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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
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    $\begingroup$ Ever hear about furrie conventions? $\endgroup$ – user47242 Feb 2 '18 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ How large is a dragon? $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 2 '18 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Some metres to tens of metres. Alas, in the end they are only petty bureaucrat dragons $\endgroup$ – Pingcode Feb 2 '18 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Could you clarify: when not wearing their hides do the officials of the Animal Court look like normal humans? Or like animal-human hybrids? When wearing their hides do they look like normal animals? (except dragon of course) When not wearing their hides do officials of the animal court stand out to sniffer dogs etc? Does that include dog? If so do normal dogs owe any allegiance to the animal court and/or dog? What other ways can humans spot members of the court when they're not wearing their hides? How do rooster, pig and ox feel about the humans meat industry? $\endgroup$ – Murphy Feb 2 '18 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Possibly relevant: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/86289/… $\endgroup$ – Random Feb 2 '18 at 17:38
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What they need is a variety of forms of private clubs or similars. Even today there are many kinds of organizations which allow their members to convene with considerable levels of privacy:

  • Gentlemen's clubs
  • Masonic lodges
  • YMCA
  • The catholic church
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Herbalife
  • New Acropolis

Etc., etc. Notice that at least three of those listed above have existed for centuries. The others could have been created prior to the 20th century, not necessarily on their current form, and it would require little to no suspension of disbelief to do so.

All you need to do is create one or more organization like those ones. If you want animals to be connected on a global level, create a secret organization/multilevel marketing company/religion/charity network that may have representatives across the globe. The major advantage of going global is that you have a way to tend to migratory animals.

If you prefer decentralization, anything that will justify a large group of people gathering behind closed doors will do. AV clubs, furry conventions, warhammer competitions... You name it.

Get a roof on your head and walls around you and you are all set.

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    $\begingroup$ I love the optics of a Gentleman's club. They could even have a cloak room. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Feb 2 '18 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ The Freemasons are known for being invite-only... it would certainly make for an excellent cover. How would they deal with members who aren't shapeshifting animals? An animal-exclusive private club seems like it would be dangerous; After a few get caught by mistake, that club would quickly become a 'tell'. On the other hand, founding/integrating into a club with true humans involved means humans are allowed into places that might get the court caught out. $\endgroup$ – Pingcode Feb 3 '18 at 0:30
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Sex Club

In most major cities, there are private clubs with a bouncer. You have to provide a password to get in. These clubs are often closed off areas of bars, where people can come and go with relative anonymity.

You could have a lot of fun writing about someone who gets in by accident.

Your protagonist could be a 'normal' human that's just into some weird stuff. He brings his costume, gets all zipped up and ready to go, and that's when things start to get weird.

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Disused Underground Tunnels.

Even small cities can have them. The remnants of subways, utility service ways, storm and sanitary sewers, building foundations, and several other things that were created at some time in the city's past, that it wanted to keep hidden and out of the way. They remain, sometimes right next to their current and modern versions, with barely a notice by anyone.

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A dragon invites some family friends to his home for his birthday or to commemorate some event.

Since members of the court spend their time as humans they presumably have income and homes. Since they are not really humans they probably want to stretch out and relax in their natural forms when at home. Since the dragon is the largest and most conspicuous form his home will home best space and privacy.

And inviting some friends to your home is much less conspicuous than anything you arrange elsewhere. Especially if the neighbours are already used to years of seeing the same group of people attending the same event. And know what the event is. And that those people really are mostly old friends by having seen them before. Repetition creates familiarity, familiarity creates assumptions, assumptions create mistakes.

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