|"Aang, you must actively shape your own destiny and the destiny of the world."|
|— Kuruk to Aang.|
Kuruk was the Water Tribe Avatar immediately succeeding Avatar Yangchen and preceding Avatar Kyoshi. Native to the Northern Water Tribe, he was a powerful and gifted bender who dreamed of changing the mortal world for the better by uniting the people and acting upon the foundations laid by Yangchen. His hopes were dashed, however, after a brutal confrontation with a dark spirit resulted in a deep spiritual corruption that began to fester within him. This clash was only the first of its kind, as an increasing number of dark spirits began to cross into the mortal realm to wreak destruction. To prevent others from being affected with the same sickness that tormented him, Kuruk opted to repeatedly face the wrathful beings on his own. Only his spiritual mentor, Nyahitha, knew about the sacrifices and loneliness he endured.
As he secretly destroyed dark spirits in the mortal and Spirit World, Kuruk began to neglect his regular duties as the Avatar. Physically and psychologically weakened, he spent much of his free time pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle to cope with his stress and spiritual affliction. He eventually ended the worst dark spirit incursion by weakening an especially evil and powerful spirit, Father Glowworm, in a titanic battle. Having incurred the wrath of the spirits for his actions as well as lifestyle, Kuruk was finally punished once more, losing his fiancée, Ummi, to Koh the Face Stealer. He spent his last years trying to save her, but failed. Kuruk eventually died aged just 33, as his spiritual sickness had drained his lifeforce. As he had done little to solve the mortal world's problems, great upheavals and strife occurred in the four nations upon his death.
Mastering the elements
Kuruk was born at the Northern Water Tribe in 345 BG. The sages of the tribe determined that Kuruk was the Avatar through their nation's traditional procedure, and when the time came, they revealed this to Kuruk. He was given a glowing crystal by the sages, and was astonished when he successfully managed to earthbend and raise the crystal in the air. His announcement as the Avatar was celebrated with a great feast in Agna Qel'a, attended by dignitaries from the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation.
Although Kuruk excelled at earthbending, his form was initially considered improper. He was first taught by a wizened master from Ba Sing Se, who deemed his loose form a detriment, as he was not adopting the proper attitude of an earthbender. Kuruk struggled with why this was a detriment, as the elements were all connected. The only one who agreed with him on this front was a young man from the Gan Jin tribe, Jianzhu. In spite of the boy's uptight personality, the two of them cemented a close friendship as soon as their first Pai Sho game concluded.
Kuruk and Jianzhu suffered through their traditionalist masters lecturing the Avatar throughout his mastery of earth, fire, and air. He complied instead of fighting tradition, and even invented a new technique of creating a cushion of air under a heavy object so it could be slid and moved over a floor with care. His good behavior was largely down to being allowed a sky bison at the end of his airbending training.
Once, Kuruk and Jianzhu sneaked into the bison pen in the Southern Air Temple for a joyride, and were caught by Kelsang, who pinned them to the wall with a blast of air that rippled their cheeks for minutes on end. They were brought before the temple's abbot and Kuruk's masters, and were disciplined for their lack of caution. Kelsang was assigned as chaperone for their first trip as well as a man of the Sei'naka clan in the Fire Nation. However, the man got sick, and sent a younger relative, Hei-Ran, as a temporary replacement.
As soon as Kuruk lay eyes on Hei-Ran in First Lord's Harbor, he was determined to pull every string he could to make the assignment a permanent one. He resolved to make his feelings clear, though the young woman coldly responded that she was not interested in a relationship with the Avatar, although once Kelsang and Jianzhu laughed at the brutal rejection, Hei-Ran clarified that a romance would only be forbidden on duty.
After mastering all bending arts, Kuruk intended to learn how to control the Avatar State. For this purpose, he and his three comrades traveled to a small, uninhabited island in Mo Ce Sea, where Avatar Yangchen bent water for the first time, in order to not endanger anyone. Despite these precautions, Kuruk almost killed Jianzhu, Kelsang, and Hei-Ran and destroyed the entire island when he successfully triggered the Avatar State for the first time. Afterward, the four started to travel the world, going on adventures.
