Chapter 14:


The Human Saint is Bored, so I was Summoned to Another World Vol. 1

Good morning, sir!”

“Ah, good morning!”

“Hello, sir!”

“What’s up, y’all?”

It’s been a long time since I last saw this familiar scenery. A long corridor filled with students in their white uniforms, empty rooms with chairs and bags scattered everywhere, and my tired co-workers gathering around to take a well-deserved break in the faculty room…

I know this is just another dream, but it brought out nostalgia in me…

I took a walk around my old school, which was quite small compared to a normal one back in my country. Within a few minutes, I could go on a round trip several times in this place. Yep, this school was tiny, where we even had to give our workspaces to accommodate more students coming in from other places…

However, this one is full of memories—good and bad—for me…


Hmm…I don’t know. Maybe I got influenced by what that black-haired Saint, Natasha, told me about my ‘true power’. That could be the reason I’m seeing this scenario once again. She said I could use words to influence people, but I doubt that would be the case…

I mean, all of my co-workers are teachers too, don’t they have the same power as me?


I was surprised when someone bumped into me. This should’ve been a dream, but I felt like this was all real…

Such a vivid dream I’m currently having, huh?

Oh, sorry for hitting you, sir!” it was a girl who hit me. Perhaps not looking on the way she’s going, I didn’t know. But what I remember was, this student of mine was a good friend to me back when I was still on Earth.

“Alexa? You alright, dude?” I asked her. Pardon my speech; it’s just the way I talk to them.

Ah yes sir, I’m fine.”

“Watch out where you go, then. It’ll be a pain in the ass if you hit your head on a pole and you became amnesiac.”

“Come on sir, you know it won’t be the case,” Alexa replied, laughing, “I have a thick skull, it will not be a problem.”

“I agree,” I sarcastically commented, “That’s why you and your classmates are real assholes…you have thick skulls!”

“Of course, sir! We’re your students and we’re proud of it, you know!” Alexa playfully winked at me.

As a teacher, hearing those words from my students—no matter how ‘demonic’ they seemed to be—warms my heart. Heck, it’s the reason I got into this low-paying, highly stressful job in the first place!

“Take care on your way around, Alexa!” I gently patted her head.

Alexa waved her hand at me as she walked away, “I will, sir…thanks!”

A power using words to influence people, huh? I knew it’s possible, but I’m not the only one who wields it, you know?


Man, I miss my students. I wonder how are they doing now…


To be honest, I got an uncomfortable feeling as I head to Her Holiness’ room. For one, it wasn’t easy to talk about a failed romance with someone who’s been rejected by the man she loved and tried to harm herself because of it.


But I guess I had to help the Saint confront her failures and cope up with the pain.

Man, this is heavy.

I hesitated for a few moments before entering that huge wooden door leading to Her Holiness’ room. I was about to knock when the door itself opened and out came Lily’s head.

Oh, Kuro!” she greeted me with a smile, but I could see that she’s got some eyebags, “Her Holiness told me you’re standing outside her room, so I took the liberty to open it. You need something from her?”

“How is she?”

“Err…” Lily was apprehensive whether she would answer my question. But she pleaded to me in the end, “Please, Kuro, Her Holiness is utterly dejected when that idiot, Simon, rejected her. Can you at least talk some sense into our friend?”

“I’ll try to.” Honestly, I’m not confident. But I guess there’s no harm in trying.

Lily then let me in.

Oh Kuro!” it was the Saint, “You need something from me?”

I was startled to see her keeping up a strong front. She was smiling—as if nothing happened, but her expression had a distinct feeling to it. If I may say, I could feel the sadness coming out of her.

Uhh…Your Holiness—”

The Saint quickly cut into my sentence, “I know. I can see into minds, Kuro.”

I fell silent. I didn’t know how to put my thoughts into proper words.

“Please don’t pity me,” the Saint demanded, turning away from us, “I may be the Saint, but I’m still a human girl with feelings and pride, you know.”

“I understand, Your Holiness,” I answered, “But can I ask you one thing?”

“What is it?”

“Can you please stop reading my thoughts for a moment?”

Her Holiness stared at me, “Fine if that’s what you want.”

And so, I said what I had in mind, “Your Holiness, if I may speak …”

“You tell me to stop reading into your head and then the next moment you say you want to speak your thoughts? Aren’t you full of contradictions, Kuro?”

