Skeletons are the emissaries of Death in the land of the living. No mortal soul knows how to raise them, much less control them. Their only purpose is to kill. They move quickly and precisely, doing only as much as is needed to bring death. They show no emotions and no desires; if there is any connection between the raised skeleton and the living being they once were, then it is not evident.
Why does Death hate us so? Why does he wish to hasten our entry into his kingdom?
None can say. The skeletons themselves are silent on the matter.
Skeletons dance in the graveyard at midnight. They light bonfires, scare the local wildlife and play pranks on each other. Those who have observed them from hiding will affirm that they seem to enjoy being dead, perhaps even more than the living enjoy life.
When skeletons encounter living humans, they will beckon invitingly, but if this invitation is not accepted they will take up arms and attack. To the skeletons, even mortal violence is apparently a funny game. Those killed by skeletons will rise on the next night as skeletons themselves, and quickly escape to join the frivolity of their kin.
Yet there are tales of some skeletons who come back - of a dead soldier who systematically slaughtered his former comrades, or of a housewife who returned to claim her husband and children. The ones whom the skeletons focus on are always those they loved best in life, which has brought the sages to an unsettling conclusion: perhaps the skeletons bear us no ill will, but only want to show us what we're missing.
It is said that ghosts are those spirits who failed to complete a task in life and cannot rest until it is finished. By contrast, skeletons are those who betrayed their oaths and shirked their tasks in life, and in death are held to account for it by powers outside mortal comprehension.
Traitors in battle are perhaps the most common skeletons. Having spurned their companions in the hour of greatest need, they are cursed from life into death. Their skeletons return to the site of the battle and wander about, chopping angrily at unseen foes. The battle is many years in the past, so their oaths can never be fulfilled. They will usually take anyone who crosses their path to be an enemy, but it is rumoured that if one adopts the same livery as their long-dead allies, the skeletons may prove friendly.
Other times one may see a paladin, charged with a great work by their god, fall into error and rise as a skeleton. These loathsome wretches wander the world in their rusted armour, performing the charged deed over and over again in every context they can find. It makes no difference - their god has already turned from them, and so the quest can never be completed.
Perhaps there are skeletons who complete their tasks and are allowed to rest in peace; but if such exist, we have not seen them.
The undead are created through a noxious and incorporeal malady, which infects the recently dead and causes them to rise from their graves as flesh-eating savages that men call ghouls. The ghoul has little intelligence, but quick reflexes and an insatiable taste for human flesh. Most ghouls are eventually put down by local militia or dedicated ghoul-hunters.
Some ghouls persist, however. Although the decaying of the body is slowed somewhat by the infection, it is not halted completely. After a hundred years or more, the ghoul's flesh has entirely rotted away and only the animate skeleton is left. Thus, all skeletons are old and most are fiendishly cunning, since only the most intelligent ghouls live long enough to reach such a state. With at least a century's experience of hunting and being hunted, the skeleton is a fearsome enemy. Even the mightiest ghoul-hunters chill at the thought of being stalked by a skeleton.
The ghoul's flesh-eating urges persist, but cannot be fulfilled. One may occasionally catch sight of a skeleton 'eating' a fresh corpse only to have the flesh fall through its ribcage and be picked up again and again. The skeletons seem to know how ridiculous this looks: if they realise they are being watched while feeding they will fly into a terrible rage, and thereafter hold a special vendetta against the one who witnessed their secret shame.
Sometimes you will see a skeleton creeping around at night. If it sees you watching it, then it will act embarrassed and run away. Skeletons don't like to be seen without their skins. They only come out at after dark, and when the sun rises they run back inside to their beds, where they have left their skin and flesh. They leap inside their body and go about their day as normal humans.
It is not known what skeletons do with their time, but they seem to be relatively harmless. The exception is when someone learns of their secret identity - perhaps by witnessing a skeleton crawling through a window, or finding a limp skin in a bed. To conceal this secret, the skeleton will unrelentingly hunt the one who has discovered them, in skeletal and human form.
Perhaps skeletons wish to keep their secrets because they fear being lynched by humans. Humans, in turn, lynch skeletons for fear that they will attack. It is not known which of these came first.
It is said that no renovations or repairs should be done to a house while a woman inside is pregnant. Also, a pregnant woman should not look upon the work of a craftsman left unfinished. If she does, then her body may become lazy and decide to leave the baby unfinished. The bones will grow, but not the flesh or anything else. Such a condition will be apparent long before the birth, but aborting a skeleton baby is especially dangerous.
Most parents will not want to keep the skeleton baby after it is born, and the babies for their part show no affection for their mortal family. Instead they roam the roads at night, growing larger as humans do. Eventually they will come across a community of other skeletons like them, who dwell in deep forests or abandoned castles.
The skeleton folk are much like humans, but primitive and unfinished. Their desires and thoughts are simple, their communication rudimentary. Sometimes they may be seen playing music on simple instruments, or gesticulating at flowers.
However, some sages say that these unfinished creatures possess primordial knowledge that humans lack. They remember the time before the womb, and can tell many secrets if they choose. Those humans who seek such secrets will find the skeletons less than welcoming. However, the skeletons do hold a vague feeling of benevolence toward humankind in general; for if there were no more humans, there would be no more skeletons either.
When Destiny has ordained that a great marvel must come to pass, it works towards this end in mysterious ways, and lays down its preparations centuries in advance. The greatest heroes ordained by Destiny are not born - they are made. And like all things, the framework must be built first.
Skeletons are the heroes of the future, who one day will clothe themselves in flesh and blood to perform mighty deeds at the behest of implacable Destiny. They may be a mighty warrior, a leader of armies or a destroyer of realms - for the ones that Destiny names 'hero' are not always virtuous and kind.
Each hero is bound for one particular act of perfect triumph, and it is this act they are preparing for as a skeleton. In one case, the tallest tower of a keep was toppled by a skeleton three times over the course of two hundred years, after which the skeleton finally took the form of a valiant warrior and fulfilled his fate by toppling the tower a fourth time and slaying the cruel lord who dwelled within. Another story is of a skeletal bandit and his steed, who rode each full moon through Taipan Wood firing arrows at all those on the road. In time that skeleton became a real highwayman destined to murder the king.
Since Destiny has already appointed them to their positions, skeletons cannot be destroyed. If shattered, they will lie dormant for a while before resuming their preparations. It is postulated that if the skeleton was conclusively destroyed, perhaps by burning or burial beneath solid stone, then Destiny would have to create a new one from scratch. In such a case the foretold event might be postponed, but never prevented.