Volchok received few visitors before the Wolf’s Pass was begun in 500 BU, though it was not unknown for travellers to make it so far north. The light in the north of the country was fabled, attracting astrologers and artists alike, and trade missions too found their way here, bearing gifts and hitherto unknown materials, spices, and goods; mammoth teeth, sugar grass and toxins from the Nur-Dal, and exotic woods, exotic creatures, and fragile china from Tal’dor, which only the aristocracy could afford. After 200 BU, when the Wolf’s Pass was finally finished, trade increased and so too did visitors.
The trek here was long and arduous, and even when one had reached the Pass in the south, which cut its way through the thick mess of mountains known as the Zapovedni – or ‘Iron Shield – there were still thousands of kilometers to negotiate in order to make it to the capital, Zimny Dvor, perched on the northernmost peninsula of Volchok. Over time, the harbour in Zimny Dvor was expanded to meet the rising demand of tourists and traders looking to come here but not prepared to endure weeks, if not months, of uncomfortable and dangerous travel for the privilege.
Weather depending, it could still take weeks to reach Zimny Dvor by sea, but it was for many preferable to land. Nur-Dal folk sailed from the east, Tal’dor folk sailed from the west. Most who arrived in the capital stayed throughout the summer and autumn months before the Sealing Sea froze over. A few stayed on, entranced both by the machines and the manners of this people and the ancient, mysterious land they had inherited, thanks to a nameless race of master builders whose only traces lay in the stonework they had left behind. A new mode of transportation was introduced at the end of the 1600s, and one which, though made infinitely more dangerous and harder to access during the civil war that was intensifying, remained the quickest way of reaching Volchok and moving around the country. An amazing feat of engineering, the airship was powered by whale oil, which, when burnt, produced heated air that inflated the ship’s sails into enormous pillows and enabled the entire construction to lift from the ground and sail in the winds. To this day it remains the most remarkable technological achievement of the Volchok people, and one which they rightly look upon with pride.
Everything changed with the onset of the war in the middle of the 1600s. Visitors who had previously come here every summer were no longer welcome. Traders found it increasingly hard to make it through the Wolf’s Pass, and tourists were no longer able make it through that canyon without an inordinate amount of paperwork pertaining to their identity. Volchok was pulling up the drawbridge, at first slowly and then, around 1700, completely, when the empire had already crumbled and Volchok was left alone. The atmosphere became strained with suspicion: talk was of foreign usurpers, of svyat slayers, who entered Volchok with the intent of taking it over, whispering words of revolution and treason, spreading lies and disinformation as they went. Things became so hostile that it was no longer safe for outsiders to enter the country without a private army. When a group of tourists from the Nur-Dal were found stabbed to death and suspended from the battlements of a megalithic ice palace they’d been visiting, people simply stopped coming to Volchok. By 1750 the Wolf’s Pass had closed to the outside world, effectively sealing off the southern – and most accessible – part of the land. Outsiders no longer used the word Volchok anymore. Instead they called it ‘the hermit kingdom.’