Well, I guess I am, Your Holiness. But I’ll try to help you, no matter what. “I’m sorry, Your Holiness, but can you please listen to me for a bit?”


I took her silence for ‘yes’.

“First, I just want to say that you’re not alone. Whenever you feel sad or dejected, Lily is here with you, or you can also talk to me if that’s alright.”

She remained unresponsive. So, I continued to speak.

“Second is, that second prince is a fucking asshole, you know.”

The room was filled with awkward silence. Sir Simon was a good friend to Her Holiness and Lily, after all. Of course, they wouldn’t want to hear some stranger from another world talk ill of their childhood companion.

Should I continue? Well, no matter. If they get angry, then so be it.

“You know why, Your Holiness? You showered that guy with your love and devotion, yet he still has the guts to reject a beautiful girl like you! We call that kind of person ‘asshole’ in my old world. They don’t deserve a second life.”


I’m sorry, Sir Simon, it’s not that I hated you. But situations like this one called for extreme measures…


“Yes, Your Holiness?”

“Please…don’t call Simon like that. He’s our good friend,” she pleaded, “Simon may be an insensitive liar and an idiot, but he’s our friend.”

“Yes, Your Holiness, I agree with that.”

“He may have loved someone else, but he’s our friend, alright?” the Saint’s voice was shaking; she’s about to cry again any minute now.

“Yep, I understand. My apologies…” I sincerely apologized.

“I was wrong to have let my feelings get over me,” Her Holiness quipped.

Uh…I don’t think it’s a mistake, Your Holiness,” I gently rebuked her, “You’re human, and I believe that even if you’re a god, you can’t stop your heart from loving someone. Please stop blaming yourself for something that is naturally happening.”

“But it hurts, Kuro…”

“Yes, it is, just like how it should be. It’s proof that you loved that person.”


Although I knew I couldn’t properly console her, I gathered my courage and gave the Saint a head pat.

Man, I guess I’m pathetic; it’s the only way I know in comforting someone.

“I’m sorry you have to destroy the only memento that you have from your world,” Her Holiness apologized for the old shirt that I used to put a tourniquet on her wound.

“It’s fine, it’s old stuff, anyway.”

“But still…”

“I’m telling you it’s okay with me.” And that’s the truth, anyway, “If you’re truly regretting what just happened, then I’ll ask you to keep yourself alive and well. You can make amends to me if you did that.”

“Thank you, Kuro…”

Ah…you’ll be able to get over him soon, Your Holiness,” I assured her, “Just accept the reality that you’re hurt, and if you need to, change yourself for the better. I’m sure you deserve a much better guy out there.”

The Saint fell silent. Lily was beside her, consoling her quietly. Tears were already flowing down from her eyes, though she’s trying her best to hold back.

“Your Holiness, I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness that you let yourself cry from time to time,” I suggested, “In fact, it can help you go through with your sadness.”

And so, with the two of us—Lily and I—keeping the Saint accompanied, Her Holiness the Great Saint of Chersea poured out her entire feelings in a heartfelt cry that lasted for quite long.


I left the Saint’s room as soon as she stopped her tears. Lily stayed with her all the time, so I’m confident that she’ll be safe under her watch.


There were a few more things I needed to do before I called this a ‘day’. Quite a distance away from the Saint’s room stood the royal pair, Sir Simon and King Rambo.

“So, how’s Maddie?” the meathead grabbed the collar of my shirt while asking for the condition of Her Holiness.

“She’s fine now. At least, she’s recovering,” I replied, trying to let his grip loose. Well, if you’re that worried about her, you can at least see her for yourself.

As for Sir Simon, he remained silent. He was averting his eyes from me as if he had done something wrong.

“Hey, Your Highness,” I tapped his shoulder to get his attention, “You alright?”

“I know I don’t have the right to talk to Maddie, nor be concerned about her.”

Nah. No one wants what just happened,” I tried consoling the prince, “Don’t pin the blame on yourself, Sir Simon.”

“But you know the reason behind Maddie’s actions was all because of me.”

“That’s right!” it was King Rambo, “It’s Simon’s stupid mistake to hurt Maddie like that, so he has to face his guilt.”

