Since I wasn't getting anywhere against Vendrick, I opted to return to the Dragon Shrine and try my luck against the Ancient Dragon again, requiring I beat three giant warriors and Transcendent Edde to reach it. They weren't a problem (though duels with Edde did take a long time). The dragon though, totally stomps. Literally and figuratively. In my mind I could hear the other non-hostile dragon knights snickering at my increasing death count.
Run run run run run!
It got so bad that the enemies on the path stopped spawning (apparently the game detected I sucked that much) which was a slight relief. It didn't stop Gamesting (player) from invading though, and he showed me that parrying still works since he both backstabbed and parry countered me during our little duel. Best I could do was annoy him a tiny bit with turtling. Sigh.
Eventually I managed to find the dragon's weakspot though: the big toes on his hind legs. You can almost control the beast by simply going for those, and once he became predictable - he became defeated soon after. Gahh that was tough! Having finally avenged Bashful Ray I decided to face Vendrick again as a true dragon slayer! And the old guy whooped me with his WTF overhand swing. It's almost like a feint as he begins the attack, or seems to - then waits for your dodge to finish BEFORE slamming the giant sword on your head. FFS. I'm gonna get you Vendrick!
Just like I got this one.