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Subaru’s throat froze upon regarding his own face reflected in the mirror.
It was a face he recognized, but a face he felt reluctant to say he was used to seeing—— which came as no surprise, as his face reflected in the mirror was a relic of the past, no more than a fading memory.
——For that which was reflected there, was the face of a young Natsuki Subaru.
Subaru: [What, is, this…]
The hand grasping the mirror trembled, the pale face of the young boy rocking minutely and repeatedly.
His other hand, the one not holding the mirror, reached for his face as if to check it, and fingers that were smaller than those in his recollections, ones befitting the young face, came into view through the mirror.
Judging from the facial features and height, that was a roughly ten-years-old Natsuki Subaru.
Subaru was a mischievous boy whose stature was slightly over average, having reached the average height for a Japanese person only once his limbs had fully developed; with certainty, he had been a pipsqueak back then, at the time of elementary school.
To speak of his perspective at the time, he had wished to grow up as fast as he could——,
Subaru: [What the hell is this—— Hk!?]
In the mirror, his lips and eyes appeared to shake, and not just because his hands were trembling.
It was also a clear sign that his soul was rejecting the abnormal situation reflected in his eyes.
It was a sight worth being dubbed a nightmare.
Were this simply “rejuvenation”, then more than a few people who dreamed of such a thing existed. Unfortunately, Subaru, as a flowering teenager, had nothing to do with such desires.
Even if it was a great wish of his, however, he would probably attach the condition that he wants to choose the right time and place.
That was how absurd this state of emergency was.
Subaru: [I-I can’t stay like this… Hk.]
After a long time, Subaru came to himself and rushed to his bedroom door.
By no means would the inn’s lodgings have a perk such as “rejuvenation”. It was natural to think that this was an attack from someone hostile.
He had to hurry and share the information with his friends staying at the same inn, to come up with a plan to overcome this obstacle——,
Subaru: [Guys, we’re in trouble! You may be surprised by the suddenness of this…]
???: [Oh, I knew it, Subaru-chin got smaller too!]
The moment he twisted the doorknob, which felt as if it were higher and heavier than usual, and opened the door with great force, he was greeted by an unexpected sight—— Nay, it was a sight he should have expected.
Outside his bedroom, in the living room where several people had gathered, Subaru was greeted by a girl with a lovely face and a cheerful smile, waving her hand.
Her clear blue eyes and golden hair with its characteristic weave—— her unmistakable sunny clarity allowed Subaru to connect the girl to the woman in his recollections.
Medium: [That’s right~! When I woke up, I was so surprised to see how tiny I was! But I’m relieved to see Subaru-chin’s tiny too. Buddies, buddies!]
The one who spoke these words with her hands in the air in jubilation, was a girl of about twelve or thirteen years of age, wearing a thin cloth wrapped around her bare skin—— she had declared herself to be Medium O’Connell.
Albeit she was quite tall for a woman, having been caught up by the same phenomenon as Subaru, her size had shrunk considerably. However, she was still half a head taller than the shrunken Subaru.
Subaru: [Not a situation in which you can simply be happy that you’ve found a buddy… Uwah!?]
As Subaru tried to swallow his initial shock, his body was blown away by an impact to his side, and someone pressed down on his upturned chest.
At the feeling of pressure, Subaru unconsciously raised a shriek like that of a squashed frog.
Medium: [Ahh! Louis-chan, you can’t do that! Because Subaru-chin’s so tiny!]
Louis: [Aa, uu!]
Medium: [Kya! I can’t lift Louis-chan because I’m too tiny~.]
Medium desperately tried to pull away the fierce beast flailing on Subaru’s chest. However, her shrunken arms were not enough to stop the savagery of this evil and tyrannical being.
With that, the young Natsuki Subaru was about to be laid waste to, with no way to do anything about it——,
???: [Louis, don’t! Subaru’s going to be crushed!]
Along with a sharp reprimanding voice, the heavy monster on his chest was removed. When he looked, Louis, now away from Subaru laying on his back, for some reason had a sad look on her face.
The one to put her hands under Louis’s armpits and lift her up was Taritta—— her appearance, with her blue-dyed black hair, was no different from what Subaru knew.
Medium: [Haa~, Taritta-chan, thanks! I wasn’t strong enough~.]