Shut the fuck up, Rambo. I never asked for your opinion. Anyway, I continued, “Well, if you truly are repenting, at least take proper responsibility for your actions. And I’m not telling you to hurt yourself, Sir Simon.”

“What should I do then?”

“Well, grit your teeth and live by your decision to reject her. Think about Her Holiness’ feelings once she learns you became a dejected person because of her actions. You think she’ll be happy with that?”

Sir Simon was silent. It seemed like he was pondering deeply about what I said.

“A mistake wouldn’t correct another wrong. It would only make it bigger, Your Highness,” I suggested, “Best course of action is, reverse the mistake by doing right, which in your case is, pursuing what makes you happy.”

“That’s some deep words you got there, peasant,” King Rambo commented.

“I hope you find your happiness as well, Your Majesty!” Honestly, I’ve been itching to tell him ‘go die drowning in steroids’, but I decided not to pick up any new enemies.

Hmph! Thanks for the words, peasant!” he replied in his usual arrogant tone, “I may leave soon, but don’t think that someone like you can win against me for Maddie!”

What the hell are you talking about, meathead? Did you get high on steroids again?

“Kuro…” it was Sir Simon.

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“Thanks for your words,” he laughed a little, “I’ll try to follow it, I promise.”

“No problem, Sir Simon!”

Ah, if ever you wanted to come to Nerfes, drop me a visit!” the second prince offered, “My entire household is always open to welcome you, Sir Kuro.” He bowed in gratitude before me, much to the surprise of his ‘blood’ brother, King Rambo, and myself as well. But the steroid boy decided to remain silent.


Sometime later…

“His Royal Majesty of Nerfes, King James Walter Reed II!”

The carriages of the royalty of Nerfes had lined up once again at the courtyard of the palatial gardens, though this time, they were now facing the direction of the main gate. The palatial guards, as well as the Nerfes’ royal guards, lined along the path that led to the first carriage, where the king was expected to take his ride.

I guess this was the time the guys from Nerfes would come back to their own country.


I could see the royal attendants preceding the entourage and carrying the various things the royals had with them in their visit. And man, I’m impressed by the sheer numbers of the suitcases these people had brought; they had their entire house move with them.


King Rambo’s glare towards me never changed, though it mellowed down. He had his painting made by Her Holiness in his hands, never planning to entrust it to one of his servants. He guarded it with his entire life.

Heh, no one would want to snatch it from you anyway, Rambo. Anyone who’d do it is blind or is nuts in the head. Oh wait, I forgot about Sir Simon…well, he’s the only one who’d love him.


And uh, speaking of Sir Simon…

I turned around and saw him a few steps away from where I stood. Lily was with him, along with the dignified figure of that silver-haired girl, the Human Saint of Chersea, Madelaine Ann Rubinforth.

I wonder what are they talking about…

For one, Lily’s face was something I couldn’t describe, though Her Holiness’ expression remained the same.


“Well, Sir Simon Hugh Reed, Second Prince of Nerfes, I guess this is goodbye…” the Saint said out loud. Though her voice remained stoic initially, I noticed it trailed at the end.

“Yes, Your Holiness,” Sir Simon bowed in reverence, “I would also like to extend my deepest gratitude for welcoming us here in your presence.”

“As always,” Her Holiness was keeping up a brave front, “Anyone who is in need will be welcomed in this place.”

I’m having a painful feeling while watching these two talked. There’s an invisible wall being put up between them…Oh well, I guess it’s pretty much normal.



But Sir Simon never moved from his position. He kept his head low before Her Holiness…

“Your Holiness…no, Maddie!” he began talking, “I…I’d like to apologize for—”


Me, Lily, and most especially, Sir Simon, were all surprised when the Saint seized hold of him and embraced him tightly. There were tears in Her Holiness’ eyes…

“Please don’t,” she told him, “Don’t regret that you chose to be happy. I can manage somehow; I got Lily with me.”

Sir Simon, though he was surprised at the sudden gesture, finally gave in and reciprocated Her Holiness’ embrace, “Thank you! Thank you, Maddie!”

“No matter what happens, I’ll always be a friend to you, Simon,” the Saint reminded the Second Prince, “So pursue what makes you happy and fulfilled. I bless you with the gods’ favor.”