Although Kuruk had mastered all four elements, he surprised his companions by asking for more bending training, explaining that the grandmasters of Pai Sho never stopped learning, and that constant challenge could keep their skills growing. The companions practiced at every stop of their journey, identifying and correcting each other's bad habits.
First encounters with dark spirits and the start of a downward spiral
After Kelsang confessed that he had visited the Spirit World unintentionally, Kuruk chose for him to guide him there. They visited a meadow in Yaoping where Yangchen had practiced using the Avatar State, and managed to successfully pass over to the Spirit World. Finding himself in a swampland area, Kuruk was confronted by the Heartwalker of Yaoping. The spirit's long tail hoisted him into the air, and their forms were crushed together. Before Kuruk lost consciousness, he saw a reflection of Yaoping Town in the Spirit World, and deduced that the Heartwalker was attempting to attack the settlement.
Kuruk awoke and took Kelsang's glider, rushing to the salt mines in the neighboring mountain that gave the observer the same view of Yaoping as could be seen in the Spirit World. He found the spirit and began to fight, bringing the Heartwalker down with a torrent of all four elements. Kuruk was discovered by his companions the following day, crawling through Yaoping and frothing at the mouth.
The defeat of the spirit had cost him a portion of his own vitality. He attempted to tell his companions about the encounter, but could not, instead choosing to make up a tale about a mischievous spirit. A doctor determined that there was nothing wrong with his body, but Kuruk had sunk into a deep depression. When a maid gave him distilled wine in defiance of the doctor's orders, the taste of alcohol began to cut through his chill, numbing the pain. The maid smiled at Kuruk and, desperate to feel something, he chose to sleep with her. Kelsang did not judge him, Jianzhu did not care, but Hei-Ran lost a great deal of respect for Kuruk in that instant.
Kuruk's adventures with his friends continued, until a second spirit attack came. Kuruk chose to face the matter alone, not wishing his friends to fall into the same depression as he had after battling the spirit. A bad dream while visiting the Fire Nation showed him a rift in a cenote supplying water to Ma'inka Island. Kuruk swam down until he found the phoenix-eel spirits, stabbing them with stone and ice. When he came to the surface, he began to cry, and was found by Nyahitha of the Bhanti. The man explained that, after receiving a premonition, the tribe had sent him to aid the Avatar.
Nyahitha took Kuruk to a campsite in the jungle, diagnosing his energy pathways with firebending. The Bhanti man confirmed that destroying dark spirits was causing damage to his own spirit, and that even though he could repair what he could, each battle would take its toll on Kuruk, and he would certainly not be the longest lived of Avatars. He joked that Nyahitha made for a poor doctor, and coughed up blood over the man's body.
Hunting the dark spirits and neglecting other duties
The toll on his body cemented Kuruk's decision not to tell his other companions and see them fall to danger and despair. By visiting the hidden library of the Bhanti, Kuruk and Nyahitha determined that the spirits were trying to force their way through newly created cracks in the boundary between the spirit and human worlds. While more attacks came, Kuruk stalked the Spirit World, using his own abilities as a hunter to track down dark spirits. Each time he found a dark spirit, he tried to placate its anger at the cost of his own soul, but he was forced to kill the spirits of murderous intent. Neither Kuruk nor Nyahitha told anyone of what they were doing.
As the world went on, Kuruk began to sleep through meetings, and drank more wine to dull his lingering pain, trusting that Jianzhu would work things out with the diplomats and officials. He spent his nights carousing, trying to feel as human as possible, a pursuit in which Nyahitha joined him. The hedonism was not a cure for the strain on his soul, but he still pursued it, and believed it to be a sign of his own weakness. As a result, Kuruk seemingly became a "go with the flow" type of Avatar as the world's tranquility allowed him to step back from his responsibilities as the Avatar and let the four nations resolve their own conflicts. Jianzhu later mused that Kuruk had always been late to events and seemingly took few things seriously.
When he was not forced to fight dark spirits, Kuruk spent much of his days searching both the physical and Spirit World for worthy opponents to challenge in bending contests, usually for no reason other than entertainment and pleasure to try to feel more human. Kuruk liked to show off his bending ability to others, especially beautiful women, in grand displays. Kuruk airbent tornadoes filled with lotus flowers for young Air Nomad nuns, would challenge random Fire Nation citizens to Agni Kais, and engaged in boulder-lifting contests with earthbenders. His strength in sparring matches was considered legendary, and no bender was ever able to trump his abilities. He also had many, but usually brief, relationships with numerous women, earning a reputation as a heartbreaker. Nevertheless, he never got over his lost relationship with Hei-Ran.