Taritta: [N-no, it wasn’t much… Subaru, are you okay?]
Subaru: [Oh, yeah, you saved me… I’m so glad you’re the same, Taritta-san. And…]
He took the hand that Medium offered him and raised himself up, then looked at the back of the room.
There, sitting on the sofa, silently observing the flurry of events that had just taken place, was the dark-haired man whose face was covered by an oni mask—— Abel.
Subaru was relieved to see him unchanged, but he also had a few thoughts on how he had not tried to help at all.
Subaru: [Nothing happened to Abel…]
His appearance, the fact that he was hiding his face included, had not changed since yesterday.
Whether it should be called a blessing or not could not be gauged at this point.
However, the fact that Abel, whose face he could not see, did not welcome this situation could be seen from the displeased air that came through the oni mask without a hitch.
In fact, as proof of his unsettled state of mind, he turned his gaze to Subaru and said,
Abel: [This is a disgrace.]
And with a mere sentence, he was able to disregard the situation.
Subaru: […I think I’m rather cute and charming.]
Having received a blunt remark, Subaru’s gut reaction was to spit out a retort. However, Subaru himself knew very well that this was nothing more than a sarcastic remark.
The abnormal situation that had befallen him and Medium, which did not seem to affect Abel, Taritta, and Louis——,
Subaru: [If that’s the case, the other one’s…]
???: [——Oh, I’m glad you’re paying attention, bro. I was afraid you’d forgotten about me.]
Just as Subaru was wondering about the last of his companions staying at the inn, the answer was presented to him.
Eyes wide open, Subaru turned around to see a dark-haired figure in front of him, one that had come out of another bedroom. He was a boy around the same age as Subaru, around ten years old—— his strange appearance was quite eye-catching.
After all, the boy was wearing a suitably torn cloth wrapped around his face, as to hide his appearance.
Subaru: [Al, right…? What’s with the covering?]
Al: […My helmet doesn’t fit anymore. The only thing I could think of was to wrap a cloth around my head instead. Don’t mind it too much.]
Subaru: [Even if you tell me not to mind it, it’s going to be on my mind…]
Then the young Al, his face hidden, waved his right hand at Subaru.
Because less was covered compared to the helmet he usually wore, his tied black hair, habitually hidden, was exposed. It reminded Subaru of the way Abel used to conceal his face with a piece of cloth before sporting the oni mask, but the way Al had wrapped his was looser.
He looked just like a cheap-looking killer in a movie.
Subaru: […I know you can’t wear your helmet, but do you have to cover your face?]
Al: [Oh, that’s a statement without delicacy, bro. I ain’t wearing the helmet for style or as a whim, but as the manifestation of a complex. Even if I’m now a child in appearance with the intellect of an adult, it doesn’t make it any less real. ——It ain’t like my arm’s grown back. That means the scars on my face haven’t disappeared either. It’s the same for you bro, right?]
As Al said this, he showed his left arm—— which was unchanged, his upper arm still in a state of having been lopped off, proving that Al’s perception of the current situation was correct.
Those three people, made up of Subaru and Al, as well as Medium, were unintentionally rejuvenated. It was not that time had rewound, however, it was a clear change in their bodies.
In response to Al’s words, Subaru also flipped up his own loose-fitting shirt, and confirmed that the old scars all over his body had not vanished. His small child body was covered with all sorts of scars that made him want to look away. ——The years he had spent in this other world had not disappeared.
He had never really thought that there would be a day when he would be relieved by the existence of those scars.
Despite that, the scars had taught him something. That this was a situation in which his limbs had simply shrunk.
Al: [A misfortunate destiny such as having our limbs shrunken doesn’t just happen at random.]
Medium: [Right~. Hmm, this might mean I’m not gonna be able to help big bro with his work. He’s way too weak, so this is a big problem!]
Subaru: [It’s definitely true that it’s a big blow to the O’Connell siblings’ business, but…]
It spelt trouble for long-term business plans for sure, however there was certainly also a heap of troubles short-term.
Currently, Subaru’s problem was that, due to him being misshapen, he did not have any clothes that fit. Such was not the case for Al and Medium, though.
Subaru: [Al, you mentioned that your helmet doesn’t fit, what about your weapons?]
Al: [Good catch. I can’t wield one with my cute lil’ arm.]
