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The story, a recording of a medium's meditation over the future writing of the text, details the narrator's (Adam Jeffson's) expedition to the North Pole during the 20th century on board the Boreal. Jeffson's fiancée, the Countess Clodagh, poisons her own cousin in order to secure a place on the ship for Jeffson, because the expedition was known to be one of the best ever planned. A millionaire, who died some years previously, had ordered in his will that he would pay 175,000,000 dollars to the first person standing at the North Pole. Before Jeffson leaves, he hears a sermon by a Scottish priest named Mackay, speaking against Polar research, calling the failure of all previous expeditions the will of God, and prophesying a terrible fate for those who attempt to go against God's will in this. The narrator at the same time remembers his meeting with a man who claimed that the universe is a place of strife between vague "powers", "The White" and "The Black", for dominance. Throughout the events of the polar journey, the narrator gradually discovers that his course has been, for many years, guided by these forces, all the way up to the point where he reaches the pole first. He finds a huge, clear lake of spinning water with a rock island inlaid with inscriptions. Upon seeing this, Jeffson falls into a faint. When he returns to his camp he, along with his dogs, feels nauseous after having smelled a peculiar peach-like odor. He also notices a moving purple cloud, spreading in the far heavens. During the progress of his journey, he discovers dead animals, all without the slightest sign of injury, and he gradually learns of the death of his entire crew on board the Boreal. The ship being fairly easy to operate, he sets out by himself.