Silence prevailed as the two souls finally found the courage to confront and be at peace with each other…


The royal entourage from Nerfes had just left. Sir Simon remained in solitude the whole time, after that scene with the Saint, while the rest of the royal entourage said their goodbyes. Well, I could understand the second prince’s sentiments. Of course, he’s still wracked with guilt over Her Holiness’ action, and I doubt if he’d ever get over that feeling as long as he lived…which is kind of sad. But I’m hoping that Sir Simon could find the happiness he’s searching for…


After all, I doubt Rambo would ever return his feelings.

Man, the human heart is too complicated.

“Hello, Maddie! Are you okay now?” it was the former slave boy, which was the Beastman Saint, Ruro of the Wolf. She had shed off her disguise and greet Her Holiness as herself.

“You finally revealed your true self, Ruro!” the Human Saint replied happily, “I thought you let yourself be the slave of Kuro.”

Haha! So, you know it was me after all!”

“Of course, I would! You’re bad at acting, you know.”


Well, of course, they’re saints. Their godly powers were cheats that could see through anyone’s heart and mind. It’s easy that Her Holiness could know about the Beastman Saint’s disguise.

“Thanks for saving me, Ruro. I owe you my life.”

Nah, don’t mention it. I was there, so I smelled your blood; if you’ve got someone to thank for, it’s my master.”

Uhh…I thought we have talked about this, Your Fluffy Holiness?” I corrected her, or there’ll be further misunderstandings if she continued with her nonsense, “I don’t need slaves, especially an esteemed Beastman Saint for one.”

“Well, I think you have no option to refuse, M-A-S-T-E-R. This humble Beastman Saint was ensnared by your trap of words, and now she dedicates her life for you.”

“Please don’t do that, you have a land and a race to take care of,” I don’t think I could accept the fact that a Saint would leave her people to ruin, just for some idiot from another world, even if it was meant as a joke.

Her Holiness laughed softly.

Well, at least, if she’s able to do that, I guess it’s all fine.

“Yes, I’m pretty much okay now, Kuro,” she told me, “I’m still sad though.”

“It’s normal, Your Holiness. Sir Simon had played a big part in your life, after all.”

“Thank you for your words, Kuro.”

“You’re welcome, Your Holiness.”

Uh…if it pleases you…” she had a bit of difficulty in bringing out her words, “Can I request something, Kuro?”

“Sure, why not, Your Holiness,” I replied, “What is it?”

“It’s Maddie.”


“Please…can you call me Maddie from now on?”


I think I should tell you a few more things. After the departure of the Nerfes royals, the Saint had considerably withdrawn herself from the public eye for a while. Perhaps she’s still grieving, I didn’t know. But I guess she had all the rights to.

It’s difficult to mend a broken heart, after all…


Hmm…I guess this would take a while.”

Drying clothes without the usual conveniences available to modern city-dwelling humans like a clothes dryer, or a spinner could be a hassle. Chersea was a world that did not know ‘night’ and ‘day’; the only thing closer to that concept was the ‘long sleep’, which was the time when we take a long sleep (like what you do every night).

If I did the laundry, I’d have to check it from time to time to see if it’s dry and ready to use, or if it was still wet. Add the temperate climate of the land, and you’d get a slow way of drying the clothes. I thought it would take a while before I fully adjusted to this kind of lifestyle.

On the bright side, however, the ‘day’ was slow. It’s the ideal vacation spot for any stressed-out employee from Earth, after dealing with obnoxious people like bosses, entitled clients, and toxic co-workers. And because Chersea was in its medieval period, the air was fresh and cool. The rolling hills and flat, green plains were a treat to the eyes. Nearby streams could be a source of drinking water. And the best part of it is, there were no dusty, dirty, and polluted urban centers like on modern Earth.

Having been summoned here isn’t all that bad…

Plus, I didn’t have to use torches and candles too often. The Chersean sun—or whatever was that light up there—never sets; the only places you’d need an artificial light would be in your house’s interior if you decided to keep it dark.

So technically, I could go around the Holy Palatial Gardens arousing no suspicion. Though the people of Chersea had the concept of ‘long sleep’, there was always a person who was awake in this place at any time of the ‘day’. They could see whatever it was I’m doing in broad daylight.


Now, while waiting for my clothes to dry, I decided to take a walk and catch some fresh air. By this moment, most of the staff of the Holy Palatial Gardens—including the Saint herself—were off to their dreamland.