Medium: [It might be hard for me to hold both of them. But I should be able to manage one… Ah!]
Subaru: [Watch it!]
Medium drew one of her twin swords from the scabbards at her side, but the blade slipped through her grip and nearly sliced Subaru’s knee.
Albeit barely, the tip of the blade almost grazed Subaru then stabbed into the floor, bringing him horror.
Medium: [Wow, Subaru-chin, I’m sorry…]
Subaru: [I-it didn’t cut me, so… but that’s pretty bad.]
With a sullen sigh, Medium pulled out the stuck sword and carefully put it back in its sheath.
The weapons she had been able to use so freely just the previous day were now in a wholly unusable state. To Medium, whose expected active role was that of a fighter, this was a crisis that shook her to her core.
The same could be said for Al, though not in terms of his military prowess.
Subaru: [This means that Taritta-san’s the only one with any legitimate fighting strength at the moment, right?]
Medium: [What? I’ll do my best even if I’m small, you know!?]
Subaru: [I appreciate the spirit, but you don’t meet the labor standards…]
Medium’s undampened attitude was nice, but a realistic view of the situation was also required.
With both Al and Medium in this state, the only one able to fight properly was Taritta. ——And even if she was assured of her abilities, it would be a lonely endeavor amidst enemy territory.
Taritta: [It’s only me…?]
In fact, Taritta was evidently accepting the pressure herself.
The reason for this was that the roles that would otherwise have been shared could no longer be divided, and must now be carried on her two shoulders.
He felt guilty to her for that, but——,
Subaru: [It’s going to be quite a burden. But what do we do from here? It seems like they’d have eyes on us, but should we escape from Chaosflame?]
Al: […So, you think it was that sexy lady castle owner who did this, bro?]
Subaru: [The three of us were the only ones affected.]
Having been asked that by Al, Subaru quietly nodded his head.
It went without saying that Subaru, Al, and Medium had a single thing in common: all of them had gone to the Crimson Lapis Castle as messengers the previous day. That being the case, it was perfectly legitimate to suspect Yorna’s involvement in the circumstances of their shrunken limbs.
Abel: [It seems that you are not as distraught as I had expected.]
Abel, who had been quietly ruminating about the contents of Subaru and Al’s conversation, interrupted them.
Sure, Subaru had been quite distraught right after waking up, but now that he had run into Al and Medium in the same situation, his agitation had lessened considerably.
In a way, it was possible to say that “buddies”, as Medium had put it, truly existed.
Subaru: [Perhaps I just missed the timing to be surprised and panicked. Maybe after I find more inconvenient things with this body then I’ll realize the importance of my lost height and weight.]
Abel: [Even though you have shrunk, you are a man who always feels the need to talk.]
Subaru: [Adaptability and cleverness are two of my few selling points, that’s why.]
He was being increasingly scorned for ceaseless chatter, but Subaru still retorted without regard. Sure enough, Abel’s gaze from behind the oni mask became sharper, and he muttered with visible exasperation, “You talk too much”.
However, he did not stop at that, and resumed his words.
Abel: [You can discard your suspicions about Yorna Mishigure. Your transformations differ from the principle of the techniques employed by that thing.]
Subaru: [Are you sure…?]
Abel: [As far as I can surmise, yes. It is up to you to decide whether this is worth believing.]
Abel directly denied the suspicions held by Subaru just before.
However, it seemed that the basis for this denial lay only within Abel. Subaru’s mouth curved in frustration as he was told that he was free to decide whether it was to be trusted or not.
Despite this, it did not take him long to mull it over.
Subaru: [——. I understand. But if it wasn’t Yorna, then who was it?]
Abel: [Perhaps it was Olbart Dunkelkenn who caused it.]
Subaru: [Olbart… That old man from yesterday?!]
Abel mentioned the name of the architect of this situation to Subaru, who, swallowing his dissatisfaction, placed trust in his speculation.
What had come from his mouth, was the name of the false Emperor’s companion they had run into at the Crimson Lapis Castle the previous day, a diminutive old man who was said to be one of the Nine Divine Generals.