Despair and confrontation with Father Glowworm
After several adventures, Kuruk's group began to drift apart, and the friends split up in 316 BG. The Avatar resumed his travels and spent more time with Nyahitha, while his mental health continued to deteriorate amid stress and loneliness. Time passed in a blur, and Kuruk eventually received a letter from Jianzhu which admonished the Avatar for not attending Hei-Ran's wedding. At that moment, Kuruk became absolutely stricken with grief over his lost love and anger over his own perceived failures. When he confronted a dark spirit the next time, Kuruk's pent-up rage caused him to annihilate the being with the full force of the Avatar State. Realizing this, he felt even more ashamed at having seemingly misused his powers. Overcome with grief, Kuruk crafted a love poem for Hei-Ran, finally confessing his feelings for her. It was a desperate cry for help, an attempt to return to his youth when the future was still full of hope and he had a chance at a relationship with Hei-Ran. On the next day, Kuruk unexpectedly turned up at Kelsang's home, seeking his friend's advice on the poem. As he did not understand his friend's pain, the Air Nomad was horrified, thinking that the verses threatened Hei-Ran's newly found happiness. Kelsang consequently forced the Avatar to destroy the love poem.
Kuruk channeled his despair at research with Nyahitha, eventually concluding that the cracks in reality were being created by a single spirit. He focused on finding the origin, until he finally encountered Father Glowworm. Kuruk made the mistake of trading names with the spirit when he encountered it, cementing a curse on the Avatar and anyone else who learned of the malevolent spirit. Their fight nearly created a hole in the reality between realms. Father Glowworm was stronger than the other spirits, but Kuruk was too stubborn to lose. Kuruk managed to grievously wound Father Glowworm, but the spirit managed to escape. Although he did enough lasting damage to ensure that the spirit would do no more damage for a generation, he had been marked in return, and neither would fully heal from the encounter.
Marriage and death
Never having even the slightest thought of settling down, Kuruk carried on with his casual way of life until the day he met his true love. At the New Moon Celebration, a festive meeting of the two Water Tribes, he met a woman named Ummi from the Southern Water Tribe. Kuruk fell in love with her at first sight and presented Ummi with a customary betrothal necklace shortly after their meeting, which she accepted. The two designated their marriage to be at the Spirit Oasis.
As they approached the altar on the night of their wedding, Ummi fell into the oasis, pulled in by an unseen force. She had been dragged to the Spirit World by Koh the Face Stealer, to punish Kuruk for his past arrogance. Every year, on the anniversary of their wedding, Kuruk traveled to the Spirit World in hopes of saving Ummi, but failed on every occasion. His attempts made Koh hold a grudge against the Avatar. Kuruk died in 312 BG aged just 33. On his deathbed, he gathered his closest friends around him, urging them to find the next Avatar and "do right by them".
Existence after his death
Following his death, Kuruk's spirit continued to roam the Spirit World, searching for his wife. After an encounter with one of his successors, Aang, he eventually found Koh and would have slain him, were it not for his realization that the spirit had stolen Ummi's face and thus trapped her forever; he could not kill Koh without killing his wife in the process.
Following his demise, the world slowly descended into chaos: the Earth Kingdom was destabilized by the Yellow Neck uprising and large-scale banditry, while pirate fleets grew in numbers and became bolder in their attacks. The usual methods to identify the Avatar failed, resulting in a futile search by Kuruk's former teachers and friends for seven years. Kuruk's true successor, Kyoshi, was initially not identified as such, and Yun was declared the next Avatar in 296 BG. Kuruk's sacrifices in containing the dark spirits reaped benefits, however, as very few spirit attacks occurred after his death. Father Glowworm became so weakened that he was eventually absorbed by Yun.
His unique bending techniques survived him, as Jianzhu continued to use Kuruk's earthbending style and taught it to Yun. The Air Nomads also continued to use the airbending techniques which were developed by Kuruk.
