The Verk Empire has more-or-less entirely dissolved after the attack on its capital city, following a long rebellion against its rule. While some of its citizens yet live and may hold on to its ideals, the Verk Empire itself has functionally ceased to exist as a political entity.
For three centuries, the Verk Empire coexisted peacefully with other nations and city-states on the continent of Etera. While fairly isolationist, the empire was not hostile and conducted limited trade with its neighbors, maintaining a defensive military force. This policy continued from emperor to emperor, each maintaining the traditions of his father, working for the betterment of his people. However, even in those days, the empire was a bureaucratic nightmare. From allowed professions to children per family, foods allowed to be imported, and entertainment allowed, everything within the empire, most especially the capital, was heavily regulated. Naturally, this led to a strong Hellknight presence within the kingdom, but while zealous, that organization respects the rule of law and didn't enforce the empire's laws on the rest of the continent.
The Early Wrongs
While countless factors lead to the Verk Empire known in later years, its focus on bureaucracy was undoubtedly one of the most important factors on its eventual slide into being a militant nightmare. Minor infighting among different groups staking out their authority eventually hardened into passive-aggressive (or, occasionally, straight-up aggressive) rules that slowed work to a crawl as every organization sought to prevent others from claiming dominion while still appearing to be doing all their work. The emperors occasionally managed to force things through by force, but other matters were always slow to be addressed.
In time, this bureaucratic nature began to spread into other areas of the Verk Empire, including parts of the military and even non-governmental areas. When getting anything through the civil workers was a nightmare, other organizations would spend days on a single document, making sure it was impeccable and there wasn't the slightest risk it could be denied by some bean-counter holed up in a stone office somewhere.
The true downfall would only begin when the empire's focus on bureaucracy began to reach deep into research organizations. Slowly and methodically, idealistic research took a back seat to outcome-oriented research, where the ability to get results no matter what became of paramount importance. After all, that was the only way to get anything done at all. The researchers never intended to serve as midwives for the hellish reign of terror to come, but nor could they ignore their calling to study and learn more.
In secret, necromancy became prized as one of the best targets of research. Undead laborers could work without rest. They began to look for more ways to feed the needs of their research, first in labs far below the ground and then in secret larger test sites. Despite the scale of the operations, most of the empire didn't realize that anything was going on. Secrets were kept, and all the forms were filled out, typically with the minimum of information to convince others that productivity was acceptable.
Emperor Darrien Verk was the one who brought all of these powers to the forefront. Educated and erudite, the Emperor had actually taken part in some experiments during his university years and realized the potential for his plans of lightning-quick development. And so the empire began working on policies that would lead not just to war, but also to the creation of The Ghostlands and to countless other atrocities, all offerings upon the altar of progress.
The New Emperor
In the year 311 IR, with the death of Emperor Tavian Verk, his son ascended to the throne. Emperor Darrien Maddox Verk was nothing like his forebears. Where his father maintained three hundred years of isolationism and steady progress, the new emperor instituted policies that led to rapid developments. Inventors and magic users were captured and forced to work for the good of the empire, new weapons known as guns were developed and the long-standing defensive army was supplemented and turned into an aggressive force of military expansion almost overnight.
Unprepared for the sudden and unexpected hostility, the smaller neighboring nations fell quickly to empire, most surrendering in order to spare their citizens and militias a terrible fate, but every town and city that fell continued to extend the empire's supply line as they pushed out until they stretched across more than half of the continent. Unfortunately for the conquered, the laws within the Empire's territory are even more draconian than its capital. Magic users are forcibly conscripted into service, taxes are harsh enough that most struggle to get by, and even the most petty of laws are strictly enforced.
While the Emperor's word is law, the day to day running of the empire is handled by a council of elites, each with their own area of expertise. Where before each handled their own area of concern, with the ascension of the new emperor and his replacing of the council members, this has changed. Now the council, rather than made up of individuals who are the best in their respective areas seeking to further the aims of the empire as a whole, is almost entirely comprised of military commanders who seem more interested in serving the will of the emperor himself, even if that means the citizens of the empire suffer for it. Speaking out against this change of the status quo, however, is harshly punished. Slavery is legal within the Empire.