Among the Empire’s strongest and labelled a General First-Class, he was a person who had been bestowed with the third rank from the top. Naturally, Subaru had anticipated him to be a man possessing might which was not to be taken as trivial, but——,
Subaru: [I didn’t expect him to be such a freaky person who can bring about such nonsensical situations…]
Abel: [I know not the depths of his abilities. But you cannot deny what has happened… There are other possibilities aside from Olbart when it comes to forging one’s external appearance.]
Subaru: […Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a hallucination or anything.]
He had already tried pinching his cheeks and waking up from what seemed like a dream.
The possibility that magic or drugs were messing with his perception and making him hallucinate was null. The fact that his arms and legs were actually short, and that he had been unable to push back against Louis’s strength and weight, posed as pretty good evidence.
The physical effects on the body, such as the size of Subaru’s clothing and Al’s helmet, could not be overlooked.
Abel was probably also regarding it as unlikely. As he had not made any special effort to object to Subaru’s insistence that it had an actual, real effect.
Subaru: [First of all, it’s good that we don’t have to run away with our tails between our legs… How troublesome. Even the Emperor, Abel, doesn’t know how that old man fights? Who the hell is he?]
Abel: [He is the head of a group called the “Shinobi”, who are masters of peculiar techniques.]
Subaru: [Shinobi… A ninja?]
Abel: [——. What is that?]
Abel questioned Subaru while raising his eyebrows, the latter having blurted something out unintentionally.
When one heard of the word “shinobi”, their first reflex would be to think of “ninja”, which had the same meaning. However, it appeared that the latter word sounded new or strange to Abel.
But to Subaru, much like when he had first learned about Kararagi dialect and Wafuu-style architecture, he thought it seemed to be knowledge of the world Subaru knew, or felt like a slight remnant of it.
Subaru: [These shinobi, do they use ninjutsu, or do they go undercover in the darkness of night to spy on or assassinate people?]
Abel: [I have never heard of ninjutsu, but you understand the main function of the shinobi… That too, is not supposed to be information that reaches the public easily.]
Subaru: [There’s something similar in my homeland, they’re called ninjas. Right, Al?]
Al: [Hmm? Yeah, right. They’re a quartet of turtles with a great sense of humor.]
Perhaps he felt the same tug as Subaru, but Al’s answer was a bit off the mark as Subaru thought about it. They were characters from a popular cartoon of yesteryear, though Subaru did not dislike them. 
Anyway, even if he explained the details, Abel would not comprehend it; and it seemed the latter viewed it as a pointless topic to delve into as he did not make any attempt to ask him about the details.
Instead, Medium let out a “Oh!” with her big eyes open wide,
Medium: [If it was that Gramps of yesterday who did it, it could be that! You know, when we escaped from the Castle…]
Subaru: [When we escaped…? Ah.]
Medium: [When me and you were both struck in the chest!]
Medium’s cry was a bit misleading, but Subaru had an inkling of what was up.
It had come to pass the previous day, during their escape from the Crimson Lapis Castle—— in the middle of the life-threatening battle to fulfill Yorna’s nasty conditions.
Subaru and his group had escaped from the false Emperor’s bodyguard Kafma’s thorns, and broken through the walls of the Castle in an attempt to escape, only for each of them to be pierced by the blow of the pursuing Olbart.
However, that Divine General’s attack had not caused any damage to Subaru’s group.
——At that time, that had gone alright. But it could not have been harmless.
Subaru: [That said, it’s normal that something like this couldn’t have been predicted…! I mean, that explains me and Medium-san, but Al? Why did you shrink?]
Al: [Sorry, bro. I had a few run-ins with the old man before I jumped out. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’d hit me at some point. I figured that if the wound didn’t kill me, it’d be a no-count.] 
In a low tone—— or, at least, in as much of a low tone as a boy whose voice had yet to drop could muster, Al blamed himself for his lapse with a grumble.
But it was wrong for Al to blame himself. Al had done his part and allowed Subaru and Medium to survive in that desperate situation. The same can be said for Medium.
So, it was Subaru who should have known.
If he could not be of use in a battle, he should have been aware of every eventuality.
The result of failing to do so was this “disgrace”, as Abel had said.
Subaru: [I can’t let Rem see me like this… If I’m the same size as Beako, Emilia will treat me like I’m younger than she is even more.]
Al: [Even if I’ve been shrunken down, I don’t think it likely that the Princess’ll treat me affectionately like she does Schult-chan, so I wonder who benefits from this development.]