I guess now’s an excellent opportunity to go around for a bit. No one will come buzzing at whatever catches your interest; or worse, stalk and follow you wherever you go…


Anyway, just outside the manor where I was staying, there’s a forest nearby. You see, the Holy Palatial Gardens was not only enclosed by defensive rings of wall and moat, but it’s also a place where one could mingle with nature. And in that dense cluster of trees, a small spring flowed that was the primary source of fresh water supply.

I’m told that when the Holy Palatial Gardens compound was being expanded, the construction purposefully left that body of water untouched. The Saint from that time believed that it was a sort of divine providence, a gift from the gods. Something close to the Catholic church’s holy water. Though honestly, I was thinking, what if someone messed with the stream somewhere along its stretch? Wouldn’t the people here get sick?


Oh well, the water’s pretty clear, so I guess I can take a sip? Anyway, I’m already drinking the water from the palace kitchen, so what harm can it bring to me?

I stooped low to scoop a bit and drink from my hands. The cool sensation, coupled with the pleasant, open-air ambiance of the surroundings, made me thirstier. Without further delay, I drank the water.

“Oh!” Well, it was sweet. Quite a nice source of spring water, eh?

Delighted by my discovery, I scooped once again for another round.

This is good!


My jolly moment came to an abrupt halt when I heard a splashing sound coming from upstream. In that direction, the trees were growing in thick clusters, obscuring the sight.


Well, I didn’t know. But from the splashy, watery noises themselves, it looked like someone entered this place and was at the water; either taking a bath or walking through the spring. If that’s so, that wasn’t good. I mean, who would take a bath at this moment? Almost everyone was asleep! Besides, there were a lot of bathtubs, augmented by two bathhouses inside the Saint’s Chambers Palace alone.

Why will someone dip in a bath where she can be seen?

That made little sense. So, with that, it can only mean one thing…

“A trespasser!”

That incident with the perverted thief was still fresh in my mind. And since the Holy Palatial Gardens had a reputation of a ‘place filled with women’, it’s of no surprise that these sex-crazed maniacs would try sneaking in from time to time.


Back to the trespasser. Carefully, I inched my way towards the sound. I knew I couldn’t do much against a criminal who was capable of magic, but if I could pin him down long enough for help to arrive, I thought it’d be fine.


I finally found a hiding spot among the thick bushes and trees. From my spot, I peered at the source of the suspicious sound. However, what I saw was only a figure shrouded in white, in the very middle of the lake.

Perhaps this idiot is trying to obscure his face so that no one can know his identity.

I silently prayed that he won’t notice me as I positioned myself in a favorable condition and angle to launch an attack that would pin him down. Then, once I made sure of my distance…

“I got you now!”


With all of my adrenaline pumping out, I grabbed the trespasser with all of my strength while pushing him desperately to the ground. But there was no pinning down.


Instead, a soft, warm, and pleasant sensation embraced my head and my arms, which were wrapped around the criminal to keep him from escaping. And then, what put a stop to my hopeless struggle was when the trespasser finally spoke.

“Goodness, you surprised me there, Kuro!”


Bewildered by the terrible realization of what I just did, I saw I was hugging Her Holiness the Saint, all in her naked splendor.

What the fu—

I quickly backed away in panic. I didn’t want a return to that time when the maids here were always plotting against me.

However, my efforts to escape went for naught. In backing off, my feet slipped on the wet rocks, and I fell into the water.

Everything went dark.


Eventually, my consciousness returned.

When I came to be, I half-expected that I would awaken on a shaky cart pulled by a horse, on my way to execution, with a fellow prisoner greeting me amicably.

“Hey! You’re finally awake!”

For some reason, the Todd Howard dream turned into reality, but minus the overused prisoner guy meme. Instead, a beautiful girl with silver hair and silvery-blue eyes was the one who was happy that I finally awakened.


I was quick to sit up, hitting my forehead against Her Holiness’ chin in the process.



“You don’t have to be so jumpy, Kuro!” Her Holiness said in a half-amused, half-annoyed manner. I found her sitting in a ‘seiza’ position, meaning she put my head on her lap while I was unconscious. Unlike earlier, she was now wearing a pure white gown.

