The captain’s wrist bore a living tattoo of a compass rose; as the icy waves tossed her vessel about, its ink contorted so that its longest petal would always point north. Its pigment conspired with the iron in her blood to reveal the world’s magnetic winds. It hadn’t yet proven useful on this journey, as the tramontana had been making itself obvious for weeks, yet she knew that it would soon become a necessity.
She was searching for a land further north than North itself: the kingdom of Hyperborea. Those who sought its cities of gold and glass told tale that no compass could be trusted to lead the way; in the deep north, beyond the guidance of the stars, its needle would lie so as to bind humanity the world below. So long as she served as her own compass, however, no such deceit could take place.
She sailed past Greenland, past Svalbard, past Nova Zembla, following the secret north inscribed into her flesh. She docked briefly in Thule, as she had always wanted to visit someplace that didn’t exist, and spent the last of her money on supplies. Then, she continued sailing northward, past monoliths of ice and violet snow, until her ship could take her no further.
The north wind continued to oppose her as she set out across the glacial expanse that remained. She could feel tension in her wrist, as the ink had come to a disagreement with her blood, and no longer wished to serve her will. Even so, her conviction held it steady, for she only had one desire left. She knew that if she found nothing, there would be no food or water for a return journey. Even if there were, she doubted that her frostbitten body could carry her that far a second time.
As she at last arrived at the world’s northernmost pole, she found that every angle of her tattoo was labeled with an “N.” A ninth had emerged, leading north of the planet itself, rising from her skin and pointing upwards into the starless sky. North was everywhere; it opposed itself in all directions, and collided with itself at right angles. It ensnared the world and escaped from it in equal measure.
She fell to her knees, and thought about giving in to the cold. Her plan had failed. There was, perhaps, no True North, and no Hyperborea to be found beyond. North had no meaning in this place; it could not survive its own absolution. It was nothing more than a contradiction born of cartography's assumptions.
Then, she thought about her blood, and felt a spark of hope. She remembered what it was that had brought her this far. Then she closed her eyes, and followed the compass inward.