A prodigy from the rough streets of Zaun, Ekko manipulates to twist any situation to his advantage. Using his own invention, the , he explores the branching possibilities of reality to craft the perfect moment. Though he revels in this freedom, when there's a threat to his friends he'll do anything to defend them. To outsiders, Ekko seems to achieve the impossible the first time, every time.
Born with genius-level intellect, Ekko constructed simple machines before he could crawl. Amazed by these displays of brilliance, his parents, Inna and Wyeth, vowed to provide a good future for their son. In their mind, Zaun, with all its pollution and crime, was no place for a child of his genius. They toiled through long factory hours and worked in dangerous conditions in order to forge a path for their son to have opportunities in Piltover.
But Ekko saw things differently.
He witnessed his parents aging beyond their years, trying to make ends meet with small wages while their handmade goods were sold to wealthy Piltovans for exorbitant profits, profits they'd never see thanks to the greedy Factorywood overseers and their shrewd buyers. Pilties wandered over to the Promenade for good, cheap times, or down to the Entresol to indulge in 'everything goes' type clubs. No, his parents' vision of Ekko living a good life in the privilege-filled City of Progress was one he didn't share.
Zaun, however... where his parents only saw the oppressive layers of choking pollution and a blight of criminality, Ekko looked beyond and discovered a dynamic city overflowing with energy and potential. It was a hotbed of pure innovation, a melting pot of faraway cultures, immigrants united by a single desire to pioneer the future. But even they could not hold a candle to the native Zaunites. Not the tech-augmented thugs or bottom-feeding scum whose wicked deeds dominated Piltover newspapers; but the sump-scrappers, the chem-jacks, the horticulturalists that tended to the cultivairs. These, and so many more, were the heart and soul of the city. They were resourceful, resilient, and industrious. They built a thriving culture out of catastrophe and flourished where others would have perished. That Zaun spirit enchanted Ekko and drove him to build his machines exclusively out of junk no one else valued, and spurred him on to test them on himself.
He wasn't alone in possessing that spirit. Ekko befriended scrappy orphans, inquisitive runaways, and anyone whose thirst for excitement was as infectious as the grey-pox. Each had unique talents: from climbing to sculpting, from painting to planning. While many Zaunites eschewed formal education in favor of apprenticeships, these self-dubbed Lost Children of Zaun looked to labyrinthine streets to be their mentor, and as such wasted time in glorious, youthful fashion. They challenged each other to footraces through the Border Markets. They dared each other to climb the precarious routes from the Sump to the Entresol and up to the Promenade. They ran wild and free, answering to no one except their own whims.
To stand out from criminal gangs and other chem-punks, he and his friends opted to keep their bodies whole. Augmentation was, to them, a waste of money and frowned upon. So was stealing from anyone who had nothing or less than they had. This made uppercrust Pilties and tech-enhanced bullies such enticing targets for their mischief. They adorned their secret hideouts with pilfered goods and works of art painted directly on walls. The Lost Children of Zaun felt invincible.
As he grew up, Ekko's inventions became more fantastic and complex, requiring exotic components that needed to be 'liberated' from the scrapyards. Good thing he subscribed to a conveniently flexible view of trespassing. Soon, tech-enhanced vigilnaut thugs and unnervingly aggressive security guards were constantly on the lookout for Ekko and his misfit crew, and often gave the teens a merry chase. It always amused him how Piltover laboratories and Chem-Baron factories fiercely guarded their junk. It's not like they were using these discarded bits of tech for anything. He, on the other hand, could put their trash to good use with a little ingenuity.
One night, while Ekko scoured the rubble of a recently demolished, he made an astonishing find: a shard of a blue-green that glittered with magical energy. He quickly searched and discovered other fragments of the glowing jewel. The shards hummed like they were trying to sing a broken melody, the song growing louder when near other pieces. He painstakingly searched for every splinter of the broken crystal, though some were buried deep beneath tons of debris that required him to squeeze and wiggle between chunks of smelly rubbish. Every child of Zaun heard tales about hextech crystals. They powered weapons and heroes. They could create energy on their own. Hextech crystals had the potential to change the world. Now he held a broken one.
Before he could celebrate his find, the place was crawling with vigilnauts scanning the ruins, searching for something. Ekko knew it was the pieces of the crystal he held in his hand. He barely escaped detection.
After meticulous study, Ekko noticed that faint traces of energy surged when the crystals were brought closer together; the edges crackled and sent waves of rippling distortion through the air. When he pulled the pieces apart, a magnetic-like resistance fought his efforts. It was as if the splintered crystals remembered being whole. Even curiouser, Ekko felt the strangest sensation; a haunting feeling of remembering a moment, only slightly differently.
His hands couldn't keep up with the ideas his mind had for the crystal. During one of his less-than-scientific experiments, the gem exploded into a vortex of shimmering dust, triggering eddies of temporal distortion. Ekko opened his eyes to see several splintered realities - and severalversions of himself - staring back in sheer panic amid the fractured continua.
