The Empty Vessel
“Nine Bells, Nine Hells, all the same to me.”
The Nine Bells district of Hammerfast takes its name for the nine temples found in the heart of the district. Since these temples cater to the sick and the poor, this district draws the hungry, the diseased, and the destitute to its streets. Before the walls were raised here, Nine Bells was a place of great wealth—-a community favored by those rich citizens who wanted to escape the clamor of the city. However, after it was annexed along with Blister and the Boneyard, the estates were abandoned and the folks fled to Stonehammer or Elftown to escape the flood of destitute people that washed into the place. Now, Nine Bells is the worst part of the city and is ever a source of embarrassment for the city’s elite.
Buildings: With rotting estates, old vineyards now overrun by tents and wooden shacks, sagging row houses, and communities of tents, Nine Bells decays even while the rest of the city grows strong. The businesses, such as they are, cater to darker interests, including dreaming halls, sinister taverns, fighting pits, and disease-ridden brothels. Huddled in one corner of this district are nine great temples, raised long ago, but faced, on all sides, by poverty, despair, and the worst sorts of people imaginable. Called the Divine Knot, a few of these temples have been abandoned, while the rest keep small staffs of dedicated servants who soldier on to fight the misery plaguing this district.
Streets: As one might expect, Nine Bells’ streets are muddy lanes and narrow alleys, all filthy and most worming through the press of decaying buildings. Closest to the temples, the muddy roads gain cobbles, typically clean and free of debris.
People: Nine Bells is the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, and it welcomes anyone who has nowhere else to go. Humans, dwarves, tieflings, halflings, gnomes, and even a few half-orcs scratch out an existence in this wretched mire. Despair is strong here and it drives many of its people to commit unspeakable acts to survive. Drugs, prostitution, and even slavery can all be found here.
Sights: A dead dog rotting in the streets, a swarm of rats cornering a gaunt gnome in a darkened alley, a hideous crone hobbling under the weight of her scavenged scraps, a gang of children armed with sharp knives and hungry eyes, and a robed priest swinging a smoking censer to chase away the spirits can all be found in Nine Bells.
Smells: A fecal stench hangs in the air, mixed with the equally nauseating odors of vomit, rot, and rubbish. People here are unclean and their odors mingle with that of the befouled air to create a symphony of noxious odors. Nearest to the temples, the air grows a bit more tolerable thanks to incense and the modicum of respect the people show the men and women of the cloth.
Sounds: Within this area, one can hear mad laughter echoing out of a darkened ally, a woman’s cry, a wailing child, the sound of flies devouring an abandoned carcass, the splash of effluvia, and the whisper of a threat.