Appearances in Kyoshi's life
As adopted daughter of Kelsang, and servant to Yun who was initially believed to be Kuruk's successor, Kyoshi learned of him during her teenage years. She initially had a low opinion of him due to his irresponsible ways.
Kyoshi first heard Kuruk's voice, though just faintly, during a battle with the Fifth Nation pirates. The former Avatar complemented his successor's actions, telling her that she had done well. At the time, Kyoshi did not yet know that she was the Avatar, and was unsure about the voice's identity. Kuruk fully appeared to Kyoshi as a reflection in a pool of water when she was meditating at the Southern Air Temple a few weeks later. His first act was to plead for her help, although he dissipated shortly after.
Over the next year, Kyoshi received garbled messages from Kuruk that soon passed. Kyoshi received a particularly painful vision as she flew over the destroyed island that Kuruk had ruined in the first time he entered the Avatar State. Kuruk's message was a painful experience for Kyoshi, and caused her to fall off Yingyong into the cold sea water. Kuruk's hazy figure appeared in the water before Jinpa reached through Kuruk's body, dissolving it.
Kyoshi managed to receive an extensive vision of Kuruk's life from his revelation as Avatar up to his first journey to the Spirit World after she meditated in the hills around North Chung-Ling, while guided by Nyahitha. However, she believed that she had learned nothing useful in dealing with Yun or Father Glowworm.
When Kyoshi left the Fire Nation, she plunged herself into the sea where Yangchen's island had once stood. While almost drowning in the sea water, Kyoshi managed to cross over to a beautiful green field in the Spirit World. Kuruk told her that he could help guide her to Yun and Father Glowworm, but he needed her help to do so. Kyoshi asked where the spirits were, and Kuruk told her that they avoided him, as he used to hunt spirits. Kyoshi grew disgusted upon learning about his fact, and angrily told him that his name belonged in the gutter with hers. The Spirit World responded to her emotional state, the ground cracking beneath her. She screamed at Kuruk, threatening to fall into an abyss, and Kuruk told her she had every right to hate him. At that moment, the crumbling paused as Kyoshi reminded herself of her obligation to the world, and to be more than the sum of her grievances. The Spirit World reconstructed itself, and Kuruk motioned to touch Kyoshi. She received an extensive vision of his life after he first crossed over to the Spirit World up to his battle with Father Glowworm.
When she stepped away from Kuruk's memories, Kyoshi had a newfound respect for Kuruk. She asked about the rest of his memories, but he dourly told her there was little else to see. Kyoshi expressed her gratitude for reaching him, but he showed her another area of the Spirit World: a drained, dead swamp that had been formed out of Yun's anger. Kuruk told her that spirits could not possess people's thoughts, causing Kyoshi to realize that Yun had been acting freely the entire time during his quest for vengeance. Kuruk empathized and expressed his desire for it to have been otherwise. Their meeting came to an end, but accessing Kuruk's memories allowed her to sense Yun's location, and reconciling with her past life allowed for her to waterbend a sliver of water to heal Rangi while in the Avatar State.
Appearances in Aang's life
Aang first learned about Kuruk while he was in the Spirit World during the Siege of the North. Koh informed him that Aang had attempted to slay him in a previous life, though the spirit never specifically identified this man as Kuruk.
Aang finally learned Kuruk's name when he was in a coma after Azula's lightning attack in Ba Sing Se. When they met in the realm of Koh, Kuruk asked Aang if he had seen a beautiful woman with long, brown hair. Aang responded by inquiring about Kuruk's dilemma, at which point Kuruk proceeded to tell him his history as the Avatar. After the tale, Aang realized that during his encounter with Koh, one of the spirit's faces was that of the woman Kuruk had described. Heartened by the knowledge of his wife's whereabouts, Kuruk set off to track down Koh once again. However, as Avatar Yangchen had predicted, Aang retained no memory of this encounter.
Later, Avatar Aang meditated, contacting Kuruk so to ask how Fire Lord Ozai could be defeated without killing him. Kuruk told Aang to actively shape both his destiny and that of the world, as the former had failed to do so in his own life. It was Kuruk's own arrogance and inaction that had cost him his beloved wife, Ummi. Aang took this to mean that Kuruk, like the other Avatars, believed it was necessary to use lethal force in order to protect the world. However, Kuruk's answer was much more open to interpretation, since "actively shaping your destiny" could have various meanings, including Aang's decision to strip Ozai of his bending.