Taritta: [I’m surprised that everyone is so calm… I’m still confused…]
A pale Taritta revealed her innermost thoughts, as Subaru and Al discussed their shrunken bodies.
With Louis flopping in her arms, Taritta’s bewilderment was palpable, due to being the sole remaining fighting force. It was almost as if she felt guilty for having escaped harm.
Of course, Taritta was the one who was physically and mentally normal in this situation.
Subaru: [Honestly, I feel like I’d start screaming if I didn’t joke about it a bit.]
Taritta: [I-is that so?]
Subaru: [Yeah… It’s that revolting.]
It was not his young body.
His own body had been unintentionally remade. The disintegration of the definition of the self was sickening.
Subaru was rather proud of himself for having faced a variety of experiences in this other world thus far.
Although the experience of death was the most extreme, it was quite possible to say that the dense experiences of the past year and a half were incomparably richer in color, taste, and density than that of an ordinary person.
Compared to any of these experiences, the inexpressible disgust that came with the feeling of being remade stuck out.
Subaru: [This is what it feels like, to be one of Lust’s victims…]
The sound of wings echoed in Subaru’s mind as he hugged his thin, small shoulders and clenched his teeth.
It was the sound of the wings of those who had fallen victim to the Authority of the Sin Archbishop of Lust in the Watergate City—— the memory of the victims whose bodies had been morphed into that of flies, and were still waiting to be saved.
The tragedy of these people, who had been transformed into something else, easily transcended Subaru’s flimsy understanding of their situation.
The very act that had compelled such a sensation was——,
Abel: [——Vicious, I would state.]
With arms crossed, Abel accurately guessed Subaru’s innermost thoughts, causing the latter’s breathing to hitch.
Meeting Subaru’s unsteady gaze with his own,
Abel: [Olbart’s nickname is Vicious Old Man… And as befits his name, he makes use of the shinobi arts to carry out all kinds of special tasks, vicious and otherwise.]
Al: [Special operations, huh? So does he get ridiculous requests like go make the target into a baby?]
Abel: [What kind of absurd instructions are those? ——But witnessing this disastrous scene, I would guess that would not be impossible.]
Abel’s response to Al, however, had a weight to it that could not be laughed off as a joke.
As a matter of fact, since Subaru, Al, and Medium were made this young, it was impossible to even guess the capabilities of Olbart’s techniques, and their extent.
And with that as their grasp of the situation, the thing that made them most anxious at the moment would be——,
Subaru: [This can be undone, right…?]
Abel: [I cannot state with certainty, but I believe it reasonable to assume a way to return you to normal exists.]
Subaru: [W-what makes you say that?]
Abel: [The only pretext for poisoning someone and not have them die immediately, is to negotiate with them.]
Hearing Abel’s speculation and their justification, Subaru was also convinced with no further words.
This phenomenon—— which may be called “infantilization” for the sake of convenience, could be likened to the act of poisoning, and the other party’s intention would be to avoid immediate death.
This was a strategy to extract some kind of concession.
Taritta: [Then, if there’s some kind of contact from the other party…]
Abel: [I shall reiterate. I cannot state it with certainty. But——]
Abel looked over at Taritta, who was holding her breath, and said that her high hopes were poisonous. And just as Abel was about to resume speaking.
——From outside, there was a knock on the door of the room.
Because of the previous conversation, everyone’s attention and tension turned to the door.
Subaru also stiffened, thinking of it as a possible sign of contact from Olbart, who had brought about the “infantilization”. However——,
???: [——My apologies for disturbing you this morning. I am Yorna Mishigure-sama’s messenger.]
The voice that came through the door was a disappointing one at this point in time.
That disappointment was the reason as to why the tension that had been building up loosened at a sluggish pace. On the other hand, Subaru belatedly understood that a messenger from Yorna signified a reply to yesterday’s letter.
In addition to that, he also noticed the owner of the voice bringing the reply.
Medium: [This voice’s that of the deergirl from yesterday, isn’t it? See, it’s Tanza-chan.]
Subaru: [Looks like it. Good. Then I can let her come in… right?]
With a nod to Medium, who held up a finger, Subaru asked Abel if he wanted her to enter the room. At Subaru’s gaze, Abel paused for a moment, then nodded slowly.
