Having completed the gate for the fort and stored supplies, Barzak, Rogar, Barik, Farin, Dain, Mara, Gumnad, and Gundorm left on the trip back to Zokat after a few days preparation on 1624.08.20. They passed under the waterfall, climbed Stonehead's Stair, and made a quick check on the cache.
At the cache, they found things in disarray, but the only permanent damage was that two firkins of salt had been broken open and the salt scattered and tracked out of the cache. Barzak took note of this as a reason to cache tools rather than salt when transporting goods back to the fort.
After marching to the rockslide and passing down beside it, the group had an uneventful journey through the pass, along the mountainside, and through the desert to Zokat; they saw only a flock of birds while on the dwarf road, and those birds did not attack.
Briefly congratulating themselves on having arrived just in time to begin training with the new month - they arrived in Zokat on 28 September - the dwarves figured they had seven months to train before they had to make a caching run and then a trip back to the fort. Their first priority was to have Dain and Rogar train porter skill so as to be able to make more of a contribution when taking goods back to the fort, and for the dwarves who typically went on the hunting expeditions to train additional cooking skill so that they could salt more of an aurochs carcass before it rotted. A secondary priority was to improve the fighting skills of the dwarves likely to be hunting goblins, and the archery skills of dwarves likely to be left defending the fort. They also planned to add Fundul and perhaps a couple of new dwarves - who would need good porter skills - to the group before heading back.
Initially, Barzak trained some dwarves in porter and fighting skills while Mara taught a cooking class. Fundul then began contributing to the training, and Mara found an aunt who was willing to teach cooking, while she herself further improved her skill by learning from her mother.
After seven months, the porter and most of the cooking training goals had been met, but Fundul wished for more time to improve Barzak's parries, while Mara was finally just starting to make progress on improving her cooking skill. Realizing that delivering materials to the cache, then fetching them from the fort, took about as much time as a round trip to the fort from Zokat, the dwarves decided to extend their training for three more months before returning directly to the fort, making the decision on 1625.04.28.
The group also added two dwarves: Stronghand, who had previously been associated with some of the group when Topaz was backing the exploratio, and a new dwarf, Thorin, who while wimpy was the only candidate with the archery skill that Barzak wanted. These dwarves were added on 1625.04.28.
Starting in 1625.05.01, the Dwarves continued for two months of training - in particular, the last pieces of training needed for party members to cross the mountains. After two months - during which Fundul had not yet learning the minimal climbing skill needed to traverse the path without help, the leaders again debated whether they could spend another month training. Eventually, Barzak and Rogar concluded that the group at the fort would get at least two visits from the natives, the minimum necessary to remain long enough for the group in Zokat to train for another month and still make it to the fort before it had to be abandoned. In the remaining month, Fundul did finally learn the climbing skill.
Others also learned or improved their climbing, cooking, archery, or medic skills.
Also over this time, Fundul, Barzak, Farin, Dain, Gundorm, Gumnad, Barik, Rogar, and Thorin engaged in an almost round robin of practice bouts - 35 in all. Fundul beat everyone, with only Barzak landing a single blow through Fundul's patient defense; Barzak with his more aggressive style beat everyone else except for Gundorm, who managed to get a lucky blow through Barzak's armor, then exploited an opening Barzak left when pressing an attack a little too long to draw blood again. Gundorm and Gumnad seem to be closing on Farin and Dain, and may have caught up with Barik by the end of the dwarves' time in Zokat on 1625.07.28.
As previously agreed with Stonehead, Rogar arranged to have heavier mining tools made in the hopes that they would more than make up for the added weight in durability. Mattocks for Stonehead and picks for Rogar were made that weighed 3/8 more than the standard ones; hammers and drills were made that weighed 7/8 more than standard. These were the heaviest that Rogar felt could be easily handled.
In addition, Rogar devoted a slightly larger proportion of the available weight to tools for Stonehead, as they had run out first. He purchased 23 mattocks for Stonehead, 7 picks for himself, and 5 hammers and 5 drills, for a total of 557 pounds.
On 1625.08.01, Fundul, Barzak, Farin, Dain, Gundorm, Gumnad, Barik, Rogar, Mara, Thorin, and Stronghand, now using his dwarvish name of Kurzon, set out fully burdened to return from Zokat to the fort. By the time they made it through the pass to the cache, they had used up their stores of water, and were able to pick up material from the cache as well. Their trip was otherwise uneventful, and on 1625.09.09 they arrived in the vicinity of the fort.
Meanwhile, back at the fort on 1624.08.20, Kasov, Stonehead, Gror, and Crystal arranged their routine. At night, they remained within the fort with the door closed for safety. All were up at dawn when the door was opened, since that would be a vulnerable time; Kasov insisted that they always check through the arrow slits for possible enemies before opening the door. During the day, Kasov trained Gror. Crystal was also up during the day in case the natives arrived, and stood lookout from late morning to late evening, at which time she went to sleep so she could be up in time for dawn. Stonehead's watch extended from late evening to late morning.