While Aang was trying to establish contact with Avatar Yangchen for a solution to the situation with General Old Iron, Kuruk appeared in a vision which represented Aang's restored connection to his past lives after restoring his link with Roku.
Appearances in Korra's life
Kuruk stood alongside all the other Avatars when Aang passed on the knowledge of energybending to Korra and restored her bending, representing the newly established connection she made to her spiritual self.
After Korra lost her memory, Kuruk appeared before her, taking over from Avatar Kyoshi, and informed the young Avatar that she would have to return to the beginning to find Raava and reconnect with her Avatar Spirit.
While Unalaq was attacking Raava, Korra envisioned Kuruk as part of the Avatar lineup, which she had seen prior to regaining her bending; however, his connection to Korra was severed due to Unalaq's assault on and subsequent destruction of the light spirit.
Kuruk was naturally easygoing, open-minded, confident, and he liked to display his great bending skills and power to impress others. He was also extremely intelligent and regarded as one of the best Pai Sho players who ever lived. In general, Kuruk took Pai Sho extremely seriously, as the game even inspired his initial philosophy which included constant attempts at personal betterment and openness to new ideas.
His life and personality were deeply impacted by his experiences in battling the dark spirits. Despite maintaining his humor and deep regard for his loved ones, his spiritual affliction and loneliness ate at his self-confidence, self-control, and self-regard. In order to feel anything and cope with his stress, he began to avoid most issues related to his duties and responsibilities as Avatar, and instead pursued hedonistic interests and occasional whims. He indulged himself in alcohol and womanizing to try to feel as human as he could. Impulsive by nature, he liked to say that "it was better to ask for forgiveness than wait for permission". In private, however, Kuruk increasingly loathed the person he was becoming, believing himself a failure who murdered sacred beings, failed at his duties, and disappointed his friends.
Despite his depression and problematic lifestyle, Kuruk remained very sociable and widely well-liked. He had many good friends in whom he inspired a lasting loyalty, as well as many lovers. Following his meeting with Ummi, Kuruk overcame his depression and intended to leave his irresponsible lifestyle behind. Her loss, however, devastated him, resulting in him greatly regretting his past behavior for the rest of his life and beyond.
Kuruk was an extremely powerful bender and excelled at almost all things he enjoyed or took seriously. It was generally believed that he was the greatest Pai Sho player of all time, and became an unrivaled master and developed complex strategies untested up to that point. He was also believed to be the best hunter since the formation of the four nations, which allowed him to destroy many powerful dark spirits. As a bender, Kuruk developed his own unique style and created new techniques, based on his belief that all nations—and by extension, all forms of bending—were truly one. He consequently mixed elements from the different bending schools, such as when he integrated his knowledge and fighting forms from waterbending into earthbending.
- Kuruk bore a physical resemblance to Hakoda as well as Roku's waterbending master.
- Kuruk's name is a palindrome, like Appa and Ikki.
- In the last episode of the first series, Kuruk was seen in Aang's vision before he entered the Avatar State.
- During his airbending training, Avatar Kuruk was seen with customized Air Nomad clothing that was similar to Aang's, but in varying shades of blue.
- Kuruk is the Pawnee Native American word for "bear", mimicking how Kuruk is frequently seen wearing an animal pelt resembling a bear-like creature over his head.
- Koh stated that Kuruk attempted to slay him some eight or nine centuries prior to the episode, but for that to have happened, he would have had to be older than his immediate successor, Avatar Kyoshi, who was the oldest Avatar in history.
- Kuruk's favorite mode of transportation was by sea, surfing on a raft using waterbending.
- Kuruk is, so far, the only known Avatar whose predecessor and successor were both women.
- Among all Avatars with a known lifespan, Kuruk lived for the shortest period of time. Ironically, his successor, Kyoshi, lived longer than any other Avatar.
- Kuruk was the most recent Avatar who did not have to deal with a large scale political conflict during his time.
345 - 312 BG
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