Having received this cue, Subaru turned to go to the door and greet his visitor.
Taritta: [No, I will.]
Interrupting Subaru, Taritta took the initiative and stepped forth. She left Louis in Medium’s hands and ushered Subaru and the others back, away from the door.
As far as this matter was concerned, it must be said that Subaru was the one who lacked a sense of danger. Even if it had not passed his mind, he could not just open the door devoid of any protection.
And currently, the shrunken Subaru’s vigilance was no different from being defenseless.
Tanza: [My apologies for disturbing you. I have come to deliver the words of Yorna-sama.]
The one to bow and step over the doorsill to reveal herself was, just as they had thought, Tanza, the deergirl.
Just like yesterday, once the kimono-clad girl stepped into the room, she met the gazes of those greeting her and paused.
It was unclear what the expressionless girl thought of the unusually large number of children in the room. However, it should be noted that her gaze had lingered the longest on the suspicious man wearing an oni mask.
Anyway, after the girl surveyed the room,
Tanza: [What happened to the messengers from yesterday?]
Subaru: [Uh… They’ve left for a bit, should I go get them?]
Tanza: [——. No, if you could tell them later.]
On and off, Tanza’s attention would be drawn to Abel at the back of the room.
He thought she, as a child, was too good a servant, but there were some unexpectedly cute aspects to her, like the way she could not take her eyes off something interesting.
Nevertheless, the report she brought would have a tremendous impact on the future of Subaru and the others.
With quiet tension, they waited for Tanza’s words.
Tanza: [After reading the letter, Yorna-sama will reply formally. Therefore, I would like to request you all to report to the Crimson Lapis Castle.]
Subaru: [She read it…?]
Subaru felt relieved after Tanza had spoken so with a bow.
Albeit rude, after everything that had passed, he suspected that Yorna tearing up the letter on a whim was not an impossible outcome.
It could be said to be the same sense of insecurity as dealing with a high-strung cat, or Priscilla. As if he could not find the precise approach, that was the impression he got.
Al: [I ain’t denying that the Princess is hard to deal with, but even she discerns TPO… Well, I ain’t too sure about that actually.] 
Reading Subaru’s inner thoughts from his expression, Al tried to defend Priscilla, but gave up halfway through. It was a sign that he, too, was having a hard time dealing with Priscilla, whom he had known for a long time.
Anyway, he was relieved that one side of the impending situation seemed to be going smoothly.
With this, the only major problem at hand was the infantilization of Subaru and the others——,
Tanza: [I hope that the Master who wrote the letter and all the messengers from yesterday will come to the castle tower.]
Hearing the unintentional moan that spilled out, Tanza lowered her round eyebrows and tilted her head.
In order not to allow her to notice his inner turmoil, Subaru smiled amiably and shook his head, “Nothing, nothing”, forcibly deceiving Tanza’s suspicions.
Whether she was satisfied or not, Tanza straightened her tilted head and said,
Tanza: [We will be waiting for you at the Crimson Lapis Castle, at the time the bell of Fire Time rings.]
Abel: [I understand the details. Well done. You may leave.]
Tanza: [——. Yes, excuse me.]
The time specified—— the bell of Fire Time, could be taken to mean roughly noon.
After informing them of the setting of the meeting with Yorna, Tanza performed a curtsy, and turned away to leave the room. “Excuse me”, Subaru called out towards her back,
Tanza: [Yes, what is it?]
Subaru: [I want to make sure just in case, but the main person invited is the person who wrote the letter, and the messengers from yesterday are an extra, right? In other words, if the messengers are unable to attend due to various circumstances…]
Tanza: [Yorna-sama has said to invite the messengers as well.]
Tanza: [I hope that in this Demon City, you will not fail to follow Yorna-sama’s words.]
Tanza’s voice was plain, but it was a reminder of her absolute and unshakable will.
Leaving that behind, he watched the departing messenger girl and shut the door. After doing that, Subaru took a deep breath and turned around.
Subaru: […Do you think we, in this state, meet the conditions she just mentioned?]
He stretched out his changed arms, and posed that question.
 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference.
 The loanword employed by Al here is commonly used in sports, when a point is disallowed/not counted.
 Loan-word abbreviation meaning “(appropriate) time, place and occasion”.