He'd really done it this time.
After some tense coordination between Ekko and his paradoxes, they contained and repaired the doozy of a hole he'd torn in the fabric of reality.
Eventually, Ekko harnessed the shattered crystal's temporal powers into athat would allow him to manipulate small increments of time - well, at least in theory. Before he could test his latest machine, his friends badgered him into climbing Old Hungry to celebrate his name day - so Ekko slung the device over his shoulder and brought it along.
They trekked out to the old clockwork tower in the heart of Old Zaun, and climbed, occasionally stopping to paint an obscene caricature of a prominent Piltie or two. They were near the top when a handhold gave way causing one of his friends to slip and fall off the spire. Instinctively, as if he'd done it a thousand times before, Ekko activated the crystal-containment device. The world shattered around him and he was wrenched backward through swirling particles of time.
The hair on his arms tingled with electricity. A strange wooziness clouded his mind. Then he saw his friend reach for the rotting plank to repeat his soon-to-be-fatal error. Crack! The plank gave under the boy's weight, but Ekko reached out and grabbed his plummeting friend by the shirt collar and swung him to a nearby ledge. Unfortunately, he misjudged the trajectory and tossed his friend into the clockwork tower's grinding gears. Whoops.
Numerous rewinds and some adjustments for windshear later, Ekko saved his friend's life. To others, it looked like Ekko had the reflexes of a god. Instantly, his status was elevated. He told them about the crystal and the time manipulation and made them swear to keep quiet. Instead, they shamelessly exaggerated their friend's exploits and dared each other to attempt increasingly reckless stunts, knowing they would be kept safe. With each trial (and so much error) the time-warping device - which he'd dubbed the- grew more and more stable. Ekko found he could pilfer components, clobber imposing chem-punk bullies, and even get pickup lines right, making a good first impression every time. The only limit was how much his body could take before exhaustion set in.
Rumors and tales of Ekko's time-bending antics reached the ears of certain powerful people within the twinned cities., a much respected (and feared) Zaunite scientist, has a keen interest in an audience with this defiant genius, and outfitted several of his low-level enforcers with powerful enhancements to encourage the boy to join his services. Piltover-renowned innovator , meanwhile, was eager to size up the Boy Who Shattered Time and reverse-engineer his technology. However, Ekko values his independence too much, and has no desire to be a part of anyone's agenda. A few pursuers might catch a glimpse of Ekko before being thwarted, often embarrassingly so, by the sump-snipe with a preternatural knack for pinpointing their exact weakness.
In his wildest dreams, Ekko imagines his hometown rising up to dwarf the City of Progress. Piltover's golden veneer would be overshadowed by the sheer ingenuity and relentless spunk of a Zaun born not from generations of privilege but from utter daring. He may not have a plan yet, but Ekko has all the time in the world to make his dream a reality.
After all, if he can change the past, how hard could it be to change the future?
It had been a weeklong sort of day.
For, this was both literal and metaphorical. Everything went wrong and it took forever to put it back just right. First, Ajuna had nearly gotten himself killed trying to climb Old Hungry. The younger boy wanted so desperately to be like Ekko that he vaulted up the side of the clockwork tower at the heart of the sump before any of their friends could stop him. It was the first tricky jump that nearly did the kid in. Good thing Ekko had triggered his . Eighteen times he heard the blood-curdling scream of the boy falling to his death before he figured out how and where to arrest the fall and save his life.
Then, while pillaging a scrap heap with ties to Clan Ferros for bits of tech, a particularly aggressive gang of vigilnauts surrounded him. Big ones, too, covered in augments that made the ugly even uglier. Ekko was surprised at their speed, but less surprised at how they shot to kill. Pilties and their backup didn't care about the lives of sumpsnipes like him. Good thing the Z-Drive existed to get him out of seemingly inescapable encounters like that one. After a few dozen rewinds, he changed tack and pulled out his latest toy: the . It was meant to explode in a dazzling flash and pull anything not bolted down in toward its center.
But the Flashbinder didn't work. Well, at least not as intended. It exploded. And that's when things got interesting. Unlike most of Ekko's inventions that exploded, the blue-hot magical detonation froze in mid blast. Columns of billowing blue energy fanned out from the epicenter. Bits of the disc's shrapnel twisted at a snail's pace along what, at normal explosion velocity, would be a deadly trajectory. Even the spherical blinding flash itself was frozen in space.
And then it got even more interesting. The explosion imploded, reforming itself into the palm-sized Flashbinder, and rewound back toward Ekko, landing square in his palm, as cold as the wind.
Cool, Ekko thought. He rewound the moment so he could throw it at the vigilnauts a few more times. For science, of course.
When Ekko finally got home, his body was tired, but his mind was alert. The apartment was functional - the furniture sparse and with little flourish. Ekko's room was a little curtained-off nook filled with discarded books, bits of scavenged technology, and hiding spots for the Z-Drive and Flashbinder. Today was one of the rare days both his parents would be home early, and he had something to tell them.
