: Shadowfall.
Mask Off: "Virus" by Sean Murray from the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops.
I find it interesting to convey dreamscapes in stories. As evidenced by some of my earlier works, I am quite partial to having characters fight their own mental enemies in expansive and detailed ways. It offers a way for the audience to get a closer glimpse at the character in question and reveals more of them to us.
This whole encounter elevated Grevel, in my opinion, to be one nasty bitch instead of a laughably incompetent villain. The amount of control that she exudes over Tali and Shepard is quite ominous and it showcases just how helpless the two are against her. That's why I like writing for Grevel so much, because she's a legitimate threat and she is one of the better OC's I've made, if not the best.
Walking to the Base: "Zulu-Tango" by Audiomachine from the video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Nightmare: "Distance" by Lorn from the video game Killzone: Shadowfall. This is perhaps the best theme to fit Grevel as it has the eerie sound design plus a cool percussive beat. And it has all these trippy sound effects that replicates the effect of being in a dream which makes it perfect for this scene.
As far as I can remember, I've never had a battle scene so large that I had to split it up into two chapters before. It was just a good thing that there happened to be a good moment to slide a cliffhanger in there for this one.
I'm not sure if anyone realized that the character of Alec was meant to be a direct reference to the main character of the first stories that I wrote. Rather humorously, I'm of the opinion now that those stories were not all that good and that my writing was downright atrocious in some areas, yet people keep favoriting them, causing me to pull my hair out because I know that I can offer better stuff than that dreck, and I don't think I'm demonstrating a bloated ego there! So, Alec's rather violent death symbolized, to me at least, the fact that I've moved on from those stories and am currently focusing on other things. Long and short of it is, there's better things to read than the For Her stories. Don't waste your time.
Went off topic there, didn't I? Oh well.
Grevel Kills Zherl: "Oil Rig" by Hans Zimmer from the film Man of Steel. More percussion for more Grevel.
Rematch: "Night Battle [Cavalry]" by Hans Zimmer from the film Black Hawk Down. It's an unreleased track but I know YT has it.
Brutal, brutal, brutal. I had to keep telling myself that in order to make every punch be felt. I'm a stickler for details because it helps the story flow a lot better instead of transitioning from one line of dialogue to another. I want the audience to be pumped, I want the experience to be all the more visceral. I just hope that I didn't mess it up for anyone.
Like I mentioned before, I don't think anyone predicted that Grevel was in fact a woman. Scarred up, masked creature like that, who would have guessed?
It was also cool to utilize every single bit of weaponry that I had alluded to in past chapters: the thorn, the hammer, the tow hook, and the antidote. It's a good thing that I plan these stories out ahead of time otherwise they'd just be a jumbled mess. Heh, I learned my lesson.
Tali Snaps Out of It: "Fire and Water" by Howard Shore from the film The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. If you haven't listened to all of Shore's gorgeous soundtracks, then you are missing out, no debate necessary. I'm envisioning the part in this cue where the lovely choir starts their hymn be the part where Shepard stabs Tali with the thorn. It's easy to imagine that they're speaking Khelish.
Grevel Revealed: "Die Well Assassin" [to the 1:11 mark] by John Debney from the film The Scorpion King. Cut this one short because the rest of the cue doesn't quite sound of what I have in mind. Still a good cue, though.
Over the Edge: "Terminator Tangle" [from the 1:47 mark] by Marco Beltrami from the film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Now the opposite as the previous cue, the first few minute and a half is not tonally in line with what I have imagined but the rest is exactly it. The intensity of the last few seconds is damn near spot on, if you ask me.
My decision to only produce one sequel in two came very late in the production of this story and as a result, this chapter got reworked quite a bit from what it was originally outlined to be. Essentially, the first half of the chapter is word for word how I would have left it, but the second half was an all-new addition. My idea for that would have been to have split that half up into bits throughout the second installment while making the reveal near the end. The removal of that idea derailed my train of thought there, so I had to insert it here.
The second story would have taken place during the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC and that would have been my take on it. But, due to a disinterest on my end from not being able to make the plot particularly different or memorable, and the fact that I was anticipating writing the third installment more, I altered my plans to include story number 3 as the new number 2. This of course warranted a little conversation between the Broker and Grevel to pop up here, as there needed to be some introduction before the next story comes around.
Don't worry, there's a perfectly good reason as to why Grevel is still alive. You'll know it eventually so you can stop bleating, I've got a logical explanation all lined up. You're just going to have to trust me with its execution.
And if you don't trust me…that's perfectly fine. I realize that all the audience wants is a valid and rapid conclusion (hurry up, Taris!) and I assure you, I'll get to it…as quick as I can, okay?
Retreat from Anhur (Engage Theme Reprise): "Legends Never Die" by David Buckley from the video game Call of Duty: Ghosts. Buckley seriously toes the line from straight plagiarism because his theme sounds suspiciously like Djawadi's Medal of Honor theme. Oh well, it only benefits me in its use at this point.
Grevel Alive/Disengaged Suite: "The Dark Knight Triumphant/End Titles" by Christopher Drake from the film The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1.
Overall, The Disengaged was an experiment to see if I could make an all new mission of my own creation and create a story based around it. The reception and reviews I've gotten have all been wonderful and it's certainly contributed to me finding a muse. It's only come to me that I've discovered that the audience is my muse for I only enjoy writing to see how it affects others in a positive way. It all makes more sense when I think about it and I figure that I will still be writing for a while with this kind of great support. I might not write in the Mass Effect universe for much longer as I might want to diversify myself, try new things, tackle new topics. Maybe even create an original story of my own, who knows?
Anyway, the last Mass Effect story that I have officially planned out is called The Reengaged. It will loosely follow the plot to the Citadel DLC but it will not be as comedic nor will it play out in remotely the same way. Several characters from that content will not even show up, but it will be interesting to describe the relationships amongst the characters that will.
Two years will have passed since the end of the Reaper War, so it will technically mean that I'm taking another crack at a post-war story, albeit without most of the fluff (there might still be some, though). Many of the characters will have changed in different ways, making some scenarios entirely unpredictable and shocking. There will be loss, horror, intrigue, and of course, there will be Grevel. How she will react to the new setting is up in the air, but she has never forgiven Shepard and Tali for what happened on Anhur. And that's all I'm willing to say on that.
I'll take some time off from writing in the meantime as I've got a busy couple of weeks approaching. No telling when I'll start up again, although I'm going to predict it's going to be sometime next month, if I were to give a rough estimate. A workaholic is never done, let me tell you.
I hope you enjoyed The Disengaged as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please leave a review on your favorite chapter so that you can prove to me that you, the audience, are well deserving of being my muse. If you don't review, then…you'll still be my muse, but I love reviews all the same so could you do me this small favor, please? You guys are awesome!
I'll be back.