Adam Jeffson joins an expedition to the North Pole—members of which have been promised rich rewards for its success—after his fiancée, Clodagh, murders one of the original members. He, too, becomes a murderer as the expedition nears its goal, and he becomes the only member of the party to reach the pole, a pillar engraved with unreadable characters, surrounded by a lake of living fluid.
He has heard a preacher prophesying disaster should anyone reach the pole, and the prophecy comes true. When he makes his way south again, afflicted by visual and olfactory hallucinations, he finds that all animal life has been extinguished by a cloud of purple gas released by a volcanic eruption. He searches for other survivors but finds none.
Jeffson takes up residence in London, England, but frustration ultimately leads him to burn the city and become a wanderer. He decides to build himself a palace on the Aegean island of Imbros and furnish it with the treasures of the world. This task is interrupted frequently by bouts of despair and orgies of destruction. Jeffson believes that he is being tormented by rival forces that have used him since childhood as their battleground; he characterizes them as “the white” and “the black.” More than once, he abandons himself to death, but each time he is saved.
As his palace nears completion, Jeffson is drawn away by the forces that control him. An eastward journey takes him to Pera, where he...
(The entire section is 472 words.)