"Mom, Dad." He practiced to his reflection, which stared back at him from the Z-Drive's shiny cylindrical surface. "I'm not going to apply to any of the Uppside clans or a snooty Piltie school. I'm staying here with you and my friends. I'll never turn my back on Zaun."
The words were filled with the confidence that comes with being alone in an empty apartment, with only walls and reflections to respond. And their response was silence.
He heard the jingle of the keys, muffled by the front door. Without a second to spare, Ekko tucked his Z-Drive under the table and draped a black cloth over it. He didn't want them worrying about his escapades with an unstable hextech time-manipulation device.
The door opened and Ekko's parents returned for the first time that night. They looked like strangers to their own son, their jobs aging them even more in the weeks since he'd seen them last together. Their routine was predictable. They'd shuffle home, supply a meager meal purchased with the day's wages, save the rest of the money for taxes and bribes, then fall asleep in their chairs, chins resting on chests, until Ekko removed their workboots and helped them into their beds.
The bags under their eyes carried enough weight to pull their heads down. Tucked under his mother's arm was a small paper-wrapped bundle, bound at the ends with twine.
"Hello, my little genius." His mother expended energy she couldn't afford in an attempt to make the words come alive. Yet her expression in that moment of lightness when she saw her son sitting at the table, waiting, was something no one could fake.
"Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad." The three of them hadn't sat at a table as a family in such a long time. He quietly chided himself for not saying something substantial.
His father beamed with pride; then he mock-scowled as he brushed his fingers through his son's mohawk. Ekko struggled to remember a time when his father didn't look so old, before the prematurely thinning hair and the deep wrinkles in his brow.
"I thought I told you to cut that hair" his father said. "It’ll make you stand out in the Piltover academies too much. The Factorywood's the only place you can look like that. They'll take anyone. And you are not anyone. How are your applications coming?"
This was the moment. Ekko felt the words he'd practiced swimming up to be spoken. The hope in his father's eyes gave him pause.
His mother filled that empty moment before Ekko could.
"We have a treat for you." She set the brown parcel down on the table. They pulled their chairs close to watch as Ekko reached over and untied the knotted twine, straightened both strings, and laid them next to him. He unraveled the butcher paper without a single rip. In the center lay a small loaf of fragrant sweetbread, its crust glazed with honey and candied nuts. The cake was from Elline. She made the finest pastries in all of Zaun, and charged a pretty penny for them too. Ekko and his friends often pilfered her desserts from the rich folk who paid the hefty price without even a tiny hesitation.
Ekko's head shot up to see his parents' reaction. Their eyes were beaming. "This is too much" he said. "We need meat and real supper, not sweets."
"We would never forget your name day" his father said with a chuckle. "Looks like you did, though."
Ekko had completely lost track of what day it really was. Still, the gift was too extravagant. Especially since he was about to shatter their hopes for him. Guilt rose in his throat. "The landlord'll have our heads if we're late with rent again."
"Let us worry about that. You deserve something nice" his mother said. "Go on, you can have cake for dinner once a year."
"What are you going to eat?"
"I'm not hungry" she said.
"I ate at work" his father lied. "Cheese and meats from Piltover. Real nice stuff."
They watched Ekko take a tiny bite of the cake. It was sweet and buttery and the crumbs stuck to his fingers. It was so rich, the taste stuck to his tongue. Ekko went to divide the cake into three pieces, but his mother shook her head. Her soft voice hummed the name day song's playful melody and he knew they wouldn't partake. It was his parents' gift to him.
His father would have joined in singing the name day song if he hadn't already fallen asleep, slumped in his chair, chin dropping to his chest. Ekko glanced over to his mother, her eyes fluttered closed as the melody was swallowed by her own encroaching slumber.
One future Ekko briefly considered was the Factorywood life and barely living wages for some other city's benefit, for someone else's glory. He couldn't stomach the thought. He remembered fragments of conversations, snippets heard through the filter of infant ears, of his parents' whispered dreams of inventions, and entrance to the clans. Ideas they hoped would change the world and contribute to a future unwritten by the birth of their son. Ekko knew they saw him as their only hope. But he loved life in Zaun. If he did as they wished, who would take care of them or his friends?
He couldn't dash their dreams. Not tonight, on his name day. Maybe tomorrow.
Ekko didn't finish his cake beyond the first bite. Instead hehis Z-Drive. His home shattered into swirling eddies of colored dust. The thrum of the everyday fell to absolute silence. The moment splintered and encircled him in a vortex of light.
When the fragments of the future reassembled into the past, Ekko's parents were coming home for the second time that night. It would be followed by a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and so on.
Each time he went back, Ekko didn't change a single thing; the light in his mother's eyes, his father's proud smile as he nodded off. But Ekko fought the edges of sleep to hold onto those stolen moments forever, until finally, he let his mother's soft voice, and the warmth of their little apartment lull him to sleep.
It had been a weeklong sort of day.
- Some things are worth fighting for. Time and time again.
- A friend in need or a murderous deed. We're defined by the paths we take.