You may not realise, but animals no more run by instinct than do humans. Like humans, they too have needs. These needs are served by the Animal Court, lowest of the heavenly courts. Formed from the descendants of twelve virtuous animals (the animals of the Chinese zodiac) the Animal Court convenes twice a year and attends to the administration of the animal world, hearing pleas and grievances and communicating them to the higher courts.
Being an official of the Animal Court has its privileges: members of the court are permitted to remove their hides and live as humans while the court is not convened, conducting ourselves as they see fit so long as we do not become derelict in our duties.
However, we animal courtiers are feared by humans; Werewolves, wicked humans so cruel they were demoted into bestial forms for their crimes, also wear the skins of animals to savage their fellow humans. Alas, not all werewolves take the form of wolves. Unfortunately, most humans aren't able to distinguish between us and so both of us are hunted alike.
In times past, the solution was to convene the court far from prying eyes, away from the cities. But now that humanity has industrialised and humans flock to cities like never before, it has become impossible to simply avoid humans as we once did.
But even the cities have animals and the Animal Court is still responsible for them. So the question is: how can we still hold court without getting caught?
A few notes:
- Cities have gotten big enough we can't just hold court outside the city; we wouldn't be able to serve all the animals of the city without at least one session in a populated area.
- We no more want to give up our humanity than you would want to give up the wages for your work. In any case humans rarely react well to Tiger.
- There's many courts around the world, not just the one. We can divide our number (or ask for help) to hold sessions in many places, though protocol demands at least one representative from each animal to hold court. We can't be humans for it either. Rules are rules.
- We turn back into animals by putting on our hides, like a coat. Anything inside stays inside, anything outside stays outside. It has to be one way or the other, though - no leaving scraps of cloth sticking out of your belly.
- Besides turning into humans, we're not very magical. Except Dragon. Dragon is very magical, though only in flying and making rain.
- Our hides are ordinary hides when we're not wearing them. We still have to stay reasonably close - same home, say - to them (or we get sick) and while minor damage like needlework isn't a big deal, serious damage can be... serious.
- The city is well into the Industrial age. More humans arrive every day to work in the factories, and we can only expect the city will grow bigger.
- The dragons of the Animal Court range from some metres to tens of metres. Greater dragons exist, but rank too highly to trouble themselves in the lowest courts