“Y-Your Holiness, I’m sorry I—”

“There’s no need for apologies,” she laughed, “I can sense and hear your thoughts from your hiding place while you’re planning to grab and pin me down. I just can’t believe that you thought of me as a criminal.”


“Don’t be. I’m not blaming you; I just took my routine bath in this place and forgot to tell you about it,” the Saint smiled, “Before you came, we’re all girls around here, so I didn’t bother.”

No wonder why someone will attempt to trespass. Aren’t you’re way too unguarded, Your Holiness?

“Not really,” she replied nonchalantly, “I could always give them divine retribution if they chance upon me while bathing.”

Err…does it have to end that way? I mean, you have two enormously big bathhouses in your palace, and you still prefer to do that here.”

Nah, it’s fine.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Come on, what’s the harm of being seen naked by someone whom you trust?”

“Well, it’s not that you can always count on someone that you trust. What if he turns out to be a villain?”

Her Holiness stared intensely at me, “Well, are you?”

For that, I was speechless. Not that I can help it, see? Her Holiness, no matter how I treat her, was still a member of the opposite sex. And yes, she’s a beautiful girl—both in her looks and figure. It’s impossible for any guy alive to not turn their heads towards her if ever they saw her on the streets.

Oh…so now you’re eyeing on me?” she teased.

Ah! I’m just telling you, stop taking baths outside.”

“Why would I?” Her Holiness playfully laughed and caressed my face, “It always gives me the thrills to be seen by someone I trust.”

Is her head damaged or something? Anyway, I pretended I didn’t hear that.

Aw…you’re no fun!”

“Because I’m being serious.”

The Saint laughed heartily once again, “Oh my, Kuro, you sure are an interesting person! Don’t worry, I’ll take your advice. It’s just that, I’m used to doing it before; I kind of forgot that you’re here already.”

“O-Okay…” Hearing her say that made me wonder if all the males she had encountered so far were just perverted jerks. I mean, it’s pretty normal back on Earth that a man would show self-restraint, especially in public.

“More like, I can always see through their lies,” the Saint replied, “Every time they talk to me, their eyes would always fall on my chest, and their hearts were filled with lustful thoughts.”

Oh. Yeah, I forgot she could read minds. And even if one would say flatteries, the Human Saint could peer into their actual intentions.

“So, how is it?” a nasty smirk formed on Her Holiness’ lips.


“Didn’t you see me naked? You even hugged me!”

“!!!” I jolted upon hearing that. And the soft, warm, and pleasant feeling of her body as I hugged her came back to me. It felt so real that I had to shake my head vigorously to remove any impure thoughts.

“I’m telling you, I’m fine! It’s not like you forced yourself on me because of lust. Besides, though what I told you about the ‘used to bathing’ part was false, a little compensation for your hard work wouldn’t be so bad!”

Something was wrong with her head. As someone more mature, I should hammer some values on this Saint. I mean, I’m a guy, but not once did I desire that kind of reward.

Oh? Even though my looks are something that is coveted by many?”

No, not that. It’s about my dignity as a person. I’m not some generic isekai MC who thinks it’s normal for him to get under a girl’s skirt just because he saved her.

Love and respect don’t go that way!

“L-Love…” the Saint’s face became red, “K-Kuro, I-I…”

“Your Holiness, please be rest assured. What I meant by love and respect is that I admire you as a friend, and I won’t be too full of myself thinking that I should fall in love. I’m just someone insignificant.”

“Oh…” the changes of expressions Her Holiness exhibited were just confusing. From being embarrassed, she quickly became annoyed and irritated. Abruptly standing up, she dusted herself and whispered, “But I want you to…”


Once again, I pretended I did not hear that. My policy in life for romance was that I won’t assume things. I’ve been through that, though I never got myself a girlfriend. So yes, now I know what to expect and what to do about these ‘sweet nothings’. Plus, the Saint had just gone through the worst. Possibly, her displays of ‘love’ and ‘affection’ might be a sign that she’s looking for someone to fill the void left by Sir Simon in her heart. It won’t be good for her, nor for me, if we decided to enter a relationship.

And come on, looking at her, it’s almost as if I’ll be having a student of mine as my girlfriend!

“Tch!” Her Holiness didn’t hide her displeasure anymore, “You’re stupid Kuro!” She stuck out her tongue to me and then teleported off.

I could only stare in bewilderment.