The group started out on half rations. By the time the natives first arrived on 1624.09.04, Kasov had noticed that Gror didn't have as much energy to practice as he should; he had previously noticed this when training Dain when Dain was on half rations.
Crystal traded for only 120 pounds of rations from the natives, since there were no longer enough people to make good use of 200 pounds; this would still be enough to allow everyone to be on full rations for the month that the rations were expected to be good. She did give the natives a couple daggers over the 20 pounds per dagger rate to ensure they weren't too disappointed to return.
When the rations ran out on 1624.10.04 and the dwarves started using their salt meat, Crystal noted that it didn't make sense to extend the food as long as possible, given that if the other dwarves didn't return within a year or so, they probably weren't returning at all. She suggested going to full rations whenever the remaining salt meat was enough for half rations until the other dwarves' return; Stonehead noted that it would probably be good to give the other dwarves a month and a half or two months of leeway beyond the agreed year in case their first attempt to return was interrupted. Crystal worked out the math, but to her disappointment, the numbers didn't support going to full rations immediately. Stonehead noted that it was probably possible to put Gror on full rations, though, and the dwarves agreed to do that.
On 1624.10.14, the natives arrived again and the dwarves traded 6 daggers for 120 pounds of rations. The 15 or so natives stayed overnight, preparing a feast from other meat they were carrying. The next day, a rhino interrupted the feast, and the natives killed the rhino.
On 16241107, the dwarves were ambushed as they exited the fort's entrance tunnel. Kasov found himself surrounded by a dozen goblins and attacked by four of them; Gror, who was next in line, could only reach one of them. Still, Kasov was able to kill several of the goblins in one blow each, and the remainder soon fled.
The four dead goblins were found to be using spears that had heads that looked suspiciously like the daggers the dwarves used as trade goods. When the natives had not returned by the end of the month, the dwarves started worrying that the goblins might have killed them. After all, it had been pretty much the same group of natives each time.
Fortunately the natives did show up, on 1624.11.23. At this point Crystal noticed that they had only 32 daggers left - not counting the four they got from the goblins. She tried harder to interest the natives in steel tipped arrows - of which they had 300 - and the natives accepted 20 arrows and 4 daggers in place of six daggers for the normal 120 pounds of rations. Then on each of their next two visits, on 1624.12.17 and 1625.01.16, the natives accepted 3 daggers and 30 arrows.
Towards evening on 1625.02.02, a volley of arrows was fired from above the fort at Crystal, who was on lookout. She went down, spurting blood from her left leg. Kasov and Gror looked up to see seven goblins charging down the hillside at them, with a row of six goblin archers behind them.
Gror, who had a bit of medic skill, leaped over to Crystal and applied pressure to her leg to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately that took all his attention, so he could not also attempt to drag her to the entrance tunnel a few yards away. Kasov attempted to interpose between Gror and Crystal below and the goblins above.
The goblins closed, with two trying to drag Crystal away, three attacking Kasov, and one attacking Gror - who was fully occupied with trying to prevent Crystal from being dragged away while still keeping her from bleeding.
Heedless of the rain of blows from other goblins, Kasov concentrated on killing the goblin that closed on Gror, then when that was done, wounded one of his own attackers, who retreated.
Kasov then tried to engage the goblins who were tugging at Crystal, who turned to defend themselves. However, this allowed one of the goblins he had been engaging to begin attacking Gror, along with the goblin who had not yet engaged.
Having gotten the goblins to release Crystal for the moment, Kasov wounded the nearer of the goblins attacking Gror, then after waiting for him to retreat, stepped into his place and took out the other, very large goblin who was also attacking Gror. He then turned and wounded another goblin. In the meantime, both Kasov and Gror were taking numerous hits from the goblins, and Kasov was tiring.
The remaining three uninjured goblins concentrated on Kasov. However, the odds - one to three - were now in his favor, and he killed two of them promptly. The other disengaged and the two previously wounded goblins ran up the hill, while one of the archers, finally seeing an opening, took a potshot at Gror. Kasov pursued, catching and killing the goblin who disengaged; the remaining two goblin warriors and the archers routed, with Kasov pursuing just long enough to ensure that the goblins wouldn't immediately return.
Crystal was still alive. Kasov carried her into the fort, with Gror still attending to her injury. Deep into the night she recovered consciousness, and gradually recovered - operating on her own wound - over the next few days.
There were no further visits, hostile or otherwise, to the fort through 16250307.
The dwarves at the fort continued to trade with the natives for rations, eating from their stores of salt meat when necessary. Natives visited on 1625.04.14, 1625.04.23, 1625.05.05, 1625.05.25, 1625.06.16, 1625.06.23, 1625.08.17, 1625.08.24, and 1625.09.06. These frequent visits allowed the dwarves to stay on full rations for most of the period. While one leopard showed up one night when the dwarves were safely inside the fort, there were no other significant encounters before the arrival of the group from Zokat after 1625.09.09.